Saturday, June 19, 2004


Gabriela Oviedo, this year's Miss Bolivia, got herself into some unexpected hot water, when she responded to a seemingly innocuous question: "What is one of the biggest misconceptions about your country?" Apparently, Miss Bolivia had not previously been equipped with a politically-correct response. She just blurted this out: "Um... unfortunately, people that don't know Bolivia very much think that we are all just Indian people from the west side of the country, it's La Paz all the image that we reflect, is that poor people and very short people and Indian people ... I'm from the other side of the country, the east side and it's not cold, it's very hot and we are tall and we are white people and we know English so all that misconception that Bolivia is only an "Andean" country, it's wrong, Bolivia has a lot to offer and that's my job as an ambassador of my country to let people know much diversity we have."

Well, that was enough to ignite a firestorm. Miss Bolivia's comments were on the front pages of papers in Bolivia. She was called a "racist" and her resignation as Miss Bolivia was even called for (though never by the pageant itself). Even Maria Alvarez Plata, Bolivian Vice-Minister of Culture, weighed in on the question. She called Senorita Oviedo's statements "lamentable" and declared that "No person who represents us has the right to have such a racist outlook." The Vice-Minister of Culture practiced a bit of psychoanalysis, stating that Miss Bolivia has difficulty recognizing "the cultural diversity that we have in our country." [Indignaci¢n por declaraciones racistas de Miss Bolivia en Ecuador LA PAZ, May 27 (AFP)]

Wait a second! It seems to me that Miss Bolivia does recognize the "cultural diversity" in Bolivia. In fact, she got into trouble for recognizing and publicly pointing out-to foreigners! - Bolivia's diversity. You know the deal. Diversity is a Great Thing. It should be celebrated. But if you really talk about it, you're branded a racist.

Let's take an objective look at Bolivia and see what the fuss is about. Bolivia's population is 55% Indian, 30% mestizo and 15% white. Western Bolivia, the Andean region including La Paz, is principally inhabited by the indigenous Quechua and Aymara, descendents of the Inca. They are generally shorter in stature than those of European ancestry. And yes, they tend to be poorer as well. The lowland of Eastern Bolivia, including Santa Cruz, from which Senorita Oviedo hails, is generally inhabited more by mestizos and whites. And they do tend to be taller. Gabriela Oviedo herself is six feet tall.... In other words, what Miss Bolivia said about her country's regions and ethnicities is true...

Certainly, Latin America contains an astonishing mosaic of racial and ethnic groups, including racial mixtures of various kinds. But generally speaking, wherever you go, white Latin Americans are at the top of the totem pole! .... None of these countries has a white majority. But all their Miss Universe contestants (with one exception) are white- or at least from the white end of the mestizo spectrum.Far be it from me to tell Latin American countries who they should pick for their Miss Universe representatives. But please, Latin Americans, don't tell us how racist we are- and how color blind you are! We may be foolish. But we're not blind"

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