Visualizing Disability: Wheelchair Caravan Across Bolivia

Visualizing Disability: Wheelchair Caravan Across Bolivia

Wheelchair Caravan of Integration Across Bolivia

PEDAGOGICAL GUIDE

This educational resource, also available in Spanish, enables students in undergraduate and graduate cultural anthropology courses to analyze the “Wheelchair Caravan of Integration,” a mass mobilization by Bolivians with disabilities that took place across Bolivia from 2011 to 2012. As they progress through this activity, students will also learn how to think holistically and critically about a wide-range of topics like disability, medicine, the body, the senses, citizenship, and Latin America utilizing primary sources. First students read the original narrative, “Wheelchair Caravan in Bolivia,” in which Carlos Mariaca, a Bolivian activist with disability who led the march, details the profound role collective support played as the activists strove to perform the complementary, non-hierarchical duties that made their arduous journey across Bolivia possible. Next, students watch two-minute videos produced by the Bolivian media that show an important moment in the caravan journey when activists, frustrated that their mobilization was not receiving necessary public attention, got out of their wheelchairs at a public plaza in Santa Cruz and utilized their bodies to gain visibility for the sacrifices they made in their struggle for equal rights and to demand a financial benefit from the national government. The first media video, “Caravan Interview Activist,” created by ATB Digital, provides commentary by a journalist and an interview with an activist. In the second video by Viva, “Caravan Interview Public,” footage and interviews show the public’s reactions. Finally, students can write or actively discuss their responses to the questions offered in this resource. In sum, this multi-modal activity offers students a unique opportunity to critically analyze primary sources as they comparatively explore how the Bolivian activists, media, and public differentially interpret the Wheelchair Caravan of Integration’s significance.

Wheelchair Caravan in Bolivia by Carlos Mariaca

In 100 days, from November 15th, 2011 to February 26th, 2012, people with disabilities (PWD) in Bolivia achieved a historic mobilization in wheelchairs, traveling 1520 kilometers from Trinidad, Bení through five Departments of Bolivia to La Paz, the seat of government. “The Wheelchair Caravan of Integration,” led by the leaders of the Bolivian Confederation of Persons with Disabilities (COBOPDI), together with the leaders of the Departmental Federations (FEDEPDIS), had the objective of claiming rights for PWD by proposing a new law, “Preferential Treatment for PWD,” to improve the quality of life for this social sector and grant an annual benefit of 3600 Bolivianos or 521 U.S. dollars. They also demanded the creation of community shelters for people who do not have families and must wander as orphans through life in extreme poverty.

The Wheelchair Caravan of Integration was on the road, exposing itself to the climatic conditions and the dangers of vehicular traffic, counting only on the support of Bolivian citizens. They were accompanied by some of their relatives and other Trinitarians who, together with their children, joined the demonstration in solidarity, to push wheelchairs, prepare food, wash clothes and help them with personal hygiene tasks. In mutual agreement with the caravan’s leadership, it was their responsibility to ensure they did not miss breakfast, lunch, and dinner and provide for all of their needs, whether it was repairing and replacing shoes that fell apart on the road or distributing clothes that were received as donations. Two cars transported the portable kitchen, food, rations, sleeping bags, and old mattresses. The food that supporters prepared was for everyone. The children who accompanied them were supplied with milk and diapers that were either purchased or donated from different parts of the country. The caravan, which had received very little coverage in the media and was ignored by government authorities, became known as “The Invisible March.” A block before entering the main square, people with disabilities decided to change this situation so they took off their clothes, got out of their wheelchairs, and onto the ground. They entered the 24 de Septiembre Plaza, crawling on the ground in a shocking and moving effort to make their struggle visible. Those who could not mobilize were dragged by volunteers or supporters, even a journalist from Santa Cruz helped. This impressive action was made in homage to the brothers and sisters with disabilities who do not have adequate conditions, must crawl in their homes, in the streets or where they live, to leave their corners, look for food or perform their basic biological needs.

It was important to make this reality visible to the public so they see them as they are and witness the conditions in which they have to face life and hear their demand for equal rights in their country. Not only was this mobilization a sacrifice, it was very emotional because they exposed the painful and difficult lives of those with disabilities, who live in total defenselessness to indifference of the State and the current Bolivian government. The public as well as the media were moved, openly weeping at the sight of this outward display of true suffering. They understood the message, the activists needed them to achieve their goals. The activists exposed their message to the media, so people could learn to see that people with disabilities in Bolivia are just like everyone else. They laugh, cry, love, sing, dance, and get angry like any person who does not have a disability. They are not saints, or angels, or demons; they are human beings with one or multiple disabilities and that their struggle is for love, love for life, love for their family, love to live even in spite of adversity and love so as not to renounce the possibility of a better and dignified life in Bolivia.

Videos and Transcripts

ATB Digital Coverage of the Wheelchair Caravan of Integration: Interview with Activist
Viva Media Coverage of the Wheelchair Caravan of Integration: Interview with Public

Questions for Students
How did the activists explain the meaning of this mobilization? Why does Mariaca Alvarez say that it was important for the activists to achieve visibility?

How did the activists use their bodies to achieve visibility? Why do you think using their bodies in this way worked?

How did the caravan activists mobilize collective action in both their journey and at the plaza in Santa Cruz? Why do you think they wanted to make their collective action visible?

Compare how the activists, media, and public interpreted the mobilization in Santa Cruz. Explain what differences stand out to you.

In Bolivia, people with disabilities use person-first terminology to confront the dehumanization they experience in their everyday social relationships. How do we understand the impact of this group’s experience with dehumanization in Mariaca’s narrative and the videos? Why is it important for many people with disabilities to combat dehumanization?

How do members of the caravan highlight the limitations of defining disability simply as a medical problem that requires treatment? What other social and cultural considerations should we make?

Translation Notes

When analyzing these resources with students, it is important to note that while “disabled person” is often the preferred terminology for activists in Western countries like the United States, Bolivian activists with disabilities prefer the term “person with disability.” They assert that the person-first expression enables them to better challenge the dehumanization they routinely experience. Additionally, in Mariaca Alvarez’s narrative, we see him use the term, la movilización, which can be roughly translated into “demonstration” in English. However, we decided to use the direct translation, “mobilization,” as it underlines the claims to social, political, and spatial mobility activists in the caravan have been making. These nuanced differences highlight the importance of being culturally sensitive to how different meanings of disability are produced through the distinct sociopolitical relationships people living in local environments have with history, culture, and global disability models.

Supplementary Readings on Disability 

Ginsburg and Rapp 2013; Imrie 2001; Meekosha and Soldatic 2011; Shuttleworth and Kasnitz 2004

Authorship

Carlos Mariaca Alvarez, who helped lead the Caravan protest, curated the videos and authored the original narrative, “Wheelchair Caravan in Bolivia.” Mariaca, who has physical disability (Triplegia, 75%), served as the National Historic Leader of the Bolivian Confederation of People with Disabilities (COBOPDI) from 2002 to 2012, and founded the Inclusive Social Movement (MSI) and Emerging Society Bolivia (SEMBOL). Marica is also a self-taught lecturer and writer of Oriental Philosophy and Esoteric Psychology.

Megan Neal wrote the pedagogical guide, student questions, video transcripts, and translations. Neal is currently a PhD candidate at the University of California, Irvine. Her research examines how citizens with disabilities in La Paz, Bolivia challenge normative understandings of development, the senses, and political participation. She also serves as the Web Content Producer for the Teaching and Learning Anthropology Journal’s Website.

Teaching Endangered Language Preservation using “The Linguists” Film

Teaching Endangered Language Preservation using “The Linguists” Film

Movie poster for The Linguists, from Ironbound Films

Ideal for introductory linguistic as well as cultural anthropology classes focused on the nation-state or childhood, this 104 minute documentary film helps students better understand the real-world complexities of conducting anthropological fieldwork with a focus on the documentation and preservation of endangered languages. In multiple arrival stories, we see how two linguists, David Harrison and Gregory Anderson, struggle to locate the ever-decreasing speakers of endangered languages in Siberia, India, and Bolivia. While preliminary research helps them select a region as well as connect with key informants, they also depend on snowball sampling as they rush to track down native speakers with whom they conduct exploratory interviews. This documentary highlights how the production of anthropological knowledge is shaped by the relationships between local indigenous communities around the world and nation-states. Documenting endangered languages, as the film illustrates, also necessitates studying the forms of oppression that endanger them.

The film stresses that the generational decline of people who speak endangered languages is often the result of forced assimilation projects like the state-driven separations of indigenous children from their communities. Places like boarding schools where teachers shame children for speaking indigenous languages decreases the likelihood these children will teach them to future generations.

The film could also complement anthropology of childhood classes because it calls attention to the agential roles children play in language acquisition and transmission. We see this in India where students from the Bonda tribe are required to learn English, which is perceived as a money-making language that promises children and their families a better future.

How languages become linked with the past, present, and the future is key to addressing the ways in which power-dynamics prioritize learning imperialist languages exclusively. The film underscores the point that language preservation efforts will not be successful if they are only driven by Western academics. Addressing the diminishment of linguistic diversity requires a much more systemic approach, such as the active participation of indigenous communities in language preservation projects, as well as widespread political reforms that, for instance, require national educational systems to bolster multi-language learning. The linguists emphasize that collective action is needed now because the world is losing indigenous languages at exponential rates. And the risks for losing humanity’s linguistic diversity are profound because when languages become endangered the diverse ways people understand and experience the world become endangered as well.

Check out the trailer for The Linguists on Youtube. To view the complete movie, see if you can access it through a library or purchase a copy directly from the Ironbound Films production company’s website here

PBS also has complementary resources for teaching the film on their website. They introduce the topic of language loss, give examples of how words can reflect unique worldviews, offer opportunities to hear them spoken, define key linguistic terms, and provide references for further reading on endangered languages. They also offer a teaching guide and unit focused on teaching students in high school or college about language loss.  

Resource contributed by: Megan Neal, University of California, Irvine

Megan Neal is a graduate student at the University of California, Irvine. Her research centers on how disabled citizens in La Paz, Bolivia challenge normative understandings of development, the senses, and political participation. She also serves as the Web Content Producer for the Teaching and Learning Anthropology Journal’s website.

Learn Genetics

Learn Genetics

The Learn.Genetics website created by the Genetic Science Learning Center offers a wealth of free educational resources on genetics for students and teachers alike. The resources can all be used to complement a classroom lecture, activity, or demonstration. Students can also use the resources independently. The resources focus on basic genetics and cover such as chromosomes, inheritance, proteins, RNA, mutation, and observable human traits. Using pigeons as an example, students can also learn about the intricacies of inheritance in fun, easy to understand lessons and activities. There are also lessons and activities on epigenetics and genetic science.

There is an additional classroom materials section where educators can explore active learning activities covering translation, mutation, inheritance, and DNA structure.

Note: Some of the interactive resources require a flash plug-in, like the free one offered by adobe, downloaded onto your browser.


Resource Contributed By: Megan Danielle Neal, University of California, Irvine

Interactive Digs from Around the World

Interactive Digs from Around the World

Thanks to the Archaeological Institute of America and Archaeology Magazine, your students can virtually join archaeologists on digs around the world! The Interactive Digs website enables students to learn about digs currently happening in Ireland, Greece, Italy, the United States, and Suriname. Each dig has field reports, videos, photos, interviews with the archeologists, and notebook entries that can deepen how students understand the complexity of real-world archeological investigations. Explore the website and you will also find these multimedia resources for sixteen additional past digs in places like Guatemala, Turkey, Crimea, and Bolivia.


Teaching Resource Contributed By: Megan Danielle Neal

Linguistics Challenge Puzzles

Linguistics Challenge Puzzles

Hosted by the Princeton Linguistics Club, the Linguistics Challenge website hosts a series of puzzles in different languages. The puzzles have four levels of difficulty and are designed with native English speakers in mind. The puzzles encourage players to learn about languages like Agta, Hawaiian, Georgian, and Thai. Just as every language is unique, players need to develop distinct approaches to solving the puzzles. 


Resource Contributed by: Megan Daniel Neal, University of California, Irvine