Ana Maria Seifert's home
country of Bolivia is a place of great beauty near the center of South
America. In western Bolivia, the majestic, snow-capped Andes Mountains
surround a high, dry plateau. A vast lowland plain spreads over the
north and east. Tropical rain forests thrive in the northern part of
the plain, and grasslands and swamps sprawl across much of the east.
Largely hilly country lies between the Andes Mountains and the lowland
Most Bolivians are of Indian or of mixed Spanish and Indian ancestry.
Though Ana Maria Seifert came from a middle-class business family, about
half the country's workers farm for a living. Most Bolivians are desperately
poor, and many adults cannot read and write.
Ana Maria's home, La Paz has over 1,000,000 people, is Bolivia's largest
city and its capitol. Bolivia is rich in natural resources and is a
leading producer of tin. However, frequent wars, revolutions, and a
series of unstable governments have hampered the country's economic
growth. As a result, Bolivia remains a developing country with one of
the lowest standards of living in the Western Hemisphere.
American Indians were the first people to live in what is now Bolivia.
During the 1500s, Spain conquered the Indians. The Spanish ruled the
region until 1825, when Bolivia won its independence. The new country
was named after Simon Bolivar. Bolivar, a Venezuelan general, helped
Bolivia and several other South American countries win their freedom
Bolivia has had 16 constitutions since it became independent in 1825.
Most of the constitutions called for a freely elected government, but
dictators have often ruled the country. Bolivia has three official languages-Spanish
and the Indian languages of Aymara and Quechua. About one-third of the
people speak Spanish. Most Bolivians speak an Indian language. Aymara
and Quechua are the most common Indian languages.
The class system is very alive in Bolivia. Wealthy Bolivians, called
the elite, form the nation's smallest social class. The elite speak
Spanish and live in modern city apartments or in elegant Spanish-style
houses.. Most elite families have had their wealth for generations,
and some of them own large amounts of land.
Bolivia's middle class includes government officials and doctors, lawyers,
and other professionals. The life of the middle class in Bolivia resembles
that of the elite but is much less luxurious.
Working-class Bolivians include peddlers, factory workers, and farmers
who raise crops chiefly to sell. Many working?class Bolivians, called
cholos, follow a mixture of Spanish and Indian traditions. They speak
Spanish and one or more Indian languages. The typical cholo house is
made of adobe and has a tile or metal roof. In the cities, most cholos
live in crowded neighborhoods called barrios.
Poor farmers, called campesinos, make up Bolivia's largest social class.
Campesinos follow Indian customs and speak Indian languages. They farm
small plots, and most of them raise barely enough food to live on. Many
of the women weave textiles or make pottery to earn extra money. Most
campesinos live in tiny adobe houses with thatch roofs.
Historically, Bolivian political life has been extremely unstable, and
although the constitution calls elected officials, dictators and military
officers have often taken control. Revolutionary movements of workers,
including tin miners, and unions have often fought for better working
conditions and have supported a political party called the National
Revolutionary Movement. In 1952, the Revolutionary Movement overthrew
the military rulers then in power. Victor Paz Estenssoro, an economist
and party leader, became president.
Under Paz, the Bolivian government took over the largest tin mines.
The government also broke up large estates and gave the land to Indian
farmers. Paz served as president until 1956. Under the Constitution,
he could not serve more than one term in a row. Another leader of the
Revolutionary Movement, Hernan Siles Zuazo, was then elected president.
He served until 1960. In 1960, Paz was again elected president. A military
uprising forced him from office in 1964.
From that year through the 1970s, control of the government changed
hands repeatedly, mostly after revolts by rival military officers. It
is during this period that Ana Maria Seifert was involved in Bolivian
politics. The military governments during these day violated civil rights
and permitted no opposition to their rule and imprisoned their enemies,
including Ana Maria.
Few Bolivians came to Canada during this great period of political unrest.
Ana Maria, as a political refugee being forced to go to "The Furthest
Possible Place," was one of these very few. However, at the time
of her arrival in the 1970s, many other Latin Americans were coming
to this country.
The Spanish Latin American community is a relatively new group of immigrants
in Canada. Before the Second World War, most immigrants came from the
British Isles or eastern Europe. Since 1945, increasing numbers of southern
Europeans, Asians, South Americans and people from the Caribbean islands
have immigrated. We have no estimate of the number of Bolivians in Canada
like Ana Maria because their number is so small. But we do know that
the major influx of South Americans as a whole, like Ana Maria, came
to Canada between 1968?75, bringing the numbers today close to 100,000.
This number is based on memberships in South American community organizations,
the majority of which are in Toronto and Montreal.
The bigger groups of Latin Americans have come from Ecuador and Colombia,
Chile, Uruguay and Argentina, and small groups from Central America,
namely, Guatemala, El Salvador, Nicaragua and Honduras.
Many South American immigrants and refugees have come from different
sectors of the Latin American middle class, ranging from highly qualified
professionals to owners of small shops and civil servants. Most of them
have left their country for economic reasons, with the exception, perhaps,
of the people from Uruguay and Chile, who have also had political motivation
and many have come as refugees. This is the category Ana Maria fits
Many of the South Americans came as professionals, who, once here, tried
to re-qualify to work again in their professions. This has generally
not been easy for them to do because Canada does not usually accept
professional qualifications and accreditations from other countries.
That means that if you come as a doctor, lawyer, nurse, pharmacist or
teacher, you will more than likely have to start your education from
scratch. In addition, you may have to apprentice in your field before
you are allowed to practice on your own here. This of course, has caused
many Latin Americans great emotional and financial hardships. Some follow
through and have been able to go back to school, but most have not.
Many over-qualified Latins work in factories in big cities like Toronto
and Montreal, and like Ana Maria, work in a variety of menial jobs.
Women, particularly, find work as seamstresses in "sweat shops."
For many, the fact that they hadn't worked as labourers before made
their assimilation process more difficult. It is the hope of many Latin
families that their children will be able to attend university and reclaim
the middle?class life they once had at home.
Socially, many Latin Americans in Canada have organized themselves into
national groups, including sports organizations, and of these, soccer
leagues in particular. This is very much what many of them would have
belonged to back in their homelands. Most of these sports organizations
are supported by the consulates of the individual native countries.
Women are often excluded from these clubs, which makes social activities
very much male dominated.
Like Ana Maria in her housing co-op in Montreal, Latin Americans tend
to live together in the same community, the two largest being in Toronto
and Montreal. The need for social, financial and emotional support from
fellow immigrants is strong amongst most immigrant groups, and Latin
Americans particularly. This is possibly because they have not come
in large groups at the same time, but have been steadily arriving as
families or as individuals, like Ana Maria. The desire and need to find
some familiarity and comfort in language (in their case, Spanish), social
customs and culture is strong when you first arrive and are trying to
assimilate into your new culture. As we have seen in the documentary,
Ana Maria and her daughters find great comfort, joy, and support from
other Latin Americans in their housing co-op, and it has made their
foray into Canadian life a little less lonely than it would have been
if they were completely on their own. In addition, living with people
from your own culture allows you to hold on to some aspects of that
culture in your new country. In Ana Maria's case, she is able to share
the music, food, dance and spirit of her homeland with her children,
because it is part of the everyday life of people they are living amongst.