Two weeks have passed since the Annual Bolivian Festival in Northern Virginia. If it hadn’t been for the complimentary admission ticket for those distributing information about Escuela Bolivia, the organization which I am now a Board Member of, I would have probably skipped the event altogether.
First of all, the event which featured all of the area’s folkloric dance troupes, food vendors and throngs of Bolivians from all across the DC Metro area was located at a great distance from its usual location right in the heart of Arlington (or Arli-bamba as some say). Originally I thought this change of venue was to accommodate the growing number of immigrants who are being priced out of the housing market and obligated to live in the suburbs outside of the Beltway like Manassas, Virginia. However, I learned that the high school in Arlington that normally rented their field, decided to end that relationship with the organizing committee. Apparently last year, the field was left in such utter disarray from the Festival.
Manassas is about a 30 minute drive from Arlington. The admission ticket had a pretty hefty price of $15 per person, which included seeing the group Tupay perform later that evening. I certainly wasn’t going to stay another five hours to hear them. Imagine a family of six spending upwards of $150 – $200 with all of the food and drinks, and it may price a lot families out of attending. Yet, there were thousands of people in attendance (although it seemed that the majority were family members of the dance groups).
In the mid-afternoon, the various dance groups (toba, tinku, caporales, morenada, etc) lined up and waited their turn for NoVa’s own version of an entrada. Around this circular road on the Fairgrounds, people brought lawn chairs and displayed an utter lack of enthusiasm. Instead of a typical brass band providing backing music, a pick-up truck was loaded up with DJ equipment and speakers. Things were vastly different than the usual festive scene of Carnaval in Oruro. Perhaps the absence of beer vendors toned down the mood.
Finally, I was not overly excited about the prospects of getting Bolivian food. With so many Bolivian restaurants within arms-reach near my home, eating salteñas or silpancho is no longer the event that it was when I first arrived in the area. But, nevertheless I managed to order a plate of chicharron (without the mote).
So with that, the entire event was rather ho-hum. For me, I know I can see and eat the real thing fairly often. Traveling to Bolivia on an annual basis has left me spoiled for real salteñas (the best ones are the potosinas on Calle Ayacucho in Cochabamba, by the way) and seeing a more animated crowd at entradas. But for some, I know that this is as close as they are going to get to curb their nostalgia for their homeland. I know some Bolivians who have not been back for 7-10 years, citing cost, wanting to wait till children are old enough to appreciate the trip and documenation issues. Nevertheless, there were still a large number in spite of the distance involved.