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B olivian anarchofeminist Maria Galindo is one of the founding members of Mujeres Creando (Women Creating). Mujeres Creando operates a café, library, press, and community center in the Sopocachi district of La Paz, Bolivia.
JODI DARBY: How did Mujeres Creando begin and what was the political climate in Bolivia at that time?
MARIA GALINDO: Mujeras Creando began in the 1990s, at a time of great neoliberal power in Bolivia. It was also a time when the left in Bolivia didn’t understand what was going on in the country. We began as three women, and we all came from the left. We saw in our political parties that women’s participation was similar to children’s participation; nobody took women seriously. Women’s ideas didn’t have any value. Therefore, we realized that we didn’t want to have a place in a preexisting political party, to have a little part in a masculine organization. We formed our own organization because no other organization was going to hear a woman’s voice.
We knew that we had to have our own place, our own power of decision, and the left didn’t understand this concept. The left didn’t understand how neoliberalization was working in their organizations. For a long time Mujeres Creando was not ready. We waited and waited and then one day we decided that we were ready.
We were three urban women, two lesbians, and one heterosexual woman. We had no money and very little time, but we had a lot of passion. We were a force. We would make a decision and we would go to the streets and we would start. When we first began it was difficult for us because the left treated us as enemies and the right treated us as enemies. We didn’t belong anywhere because we were doing something that was not acceptable. I think it is still difficult, but in a different way.
How is it difficult now?
Bolivia is in a very special moment in history. Neoliberalism is weak in Bolivia now, or at least people here think that it is weak. With the election of Evo Morales, there is a new indigenous fervor and this indigenism comes to the people here as a solution, a hope. So if you bring into question this kind of indigenism, you are questioning the only hope that Bolivia has had in a long time.
Indigenism reclaims the origin and we think that the question of origin is a fascist question; it sides legitimate against illegitimate. You cannot say there is an origin and there is nonorigin. Indigenous Bolivians say that they are original and they are the owners of this country. This is a fascist way of thinking. I’m not saying indigenism is fascism, but there is a risk.
We see an indigenism where there is widespread machismo, where there is silence among the women, women with no voice, women who have to do a lot of hard manual work, provide for the family, but have no direct political representation. When we see this we are able to put this kind of indigenism into question.
Mujeres Creando consists of middle and upperclass educated women, campesinas, indigenous and nonindigenous, queer, straight—all struggling together. In the U.S., organized groups are much less integrated.
It is also a strategy of neoliberalism to say that everyone needs
to fight in their own groups—campesinos must fight among other
campesinos, young people must fight among other young people, old
people must fight among other old people, and your group has some
rights and those rights have nothing to do with the rights of your
neighbor. That is the logic of Bolivian political organization.
For example, in El Alto, if you are a female member of La Federacion
de Juntas de Vecinos [neighborhood association] and you want to
speak, nobody is going to hear you.
I spent five years in Italy where I saw a kind of academic feminism, a feminism of white young women, educated women, and women that had money. It was very homogenous. The women involved in this feminism couldn’t think outside the idea of white, young women. As strangers, as women in exile, as lesbians, this caused us a lot of unhappiness. We saw this as feminism without creativity, so when we came back to Bolivia we sought to make a different feminism with another way of thinking. If you want to be a subversive movement, you cannot assume the logic of the system, you have to come up with another way of thinking.
This is not easy. For example, for lesbians and adult Aymara women to work together—and I’m not saying that among Aymara women there are no lesbians—but it creates a sort of panic, the word lesbian, which makes it difficult. It takes years and years of patience, of explanation, of being there and saying, “Okay, we are taking your fight on as a wonderful and important fight and now you can take on our fight as a wonderful and important fight.”
Mujeres Creando is small, but our social impact is great because we are doing what is prohibited within the logic of the system. It is not prohibited, for example, for lesbians to work among lesbians. I know that the system is homophobic, but homosexuals in a liberal political system are allowed to work among other homosexuals. What is prohibited is to be sisters among difference—and that is the biggest and deepest point of our fight and of our impact.
Which will ultimately make the movement stronger.
Stronger yes, but not massive. Mujeres Creando has been working publicly and using creativity to build our own voice, but it is not a mass movement and I don’t think it is going to be.
What services does Mujeres Creando provide the community out of your building, la Virgen de los Deseos?
Through our building we want to grow and remember that social movements have to know something in the way of administrating things, in making dreams come true. This house is a dream come true for us. When we got this house we realized that we had this place where we could be political, but we had to ask ourselves, “What is being political?” Being political for us is offering an open door, which means that anyone who comes here can find something they need. For example, anywhere you go, health care, education, food, and shelter are needed. This is a house where concrete services can be offered and it is all run by volunteers. This house gives us a lot of force and tells the community that we have a concrete existence, a daytoday life. It is important to tell the community this.
Frequently we see movements that have to wait and wait before they will see their struggle come to fruition, for their dreams to come true. What would happen if somebody were to come to them and say, “I don’t have anywhere to sleep tonight” or “I don’t have food to eat today” and the movement tells them, “Sorry, but we don’t have anything for you.” We are not trying to be mothers, but we want to have answers to people’s questions today. If somebody needs work, they need it today. If somebody needs food or a place to sleep, they need it today, not ten years from now.
All of your graffiti is signed Mujeres Creando. Can you talk about your decision to not be anonymous and how that decision has strengthened your message?
I made a documentary film in Spain last year in a town that had many Bolivian women living there and I saw lots of graffiti signed Mujeres Creando. I know that the words that we are using are a force. They are not just words. It is a voice of being a rebel, of being different, of having our own point of view. It is very important for women to have a point of view because if you do not have a point of view then you are not a subject, you are an object of the point of view of someone else.
How much access to information do students have about women who have impacted Bolivia’s history?
I would have to say that we don’t know enough about our history because our movement is one that has had to make its own space for politics. We don’t have a lot of academic women in our movement who have the time to go to an archive and study history from a feminist point of view. The university in La Paz is a patriarchal university where feminist thinking is avoided. I have been there and I have been thrown out of the classroom and into the street in a sociology class for bringing up that point.
So children in Bolivian schools aren’t going to learn about women who played a part in the history of their country?
No, they are going to learn something in the streets, but little girls are not going to read anything about their own history.
People are very excited about Morales. Do you think that there has been enough analysis, enough hard questions asked?
Well, Evo Morales has been a god for many years among cocaleras in Chapare and nobody is willing to question him. The truth is that Morales is very positive for the Bolivian society and we are in the process of creating something that is very positive. For this, the people of Bolivia are very happy. But it is not simply about Evo. It is a social process, an historical process, and it is a process against racism, against colonialism, against imperialism. We are all working within the context of this process, this historical process, but we are not going to allow this process to happen in private between Evo Morales and Alvaro Garcia Linera.
We are conscious of how very important it is to have our own voice because the left did not have a voice during the rise of neoliberalism in Bolivia. The left went home, they went to the academy, they went to their NGOs—and they were very peaceful and happy in those years. It was the people who put out Sachez de Lozada, not the left.
It is very important that women have a voice during this Evo Moralesism, so we don’t just say, “Oh, with Evo Morales everything is so great, nobody has to say anything. We are going to see what the Administration is doing, what the government is going to do, and we are going to collaborate.” No. Now, Mujeres Creando has new graffiti. You can go out onto the streets and see it everywhere.
Jodi Darby is a radio producer in Portland, Oregon at KBOO, a community radio station.
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