Cochabamba: Acclimating to Climate and Culture

Like many families, my family decides to reunite itself every year.  It’s usually the first weekend in August when my mom, my dad, my brother and I pile ourselves into the car and drive up to Pennsylvania to reunite with my paternal grandmother, her sisters and brother and their extended families.  We spend an entire day at a park making small talk over mayonnaise-based salads and cold cuts while comparing scrapbooks and taking turns holding the babies.  Your stereotypical reunion, right?  Not for the Alcoreza’s.

As I mentioned earlier, the trip to Bolivia is a reunion for the Alcoreza family (with some sight-seeing interspersed).  Forget a single day, the Alcoreza’s spend an entire month reuniting, traveling from city to city and staying with relatives.  This trip, in particular, is extra special because the Alcoreza’s are celebrating the 50th wedding anniversary of the heads of the Alcoreza clan, Enrique y Blanca, as well as introducing their newly-wedded granddaughter and her husband to the Bolivian side of the family.  We just dove right into the family activities: we arrived to Cochabamba on a Thursday and that Saturday was the 50th anniversary celebration for Enrique y Blanca, for which almost 300 people attended.  I learned very quickly that if you have to ask, they’re probably a primo (cousin).

To celebrate their anniversary, Enrique y Blanca had a re-wedding celebration, which for me, was a perfect way to be introduced to Bolivian culture and traditions.  They had High Mass in their church, which, while delivered in Spanish, was still a traditional Catholic ceremony so I, being Catholic, was still able to follow along (a perk of such an international religion.  You can be anywhere in the world and still follow mass even if you can’t understand the local language because it is the same thing everywhere).  During communion, the musicians performed one of the most beautiful renditions of Ave Maria I’ve ever heard.  Afterwards, the assembly retreated to the convention center for the reception that lasted almost 6 hours.  Lots of food, lots of family, but my favorite part was the dancing.

By now, mostly everyone has figured out that the blonde one doesn’t speak Spanish, but despite the language differences, everyone has been incredibly welcoming, which just seems to be the nature of the culture.  Let’s take greetings as an example: when you arrive somewhere, even if you don’t know anyone there, you go around the room giving everyone a hug and a kiss on the cheek (sometimes a kiss on both cheeks), asking como estas (how are you) and introducing yourself if you don’t know them.  You do the same thing when you leave: a hug, a kiss and a ciao.  Pair that with the deep pride in their Bolivian culture that it seems everyone has and you find such warm and friendly people so open to share their traditions and culture and relate its origins and history to outsiders.  That’s what I found at the reception, when the traditional Bolivian dances started.

There were five Bolivian dances and each one describes a different period and people in Bolivian history from the African slaves to the miners to the Spanish colonials.  We literally told the story of Bolivian history through dancing.  The couples made a great line down the middle of the dance floor, with the women on one side and the men on the other.  I was going to simply watch and take pictures, but I found myself pulled onto the dance floor to learn La Diablada, La Morenada, Caporales, Cueca, and Tinku.  We began with La Morenada, or the Dance of the Black Slaves, which is a dance about the African slaves brought to Bolivia to work the silver mines during colonial times.  The steps mimic the steps taken by the chained feet of the slaves.  There is a deep, heavy rhythmic undercurrent to the strangely upbeat music.  Bolivia is a mining country rich with mineral resources and La Diablada is a dance to honor El Diablo, the god of the mines (even though diablo is translated as “the devil,” el diablo here is not the Christian devil.  He is the god of the mines, like Poseidon is the god of the sea — he is not considered evil or good, just there).  You basically bounce from foot to foot holding your index fingers up, which represent the horns of the god.  Caporales is another Afro-Bolivian inspired folklore dance, while Cueca is a very traditional Spanish dance where the couples dance around each other flourishing white handkerchiefs.  My favorite, though, would have to be Tinku, also known as the “drunk dance,” where you basically stumble around like you’ve had too much to drink.

2 Responses to “Cochabamba: Acclimating to Climate and Culture”
  1. Juan Carlos says:

    Dancing near you was awesome!! Please keep writing!! you have the gift to put memories en my head! Thks again… Tio Juanca

  2. Lenys Alcoreza says:

    If stranded in Bogota, check Oscar’s email….

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