Professor of anthropology Ann Laffey talks about her travel to Bolivia. She discusses the hospitality of a Quechuan village, mishaps in communication between non-native Spanish speakers, an encounter with a traditional spiritual healer and the profound impact of being present in Bolivia during the electoral process.
Vilma Fuentes 0:00
My name is Vilma Fuentes. And this is our podcast developing global citizens. Today, I am honored to have here Dr. Ann Laffey, one of the anthropology professors at our college. And she just finished coming back from a phenomenal trip to Bolivia. Ann, please tell us how in the world did you get to Bolivia, especially in the midst of a pandemic? We'll get to that in a bit too. But.
Ann Laffey 0:26
Yeah, well, hello, Vilma. And thank you so much for having me on. I am so excited to actually tell you so much about my trip. And I would keep you for hours because it was jam-packed full of amazing connections and experiences. But how did I get there? Let's start with how I actually got to be in Bolivia? Well, first of all, as you know, you sent me the email.
Vilma Fuentes 0:54
I encouraged you.
Ann Laffey 0:55
I have the list for the for the program, which was sponsored by Florida International University. It is actually a brainchild and inspiration that comes from Maria-Luisa Veisaga. And she happens to originate from Bolivia, she grew up in Bolivia. And so this is her backyard. And so she was kind enough to actually invite eight of us eight other faculty members from across the country to come with her and experience her Bolivia, which is diverse experience because Maria-Luisa Veisaga is an academic, as well as being a citizen of Bolivia and also the United States.
Vilma Fuentes 1:41
So FIUs Kimberly Green's, Latin American and Caribbean Center, they're the ones who funded this. And I don't know, for those listeners out there, they are a National Resource Center 104 that we have in Florida. FIU is one of only two universities in Florida that has a National Resource Center funded by the US Department of Education. And this is an effort to increase student knowledge of specific regions of the world and also of less commonly taught languages. So, FIU has a spectacular Latin American Studies Program, and this is why you were there, and you were like why you? Why not some, like professors from UF or FSU? Uh, what was unique about you and the other people on the trip?
Ann Laffey 2:29
Yes. And so one of the things that we were expected to express in our application was how we saw international study and connecting the students from various backgrounds, who might not necessarily see themselves as, as international studies students, how can we connect them to this very valuable and often life-changing experience. So in my application, I kind of related it to my own personal experience, which has a long history with Santa Fe. At Santa Fe, when I first came to Santa Fe, there were two things about me as a student. First of all, I'm in the category of what you call a non-traditional quote-unquote student, which essentially means I'm old, and...
Vilma Fuentes 3:19
Older, than norm.
Ann Laffey 3:20
Older, yes older. This was my second career, I spent my first career in the eye care industry as an as an optician taking care of people's eyes. And I always wanted to be an archaeologist never knew when I would have the opportunity. And when I moved to Gainesville, I decided that I would try college to see if I could even do it. And so my first step was at Santa Fe. But one of the reasons that I didn't initially go into archaeology, like I wanted to when I was coming out of high school, and did not participate in any study abroad activities when I was in high school, is, you see the posters, and you see all the beautiful types of pictures that kind of go along with that. But immediately when I would look at that, I would think, oh, that's lovely. But that's for someone else. We don't have the money for that. That's not for students like me, that is for other, other people to participate in. And then when I got to Santa Fe, I was quickly told by one of my old teachers, Professor, Stuart McRae, that not only was that for me, but we would make it happen. We would totally make that happen. I'm gonna cry. And he did, he actually helped me apply for a scholarship and the funding and, but more than anything, I think, it just really made me believe that it was for me. And so to make a long teary story short.
Vilma Fuentes 3:28
As I'm sitting here starting to cry and remember this fine, Professor.
Ann Laffey 4:54
He was such a life changing individual and really worked hard to to better the lives His students, and he is my inspiration in the classroom every day, in a tall order to kind of live up to. So because he made me believe that this was an experience for me, and helped me to make this into a reality, that's kind of been my mission statement. And so I kind of relayed that in the application. And so I think that is why they agreed, because that is one of the primary objectives for this study is connecting our students at Santa Fe College, to students, international students, students around the world, and in particular, students from this indigenous community, who may share some of the same challenges that our Santa Fe students do. Maybe their first time students, they don't have someone to kind of show them the path. What are they going to do for a career? This is changing so quickly, in our global world, what students will actually do with degrees. And so students in Jesús de Machaca, which is the village that we visited. And students in Santa Fe College, they have the same questions and the same challenges. And so connecting these two groups of students could really make a major impact on both sets of students.
Vilma Fuentes 6:10
So, I'd like to just comment a few things. So Stuart McRae, was actually a very distinguished anthropology professor. When I started at Santa Fe, and what's interesting, you said that he helped you find a scholarship and go on study abroad, but I don't know what I know about Stuart is that he was doing study abroad before there was officially a study abroad. Right? It was like Stuart, or things I hear this is probably not okay with other administrators out the college, but you know, things like he'd say, like, yeah, this spring break, I'm going to Ecuador who wants to come? Absolutely. Right. And, and I think one of the things, I mean, aside from the fact that he was just larger than life, and just a spectacular professor, and really quite inspirational, that, as he likes to say he had a couple of fast horses, right. And so sometimes he can make extra money on the side with the horses. And then I think he would use that to fun students and help them travel the world.
Ann Laffey 7:07
Vilma Fuentes 7:08
So anyway, so. And in fact, for our listeners out there, if anybody is interested when he passed away, we established a scholarship in the Santa Fe College Foundation, called the Stuart McCray scholarship that today helps fund study abroad scholarships for others so that others can have this same experience. So it's lovely to know that, his legacy continues lately.
Ann Laffey 7:34
Vilma Fuentes 7:35
But if I'm not mistaken what you did with F IU and correct me if I'm wrong, but the faculty that went I mean, they weren't UF for FSU faculty, I believe it was Community College and maybe K-12 faculty.
Ann Laffey 7:47
Absolutely. So they were community college professors, there were some, there were one or two that were from R1 research universities, but a lot of language studies and in a provost from another one of the institutions that was that were focused on language. And so language or speaking second languages, that's something that I always stress to my students, I always, it really kind of emphasize in the classroom that if they already speak two languages, which we're fortunate at Santa Fe, to have a very diverse student body. And so many of my students actually English is their second language. And so they're they're masters of both languages. I tried to emphasize for them what a gift that truly is. And when it comes to my work, because I came to Spanish very late in life, it's harder to learn Spanish when you are older, but I would encourage everyone to please add this to their toolkit doesn't matter if you're going to be an archaeologist and study in Peru, you can stay here, right in the United States, if you can speak another language, you really have such a marketable and valuable skill that will allow you to connect to people in a different way. And I didn't really realize this until Personally, I participated in study abroad, and also started my graduate work. Because when you start your graduate work, and you are living in an area where people don't speak English, and they only speak Spanish, which was what my experience was. It helps me also relate to my students in the classroom who's English as a second language, because you want to tell people, how you feel about them. You want to tell people jokes, you want people to get to know you, you'd like people to know how intelligent you are. But if you don't speak the language, you cannot communicate any of those things to people that you happen to be working with. And so it can be very isolating and a little bit lonely, when you can't necessarily express these things to other people. And the only way that you can actually do that is by picking up that second language and really putting in a concerted effort not just to learn the words and the grammar, but to be brave enough to speak it and to actually engage in conversations. And so this trip to Bolivia, I was really intimidated because I was traveling with half of the people were native Spanish speakers and the other half of the people taught Spanish.
Vilma Fuentes 10:22
And then there was you.
Ann Laffey 10:23
And then there was me. And so I was very intimidated. But so totally pleased with this trip. And my Spanish did get a slight bit better. But I was really reminded on so many instances during this trip, how valuable languages and in particular, when we had the scholarly exchanges, one of my colleagues who was a Spanish instructor was speaking and relaying one of his wonderful experiences that he had in the past with indigenous communities in Mexico. And he was relaying how he was working with someone, one of the villagers who worked with flowers, and he would wake up every morning, and they would have to separate the bulbs and they get up and celebrate the bulbs and, and these beautiful colors. And so later on that evening, one of the native Spanish speakers that were that was with us, a Ph.D. student from Puerto Rico, explained to him that he didn't actually use the word bulb when he was describing. And instead, he used the word vulva, which is a totally different scene with your separating bulbs versus separating vulva. Well, needless to say, that really did make us kind of break out laughing. But the scholar who he made this mistake with just completely just giggled, laughed it off. And when we went on with our exchange, and it just wasn't an issue. And so, you know, having the courage to actually speak and engage in conversation, knowing you are definitely going to make a mistake at some point, and they're not always going to be bad amusing. But you will make a mistake and it will be okay. You can just keep going.
Vilma Fuentes 12:05
That's great. That's wonderful. So So kudos to you for still tackling this challenge and being brave enough to go especially with this cohort of Spanish speaking people. But But you know, I'm trying to visualize this so Bolivia, so you land in La Paz or you landed in LA pass. I imagine that in this you know, in the capital, there's a lot of Spanish speaking, but then you went to the highlands were you using Spanish there explained to me like what languages are being spoken there?
Ann Laffey 12:33
So, one of the most magical experiences of this trip was being able to go with Dr. Veisaga, to Jesús de Machaca, she had two things up her sleeve when we visited that community, well, many things up her sleeve. We began the visit by just exploring the community, which was a beautiful, well kept community with a typical kind of colonial church, which is, you can see those spotted all over Latin America. And then from there, we actually had the opportunity to meet with the community leaders or the Mallku that will come out as well as the Mallku's wives and other in other villagers from the from Jesús de Machaca. So, we had an exchange, which was amazing. They brought food and in particular potatoes. So anyone who's familiar with the Andes will know that there's over 3000 varieties of potatoes in the Andes, and that's where they originate from is dandies. And so they had this big textile full of these potatoes of every kind of variety you can ever see and maybe you never saw before in your life. And so you're thinking, oh my goodness, I have to eat a lot of potatoes. And also quinoa because it's another product that they make, but the the the cool thing about the potatoes is that not all potatoes are the same. And so there there were many different varieties of flavors to go along with the potatoes, but also, in exchanging with the food. We were participating in something that is a custom in the Andes, always and there's always a custom hospitality is, is a main main type of social lubricant in the Andes. And so after we exchanged the food and had a chance to enjoy the delicious food, we had an opportunity to talk to some of the of the mothers of the children about what their hopes and dreams were for their children as far as their educational goals and things like that. And so we again, I was just kind of reminded similar challenges to what what students at Santa Fe face, right. What are their children going to study if their children do you go off to study? Will they come back and be able to kind of use what they've learned at the university in the community or is this going to pull them away from the community, which will kind of disrupt the community a little bit. And again, these are similar things that we face here, you know, at Santa Fe, what will I do? What will my job be? Will it take me away from the community? Will I stay here will I have to move? So it was it, it was really kind of eye opening to just speak with others, and also spend time with some of the students. So some of the children were there, as well and kind of watch them also interact in the community. Another...
Vilma Fuentes 15:31
Allow me to, if I could ensure interject here. So I still want to go back to the languages things. So you were talking about Spanish, but in the highlands were you communicating in, in Spanish? Or were you using Aymara, Quechua? What were you using?
Ann Laffey 15:44
So this community is a Quechua, community, but they speak fluently in Quechua Spanish, and also a little bit of English. And so primarily, the communications were in Spanish, because none of us are Quechua speakers. But there are some things that do not translate to to Spanish very well. And so in intermittently, you will hear Quechua terms for Terms of Endearment, terms of exchange. Some things are Quechua, like, some potatoes, or you know, names, potatoes and Quechua. Different things like that we're kind of back and forth, as far as language, but primarily Spanish, a little bit of Quechua thrown in there as well. But...
Vilma Fuentes 16:30
Were community members communicating with each other, like themselves in Quechua?
Ann Laffey 16:35
Vilma Fuentes 16:36
Ann Laffey 16:36
Vilma Fuentes 16:36
So they were using Spanish to be kind to you.
Ann Laffey 16:40
Spanish to Be kind. And, of course, you know, we, we did have a few Quechua terms that we were that we kind of learned why we're there just to kind of be able to express gratitude, and in welcoming and things like that, but but yes, they are tri-lingual. And so they kind of had one up on many of us, as far as language skills go in that community. And that's another thing that the community is also very interested in. They want to preserve their language, because of course, language is intimately connected with culture and heritage and identity. So they are, first and foremost wanting whatever education their children receive to include Quechua. And that actually was one of the main themes of many of the scholars that we also had the opportunity to listen to, as well. And the challenges that a pluri-national nation faces because that is what Bolivia actually is, as a pluri-national nation, many, many American Indian cultures are in that region. And it's difficult for them to actually pick one language. Like, for example, in Ireland, right, you can have, you can Celtic, and they can, everything can be Celtic, but that's not the case. In Bolivia, there are many, many languages that are still spoken that are very different from the Amazonian region, into the Highland region into the valleys. And so dealing with maintaining language preservation, under those circumstances is a challenge for a national education system. And that is part of what they're working on as far as decolonization as well, part of their decolonization efforts, as a way to make sure that they acknowledge the the strengths that they have, in the diversity that they have in the country.
Vilma Fuentes 18:30
So I know that there are many countries in the world, it could be India, South Africa, Kenya, whatever, that when you go to primary school, you can receive primary school instruction in your mother tongue. But then as you move to high school, usually it's the national language, whatever it might be Hindi. And then usually when you go to university, then it's English. So what was it like in Bolivia, is primary school using the mother tongue.
Ann Laffey 18:55
So currently, it is not using the mother tongue and is using Spanish. And that's another issue with language preservation that they're having his parents are torn. Parents want their children to be able to speak Spanish, so they can participate in the marketplace, right in the marketplace and be competitive. But they also have a strong desire to maintain their own identity. And so I think what they're pushing for right now more than anything, is to have both taught from the beginning both Spanish and also Quechua the same time. And the children when we were at the, at the meet and greet for lack of a better word, meet and greet. We're definitely speaking Quechua.
Vilma Fuentes 19:39
up. You know, and I just want to say for the sake of our listeners, especially if there's any students out there listening, these are not problems that are unique to the developing world. It doesn't just happen in the Andean region or South America or Africa or whatever it happens in Europe, thinking this is a very real issue and politically contentious issue in Ukraine. Of You know, you want people to love and speak your your native language but you know, historically it's the people that were fluent in Russian that got ahead in life and got the best jobs. And today, it's no English, the ones that you know, you learn English and you become fluent in that and that those are going to give you the best positions. But how do you balance that off with just this preservation because like you said, language, culture, heritage and identity are intricately woven, I would also add food which you're kind of insinuating. So how could you stop eating potatoes? If you're Bolivian? Or how do you like stop speaking Quechua and still be Quechua? Right. Yeah. So fascinating. So I think I interrupted you. I did interrupt you. I know this. You were about to say something else about? Maybe I, jus sorry. Well, okay. Let me ask a question. This is a part we're going to cut. Okay. It's about awkward pause about 21 minutes into this. Okay. Talk to me about so in let's let's begin with terminology. Indigenous, right? I would if I was speaking to anybody on campus, I would say Oh, yes. Dr. Ann Laffey was with an indigenous community and in the highlands of Bolivia, do they see themselves as indigenous? Did one of your host and guides Dr. Maria Luisa Veisaga from UF see herself as indigenous?
Ann Laffey 21:27
Yeah. So that that is a very intimidating question, especially coming from someone outside of the community to have to answer that question, and there isn't an answer for that question. But what I will say is, and I'll be honest, when I first met, Dr. Veisaga, I assumed that she would think of herself as indigenous because she comes from Bolivia, and she comes from an indigenous community, she does not see herself that way. And she has good reasons for not seeing herself that way. She is American, right? She lives in America. She doesn't live in an indigenous community and so she doesn't see herself that way.
Vilma Fuentes 22:13
Okay, wait, I need to stop you right there. So when you say America, so here in the United States, we're like, I'm American, right? America.
Ann Laffey 22:21
Vilma Fuentes 22:22
But I know that in my lifetime. You know, we're also spending part of my life in Latin America, people in Latin America were like, no, we're American. This is The Americans and whatever gave you gringos. Okay, so so when she sees herself or others that you spoke to see themselves as American, yes. How did they see it?
Ann Laffey 22:45
Yes, like so. So American is definitely one of those terms. And I'm glad that you actually brought that up. And I also like the fact that you brought up the word gringos, because that is defintely...
Vilma Fuentes 22:57
It's not a racial slur. I don't intend that as a racial slur. It's just a fact that it's used in Latin America.
Ann Laffey 23:03
It is, it is. And so absolutely. And so for example, when you're traveling in Peru, you don't say you're American. Because what do you mean by that? Right? Are you South American, North American? What what are you?
Vilma Fuentes 23:17
Ann Laffey 23:18
You say you're from Estados Unidos. Right?
Vilma Fuentes 23:20
Ann Laffey 23:21
Exactly. Right. So that's, that's who you are, right? And so that that terminology is something that has to be adjusted, because if you are immersed in quote, unquote, North American culture, you tend to kind of default to that one and American, which doesn't work so well in Latin America for the exact reason that you actually kind of kind of say it. So getting back to who's indigenous and who's not indigenous, there are a number of wonderful scholars who have it kind of explored this topic about what that actually means and connecting it to place. And there is a scholar called Dr. Kimmerer, who is Potawatomi, who I think does one of the best definitions of indigenous and she claims that it is a connection to the earth Yes, to the to the area that you live in, and a commitment to the area that you live in. So if you are in an area and you commit to the well being of not just the people in the area, but the earth in the area, and connecting to the environment in the area, then you probably are indigenous. And so she she thinks of indigeneity as less social category and more of a relationship.
Vilma Fuentes 24:40
You know, and it's striking, I'll just say this, I think so terminology matters, identity matters, but who you are as an individual may also change depending on where you are in the world. Right? It's like if I'm speaking to somebody from I don't know, Minnesota, I might say I'm a Floridian, right, but if I was in France, I might say I'm an American, but if I was somewhere in Latin America, I would say, "Yo soy estadounidense," right or whatever and...
Ann Laffey 25:06
Vilma Fuentes 25:06
And if I'm in Florida, they're gonna look at me. And I might have to just go down into the weeds into my little subgroup. Right? Oh, who I really am. Yes, a Cuban American, an American or whatever
Ann Laffey 25:17
Layers, it's like Shrek says, like onions, there layers to to identity. And the same thing goes along with with with this word, this kind of charge word of indigeneity. And also the fact that it can be politicized, oftentimes and both positive and negative ways.
Vilma Fuentes 25:39
So I've never heard of it being politicized. Tell me about that.
Ann Laffey 25:42
Vilma Fuentes 25:42
Especially in Bolivia, I'm guessing that's really,
Ann Laffey 25:46
That's a big, that's a big thing for them. And that was also an interesting thing, because they have President Evo, which is no longer in power, but recently...
Absolutely. Who was one of the first indigenous presidents. And I was, really, that was one of my, one of my things I had in my mind before I visited there was to really see how he was perceived. In in La Paz. Do they love Him? Do they hate him? Amd the answer's yes.
Vilma Fuentes 26:17
Kind of like Biden, or Trump, right?
Ann Laffey 26:19
And so one of the exchanges that I had with, there was a lovely woman who actually was the manager of the hotel that we were staying in, which had a deep history, too. It's a colonial place. It's been it's miraculously survived for hundreds of years and has many stories in it. And she was kind enough to tell me these stories. But I asked her what she thought about about Evo. And she had a wonderful answer. She's like, "Well, you know, he's done a lot of good things. You know, for La Paz," she says, "but we really don't care, we just want whoever is in the office to do what they're supposed to do into their job." And I thought, you know, that's the same thing in the United States, right? We just simply want to elect officials that will do the job and serve the people and less about identity and more about what they're supposed to do as far as governing. So I thought that was a fantastic answer that she gave.
Vilma Fuentes 27:11
So tell me about the shaman you met.
Ann Laffey 27:14
Oh yes. And so I made the mistake of calling him a shaman, and was corrected by Dr. Veisaga. He is a yatiri, who, for for lack of a better translation is is more of a spiritual healer. And so we were fortunate enough to have this experience with this yatiri that that she has known for her entire life, as opposed to kind of a tourist yatiri, someone who is really just kind of out to kind of give tourists this kind of not so real experience. So the time that we spent with the yatiri. The reason that we actually sought him out is before we went to Jesús de Machaca, which was to ask permission from Pachamama, who is the main, one of the main deities of the region, to accept us into the community and to make sure that what we did in the community had right intentions. And for us to be able to develop really good connections with the community. And so it was very mindful and very purposeful. In at the same time, as he was conducting the rituals to make offerings of alcohol to Pachamama because she likes alcohol.
Vilma Fuentes 28:34
Many people do.
Ann Laffey 28:35
Yes she does and offered sugar and gold and silver, all of the things that we thought would please Pachamama, he also gave us a lesson in Andean cosmology. And so he was able to kind of explain to us how this cosmology connects with things that happened underneath the earth and on the earth and up in the sky. But I think one of the most remarkable things about this experience was how, a lot of times when we think of individuals who live in rural communities, we tend to assume that they're disconnected that there's somehow not part of the global worlds, they're, they're kind of out of time, right? How well connected he was to, to current issues like climate change, and resources and sustainability. So he was able to connect the cosmology, to how we might actually develop a different relationship. To make us be more mindful in regard to sustainability and also to climate change. And so in a nutshell, he was hip. He had ancient knowledge that as an archaeologist, I know I can see the same kind of symbols and beliefs and connections that not only connect to what's going on now, but will likely kind of carry us forward to our future.
Vilma Fuentes 30:03
So the big question is, how will you share this knowledge and especially, I mean, with peers with students?
Ann Laffey 30:13
Yes. And so I did kind of feel a little bit like I was cheating for this assignment because, of course, I'm an anthropologist. And so I teach general anthropology and cultural anthropology. And so immediately, I can pull this into the classroom. And I actually did put it into my classroom while I was in the field, because I was still teaching summer A at the begining of this program. So I was able to actually connect the students to one of the most amazing experiences on the trip, which was to be there during their local election. And I'm getting chills thinking about it, because as an archaeologist, one of the things we learned about Andean social organization is that there was something called complementarity. We are where leadership wasn't in one person, it was in two people. And most of the time a man and a woman, because these two individuals have access to different knowledges and different influences within a traditional community. So at the election, the platform that each candidate had to get up into their platform, yes, the man started, but the platform half of the platform, and half of the time equally was devoted to his wife. And so people weren't just voting on the man, they're voting on the couple, right. And so it really was complementarity brought to life, it was absolutely amazing. Then, when it was time to vote, and again, I'm getting chills just thinking about this. The way that you vote is each candidate steps up on the platform. And if you would like to vote, you have to stand behind the person that you're voting for. Now, you have to keep in mind that this was the New Year celebration. And so we have individuals coming from all over the region, there are 1000s of people up on this mountain peak, celebrating the arrival of Inti Raymi, this June Solstice sun and participating in this election. Well, this election happened to be a landslide. And so the vision that this election produced was this line of people behind this candidate that went across the horizon. It was stunning to see democracy happen like this. It's so different from what we do here in the United States, and just very, very impactful. You not only place your vote, but we can see who you're standing behind, you're physically standing behind and supporting the person that you want to pull the community together and to organize the community and to organize community labor. It was remarkable.
Vilma Fuentes 32:37
Wonderful. So moving forward, you know, as you went prepare for the fall, and for other semesters, do you anticipate seeing other opportunities to share all of this?
Ann Laffey 32:49
Aabsolutely. And so, other than bringing these images and discussions into the classroom, I am absolutely looking forward to developing a study abroad, which I would like to actually kind of create a pan Andean study abroad as an archaeologist, and one of the things we know is that current geopolitical borders are, are not the reality for the ancient world. And when you're talking about the Andean world, it's not just Peru, it's not just Bolivia, it's not just Chile, as much as Ecuador. It is that full spine of the Andes that run all the way down. And so I would like to kind of create a trip. And I'm going to go back to talking about Stuart McRae that Stuart took me on which really led to my love and all of my graduate work. So I've worked in Peru for 15 years, largely because of the influence that his study abroad had on me as a student. The first study abroad I went on was organized by Stewart and took us from the desert in the Andes and Nazca to Machu Picchu. To the Sacred Valley, we had such an amazing taste of what that nation was actually like, so much more than you could get as a tourist where they only take you to a certain like, Machu Picchu and that's what you think Peru is. And so he just instilled in me such a love of the Andean culture, and a desire to really understand it on its own terms.
Vilma Fuentes 34:17
Excellent. Well, I look forward to seeing all the really wonderful things you're gonna do in the next few months or years.
Ann Laffey 34:25
I'm so excited?
Vilma Fuentes 34:25
Yeah. Developing global citizens right here at Santa Fe College. Thank you.
Thank you Vilma.
Transcribed by https://otter.ai