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 in 2011. 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
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?
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.
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.
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.
Photograph: Trans performer, model, and AIDS educator, Octavia St. Laurent walking in a ball in Miramax film, Paris is Burning.
I’ve used clips from the ethnographic documentary Paris is Burning (1990) in undergraduate anthropology courses, as well as a graduate-level linguistic anthropology course, to teach linguistic concepts of speech acts and speech communities. The film presents an intimate portrayal of drag “ball” culture in New York in the 1980s. In one scene, drag performer Dorian Corey explains the nuanced difference between “reading” and “shade.” Reading is the art of playful insult, considered somewhat of an art form in this community. Shade, on the other hand, is considered to be the nonverbal counterpart to reading; it includes alluding to flaws with gestures or ignoring a person altogether. The way these forms of speech are portrayed in the film can not only be used to discuss Bauman’s speech acts, but also how language can illuminate or build speech communities.
There is also potential for it to be used to teach gender and kinship, and it would be a brilliant addition to an undergraduate cultural anthropology course syllabus. The drag performers in the film are frequently working to enact an authentic gender performance on stage, which they dub “realness” (as in “butch queen realness,” or the performance by gay men of male heterosexuality). The film simultaneously portrays the daily struggles of gay men of color and trans women of color to perform gender off stage. It is through these struggles, along with the shared experiences of homophobia, transphobia, racism, HIV/AIDS, poverty, and homelessness, that this community is able to fashion forms of alternative kinship and intentional families. Various individuals in the film discuss these topics outright, providing ample scaffolding for students to get a basic sense of these ideas before discussing them more in depth.
The film is 78 minutes long. If used in class to discuss language, I would recommend finding relevant clips online (like the one posted above), providing some background on the film, its cast of characters, and the significance before showing them. If used in class to discuss gender performance and alternative kinship, I think it’s worthy of being shown in full.
For a critique of the film from multiple angles (e.g., the position of the documentarian, drag in the film as misogynistic), see:
hooks, bell. 1992. “Is Paris Burning?.” Black looks: Race and representation. 145-156.
For an exploration of authenticity in gender performance, see:
Butler, Judith. 1997. “Gender is burning: Questions of appropriation and subversion.” Cultural Politics 11:381-395.
Teaching Resource Contributed by: Evan P. Conaway, University of California, Irvine
Evan P. Conaway is a PhD Candidate in the Department of Anthropology at University of California, Irvine. His dissertation work examines how computer servers shape the way gamers experience place, memory, and law. With funding from an NSF Doctoral Dissertation Research Improvement Grant, he is exploring the experiences of gamers, companies, and museums who are using servers to preserve, memorialize, and resurrect online game worlds. He is also a Contributing Editor at Platypus, the official blog of the Committee for the Anthropology of Science, Technology, and Computing
Yo regularmente uso el corto documental de PBS/Frontline titulado The Woman’s Kingdom (El Reino de las Mujeres) en mis cursos de Introducción a la Antropología, para presentar material sobre el matrimonio, familia, y parentesco. La película presenta a la minoría étnica matrilineal del sudoeste de China, los Mosuo, centrándose en la práctica del “matrimonio ambulante” y la estructura de la familia matrilocal Mosuo. Frecuentemente uso el filme para iniciar unidades sobre parentesco y familia con el objetivo de dar a conocer la diversidad cultural en los sistemas de parentesco, destacando el hecho que los patrones culturales de la paternidad y matrimonios de cohabitación no son culturalmente universales. He descubierto que esta es una forma muy impactante y memorable de introducirse a estos temas para muchos estudiantes.
La película también discute
las presiones que están afectando y originando cambios en la sociedad Mosua
como: la degradación ambiental, el turismo y la penetración de los valores
culturales de la mayoría China han.La película puede ser usada para
comparar y contrastar las luchas que muchos grupos de etnias minoritarias
enfrentan en los Estados-nación grandes. Los estudiantes pueden apreciar que si
bien el cambio cultural es inevitable y ningún grupo cultural permanece
estático, algunos cambios pueden ser más dañinos que otros.
También, he usado el filme
para destacar el tema del Agente Humano. Cerca del final de la versión completa
del filme, observamos que la protagonista principal de la película, Chacuo, se
resiste a sus propias normas culturales, eligiendo vivir con el padre de su
hija, un hombre Han que conoció cuando el visito su comunidad como turista. La
pareja no tiene planes de casarse, sin embargo, siguen comprometidos el uno con
el otro, contrariando las expectativas de sus familias y culturas. Su relación
de pareja no tradicional es una ilustración de como en todas las sociedades,
las personas tienen la capacidad de ajustarse, resistir o incluso transformar
las expectativas culturales de ellos. Esta idea que las personas son agentes de
acción y no son esclavos de su cultura es algo que presento anticipadamente en
mis cursos de antropología cultural. Este cortometraje me permite reforzar este
concepto por muchas semanas en el semestre, que ayuda para la retención, proveyendo
un contexto cultural dentro del cual los estudiantes pueden conceptualizar esta
idea. En las discusiones que siguen, los estudiantes a menudo exploran formas
en las que su propia familia se adapta o
no se adapta a las normas y expectativas de su propia cultura. Los estudiantes
también pueden discutir sobre mecanismos culturales y sociales (es decir:
vergüenza, chismes, entre otros) así como mecanismos gubernamentales (por
ejemplo: leyes sobre la bigamia, apoyo para la niñez, el diseño de viviendas, entre
otros.) que trabajan para hacer cumplir ciertas normas de matrimonio y
La corta duración de la
película (20 minutos) es suficientemente larga para proporcionar suficiente
contexto cultural y profundidad. Sin embargo no ocupa todo el período de clase.
También hay disponible una versión de transmisión más corta (10 minutos).
This 10-minute film available on YouTube (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YItBnWz0vOU) documents the 2012 Aboriginal Women’s Natural and Cultural Resource Management (NCRM) conference held at the Macquarie Marshes Nature Reserve on Weilwan territory in New South Wales, Australia. This film can be used in introductory archaeology and environmental anthropology classes as it calls attention to how women from indigenous communities have important cultural knowledge about the significance of natural resources and their preservation. Coming together for a three-day conference offered an opportunity for these women to learn more about how they can use resources communally while giving anthropology students additional perspectives on the benefits of ensuring NCRM projects prioritize the voices of indigenous women and their communities. Their work underscores how any given location should be considered both a cultural and natural resource in need of conservation methods led by local communities who offer pertinent forms of expertise on conservation.
The idea that a place like the wetlands can be both a natural and cultural resource is also made vivid as they engaged with the land according to traditional notions of community. For example, the women were able to learn how sedge is harvested for weaving and participated in projects where even the most experienced weavers were surprised to learn new traditional techniques. The women also planted native species of sedge to preserve the wetlands for future generations and once again weave together the importance of indigenous knowledges, practices, and aspirations for the future. Cultural tours, planting, and harvesting natural resources like lomandra flax plant used for weaving and trees native to the riparian area became ways of doing and seeing cultural knowledge through community building. These activities reiterated why natural resources like the wetlands should be protected for future generations as well as the need for indigenous women to become more involved in efforts to get their lands returned.
This film additionally provides a concrete example of environmental justice and how indigenous communities are working together to combat forms of environmental racism, such as the inability to own their traditional lands. The politics of natural and cultural resource management are therefore highlighted as workshops, activities, and discussions at the conference also focused on sharing strategies toward the attainment of land titles to protect the cultural heritages inextricable with natural resources like the wetlands. Surrounded by land cultivated for agriculture, the Weilwan people have been able to establish their territory as a protected area through joint management relationships with national parks and the Australian federal government. This film enables students to learn that NCRM can be a political as well as creative process in which activism and artwork can work hand in hand to reaffirm the rightful relationships indigenous groups have with natural resources. In these multifaceted relationships, we also see how indigenous women should have a prioritized voice in the creation and implementation of conservation procedures.
only is the wetland a sanctuary for native plants and animals, its creation is
part of a dreaming story that once again demonstrates how fundamental a natural
resource can be to the identities and lives of local communities. By sharing
dreaming techniques at the conference, the women reaffirmed their
understandings of the spiritual, ecological, and communal values that are
inseparable from the wetlands. They also illustrate how applied scientific
knowledge about ecologies also requires sociocultural contextualization that
considers the deeper relationships local communities have with them. Cultural
activities were therefore enacted as a way to remind women of the knowledge and
practices that need to be passed along to future generations as well as
reiterate the importance of expanding their engagement in decision-making
processes from which they have been historically excluded.
Teaching Resource Contributed By: Megan Neal, University of California, Irvine
Photograph by Mario Patinho. Lukas avendaño. Muxhe, Muxe Contemporary performer.
A short film that I like to use in my introductory cultural anthropology courses to introduce units on gender is an innovative new documentary film entitled Muxes, commissioned by the Guardian in collaboration with The Filmmaker Fund. The film highlights the experiences of a third gender group unique to indigenous Zapotec communities in the Oaxaca region of Mexico. The videography of the film is beautiful and the subject matter is portrayed respectfully and from multiple perspectives. As one participant states in the film: “It’s not being gay. It’s not being homosexual. It’s nothing more than being Muxe. Being Muxe is just being Muxe”. At 12 minutes, Muxe is short enough to be paired with vignettes of other third gender groups from around the world in a single class period.
Quick Tip: Fusion TV put together a beautiful website that I sometimes use in online classes to supplement the video.