olivian anarchofeminist Maria Galindo is
one of the founding members of Mujeres Creando (Women Creating).
Mujeres Creando operates a café, library, press, and community
center in the Sopocachi district of La Paz, Bolivia.
JODI DARBY: How did Mujeres Creando begin and what was the political
climate in Bolivia at that time?
MARIA GALINDO: Mujeras Creando began in the 1990s, at a time of
great neoliberal power in Bolivia. It was also a time when the left
in Bolivia didn’t understand what was going on in the country.
We began as three women, and we all came from the left. We saw in
our political parties that women’s participation was similar
to children’s participation; nobody took women seriously. Women’s
ideas didn’t have any value. Therefore, we realized that we
didn’t want to have a place in a preexisting political party,
to have a little part in a masculine organization. We formed our
own organization because no other organization was going to hear
a woman’s voice.
We knew that we had to have our own place, our own power of decision,
and the left didn’t understand this concept. The left didn’t
understand how neoliberalization was working in their organizations.
For a long time Mujeres Creando was not ready. We waited and waited
and then one day we decided that we were ready.
We were three urban women, two lesbians, and one heterosexual woman.
We had no money and very little time, but we had a lot of passion.
We were a force. We would make a decision and we would go to the
streets and we would start. When we first began it was difficult
for us because the left treated us as enemies and the right treated
us as enemies. We didn’t belong anywhere because we were doing
something that was not acceptable. I think it is still difficult,
but in a different way.
How is it difficult now?
Bolivia is in a very special moment in history. Neoliberalism is
weak in Bolivia now, or at least people here think that it is weak.
With the election of Evo Morales, there is a new indigenous fervor
and this indigenism comes to the people here as a solution, a hope.
So if you bring into question this kind of indigenism, you are questioning
the only hope that Bolivia has had in a long time.
Indigenism reclaims the origin and we think that the question of
origin is a fascist question; it sides legitimate against illegitimate.
You cannot say there is an origin and there is nonorigin. Indigenous
Bolivians say that they are original and they are the owners of
this country. This is a fascist way of thinking. I’m not saying
indigenism is fascism, but there is a risk.
We see an indigenism where there is widespread machismo, where there
is silence among the women, women with no voice, women who have
to do a lot of hard manual work, provide for the family, but have
no direct political representation. When we see this we are able
to put this kind of indigenism into question.
Mujeres Creando consists of middle and upperclass educated women,
campesinas, indigenous and nonindigenous, queer, straight—all
struggling together. In the U.S., organized groups are much less
It is also a strategy of neoliberalism to say that everyone needs
to fight in their own groups—campesinos must fight among other
campesinos, young people must fight among other young people, old
people must fight among other old people, and your group has some
rights and those rights have nothing to do with the rights of your
neighbor. That is the logic of Bolivian political organization.
For example, in El Alto, if you are a female member of La Federacion
de Juntas de Vecinos [neighborhood association] and you want to
speak, nobody is going to hear you.
I spent five years in Italy where I saw a kind of academic feminism,
a feminism of white young women, educated women, and women that
had money. It was very homogenous. The women involved in this feminism
couldn’t think outside the idea of white, young women. As strangers,
as women in exile, as lesbians, this caused us a lot of unhappiness.
We saw this as feminism without creativity, so when we came back
to Bolivia we sought to make a different feminism with another way
of thinking. If you want to be a subversive movement, you cannot
assume the logic of the system, you have to come up with another
way of thinking.
This is not easy. For example, for lesbians and adult Aymara women
to work together—and I’m not saying that among Aymara
women there are no lesbians—but it creates a sort of panic,
the word lesbian, which makes it difficult. It takes years and years
of patience, of explanation, of being there and saying, “Okay,
we are taking your fight on as a wonderful and important fight and
now you can take on our fight as a wonderful and important fight.”
Mujeres Creando is small, but our social impact is great because
we are doing what is prohibited within the logic of the system.
It is not prohibited, for example, for lesbians to work among lesbians.
I know that the system is homophobic, but homosexuals in a liberal
political system are allowed to work among other homosexuals. What
is prohibited is to be sisters among difference—and that is
the biggest and deepest point of our fight and of our impact.
Which will ultimately make the movement stronger.
Stronger yes, but not massive. Mujeres Creando has been working
publicly and using creativity to build our own voice, but it is
not a mass movement and I don’t think it is going to be.
What services does Mujeres Creando provide the community out
of your building, la Virgen de los Deseos?
Through our building we want to grow and remember that social movements
have to know something in the way of administrating things, in making
dreams come true. This house is a dream come true for us. When we
got this house we realized that we had this place where we could
be political, but we had to ask ourselves, “What is being political?”
Being political for us is offering an open door, which means that
anyone who comes here can find something they need. For example,
anywhere you go, health care, education, food, and shelter are needed.
This is a house where concrete services can be offered and it is
all run by volunteers. This house gives us a lot of force and tells
the community that we have a concrete existence, a daytoday life.
It is important to tell the community this.
Frequently we see movements that have to wait and wait before they
will see their struggle come to fruition, for their dreams to come
true. What would happen if somebody were to come to them and say,
“I don’t have anywhere to sleep tonight” or “I
don’t have food to eat today” and the movement tells them,
“Sorry, but we don’t have anything for you.” We are
not trying to be mothers, but we want to have answers to people’s
questions today. If somebody needs work, they need it today. If
somebody needs food or a place to sleep, they need it today, not
ten years from now.
All of your graffiti is signed Mujeres Creando. Can you talk
about your decision to not be anonymous and how that decision has
strengthened your message?
decision to sign our graffiti was very conscious from the first
day because we wanted to tell women that our voice comes from a
point. We are telling society that besides the graffiti there is
also a political practice. These are not just words on the street,
they are words that come from a larger movement. Our graffiti is
a form of mass media because we have made a place for ourselves
in the mass media. The mass media talks about us quite often today.
They say, “See those women? Look at how ugly they are.”
They try to distort our work, but I don’t think they have succeeded
in doing this because people have their own hearts and their own
minds. Our graffiti comes from 15 years of writing in the streets
of four cities—La Paz, Oruro, Cochabamba, and Santa Cruz. Many
times I have gone to little towns in the country and found our graffiti
signed Mujeres Creando and I know that we were not the ones who
did them, so I know that we are inspiring women everywhere.
I made a documentary film in Spain last year in a town that had
many Bolivian women living there and I saw lots of graffiti signed
Mujeres Creando. I know that the words that we are using are a force.
They are not just words. It is a voice of being a rebel, of being
different, of having our own point of view. It is very important
for women to have a point of view because if you do not have a point
of view then you are not a subject, you are an object of the point
of view of someone else.
How much access to information do students have about women who
have impacted Bolivia’s history?
I would have to say that we don’t know enough about our history
because our movement is one that has had to make its own space for
politics. We don’t have a lot of academic women in our movement
who have the time to go to an archive and study history from a feminist
point of view. The university in La Paz is a patriarchal university
where feminist thinking is avoided. I have been there and I have
been thrown out of the classroom and into the street in a sociology
class for bringing up that point.
So children in Bolivian schools aren’t going to learn about
women who played a part in the history of their country?
No, they are going to learn something in the streets, but little
girls are not going to read anything about their own history.
People are very excited about Morales. Do you think that there
has been enough analysis, enough hard questions asked?
Well, Evo Morales has been a god for many years among cocaleras
in Chapare and nobody is willing to question him. The truth is that
Morales is very positive for the Bolivian society and we are in
the process of creating something that is very positive. For this,
the people of Bolivia are very happy. But it is not simply about
Evo. It is a social process, an historical process, and it is a
process against racism, against colonialism, against imperialism.
We are all working within the context of this process, this historical
process, but we are not going to allow this process to happen in
private between Evo Morales and Alvaro Garcia Linera.
We are conscious of how very important it is to have our own voice
because the left did not have a voice during the rise of neoliberalism
in Bolivia. The left went home, they went to the academy, they went
to their NGOs—and they were very peaceful and happy in those
years. It was the people who put out Sachez de Lozada, not the left.
It is very important that women have a voice during this Evo Moralesism,
so we don’t just say, “Oh, with Evo Morales everything
is so great, nobody has to say anything. We are going to see what
the Administration is doing, what the government is going to do,
and we are going to collaborate.” No. Now, Mujeres Creando
has new graffiti. You can go out onto the streets and see it everywhere.
Darby is a radio producer in Portland, Oregon at KBOO, a community