The Repositories of Memories that We All Carry Within
ar•chive (ärˌkīv) 1. a place in which public records or historical materials (such as documents) are preserved. An archive of historical manuscripts, a film archive; also: the material preserved - often used in plural reading through the archives. 2. a repository or collection especially of information
The above is Merriam-Webster’s definition of an archive. The second definition stays with me. I wonder, to the average human being, what does an archive in relation to their lives and memories mean to them? Most importantly, how do all the bits & pieces of information form and deepen our respective identities? I believe it is in this last question where our work as archivists is most vital.
I recognize a resurgence of interest from other fields to activate archives in relation with today’s current socio-political climate. The photographs we collect over time, the old VHS home videos, the everyday objects we interact with or, increasingly more popular, the Instagram feed have come to represent avenues of accessibility to this work. This is exciting. More often than not archives, in their “traditional form”, have been deemed as intimidating even referred to at times as “lifeless”. Most attention goes to the actual entities that make up a collection.
When I think of radical archiving, I think of the people or community as the knowledge holder as opposed to the archive itself or whatever inanimate objects that make up a collection. I think of breaking-free from the traditional format that feeds of voyeurism and our society’s capitalistic tendency to materialize or collect. Instead, how is the archival process more of an embodied experience by design? What are points of entry and of play? How do we listen with our whole bodies in an effort to be more inclusive? How do we, when appropriate, incorporate a decolonial approach? I ask myself these questions as I get to know more of this field, listen to my peers and think about projects I’d like to embark on. One of them being El proyecto de la diaspora boliviana or The Bolivian Diaspora Project, an open-source and multimedia archival initiative centered on the diasporic Bolivian experience (my own) here in the United States beginning with the northeast. Often invisibilized within the greater Pan-Latinx narrative, I hope to collectively facilitate conversations to dissect our political + migration histories & identities within our diaspora.
I could go on about what I hope this project could potentially accomplish in terms of the number of interviews collected or the type of records to preserve but I’d like to go back to that initial question: what is an archive’s role in forming and deepening our respective identities? As a brown, Andina-identifying woman who was raised by a working-class immigrant family in New York City, I wonder how an archival initiative could authentically honor my existence and the complexities of the community I belong to. My relationship with Bolivia is informed by how I navigate this world which in turn is affected by a particular history and the systems put in place by that history. It’s a very real and ongoing process that I still grapple with as many others who live nuanced lives affected by migration and the legacies of colonialism.
The following photographs were taken from 2011-2016. They represent conversations and interactions I’ve had with diasporic Bolivians here in the US and abroad. They represent memories and emotions in relation to how I’ve come to this work. This is part of my ongoing personal archive.
I visit Pamplona located in Northern Spain to visit a childhood friend of my parents from their town of Patacamaya, La Paz. Antonio’s family relocated 10 years ago to Pamplona which has a substantial Bolivian migrant community. His wife takes care of two elderly Spanish sisters and in exchange live in their home. I notice old photographs of the sisters throughout the apartment, sprinkled with momentos that reminds me that a Bolivian family lives there too.
Looking through Paris-based, Spanish-language blogs/list-servs, I see the words: Fête Nationale de Bolivie le 6 Août dernier au Centre Sportif Léo Lagrange. It’s a Bolivian independence day festival happening in Paris. I’ve been living in Paris for over 8 months for a study abroad program, and I found myself around Bolivians for the first time in almost a year. I quickly recognize typical Bolivian accents juxtaposed with children running/playing and yelling in French and responding to their parents in Spanish.
I visit La Paz, where most of my family lives, after 10 years. I navigate the city, do my best to blend in and document what I see and feel. These photographs represent rituals that are my past & present.
I meet Carla, a multidisciplinary artist, and photographer, at a local cultural arts center in La Paz. We talk about her time in Buenos Aires, home to one of the largest Bolivian migrant communities, where she moved to complete her MFA. Her photo project Nunca pero nunca digas que sos boliviano1 “Never say you’re Bolivian” strikes me. I’ve struggled with the invisibility of being of a lesser-know latinx diaspora back home in New York. How to begin to grapple with the position of being so hyper-visible and at the same time a caricature?
Díez, Laura. (2014, June 2). Exposición de Carla Spinoza, mARTadero, Cochabamba, Bolivia [Blog post]. Retrieved from https://lauradiez.wordpress.com/2014/06/02/exposicion-de-carla-spinoza-martadero-cochabamba-bolivia/ ↩