Featured Student Essay: Tambien la Lluvia: Race in Colonial and Present Day Bolivia – Fall 2015

By: Colleen Baxley

        It is often believed that the issue of race and racism is a problem of the past. The idea that one group of people can be discriminated against just because of their skin color would seem highly unlikely in today’s world, and yet it happens everyday. Recent events in the United States have proven that while slavery and segregation ended long ago, racial tensions still exist in American society. In the movie, Tambien la Lluvia or Even the Rain, a film crew from Spain realize that the film they are creating about the conquest of the new world by the Spanish after its discovery by Christopher Columbus directly parallels with the struggles Bolivia was facing in regards to water rights. While it is obvious that some things have changed in regards to race in Bolivia, there is a major similarity in which the authority figure is taking away the indigenous population’s right to live.

        To better understand why the Spaniards treated the indigenous peoples as non-humans, one must first understand their complicated history. For 700 years, Spain was under the control of Muslim leaders from North Africa. Muslim influence can be seen even today through words and architecture. Previously ruled by Christians, Spain was re-conquered in 1492. Christians, Jews, and Muslims had all lived in harmony before the ‘Reconquista’ but in 1492, all Muslims and Jews were expelled from Spain. Thus began Spain’s infatuation with the purity of their people through faith and race. This desire for purity translated to Spanish colonies when the monarchy sent Christopher Columbus to find a new trade route to India, but instead he found a whole new world. Columbus encountered more than just more land and resources, he found new populations to be conquered and that is exactly what Spain did.

Indigenous populations are always presented as uncivilized, uncultured communities that desperately need the assistance of their powerful, white neighbors. Even the Rain displays these stereotypes very well through the dialogue in the film. Indigenous populations are referred to as animals, monsters, violent, and uncivilized with the sole purpose of providing physical labor for the Europeans. These indigenous populations were treated and considered anything but human. As more and more Spanish colonized in the new world, a caste system was created depicting the station each race held in society. Pure whites from Europe held the highest station followed by anyone with a race mixed with a white person, trickling down to the lowest station of full indigenous, and when African slaves were introduced, full African.

        Spaniards used extreme and deadly force when conquering the indigenous populations. The movie describes these instances in many ways. First, after their arrival, Spaniards seized all gold adorning the native population. They followed this by forcing the indigenous peoples to collect a certain amount of gold to be allowed to live. If they did not collect enough, they would lose a limb. Once pockets of the population began fighting back, the Spaniards would enslave them and burn them alive to prove a point. There is one point in the film where the director is asking the actresses to pretend to drown their babies because back in the colonial era, had they been recaptured their children would be fed to the dogs. Even when a priest renounced the methods of conquest used by the Spaniards, the violence continued to where they killed the only man in their way. Indigenous people were not considered human but rather monsters, and yet it is the Spaniards that are acting animalistic and monstrous.

        Connotations against indigenous populations can still be seen today. Stereotypes, discrimination, hate crimes, and so on perpetuates the race issue across the world. In the movie, the treatment of indigenous peoples as a lesser class can be seen from the beginning. While casting, the director is told to pick whichever Indians he likes to serve as extras. It is like he is at a buffet because he just began choosing things rather than people. Many times throughout the movie, the indigenous people are referred to as starving, poor, violent, illiterate, and distrustful. Even the director, who corrects a comment made saying all indigenous populations are the same, falls victim to racism by putting his movie above the needs of the people and only paying the extras two dollars per day.

        During the film, Bolivia is on the brink of unrest over the privatization of water. Big businesses have bought the rights to all sources of water making it impossible for the poor, mostly indigenous, to access clean drinking water. When they create their own wells, the corporations in conjunction with the police, strip them of their access. When the population goes in upheaval and begins to protest, they are beaten and thrown in jail like a common animal. The film crew meets with an official who calls the protesters ‘these people’ and claims they are illiterate opportunists who when given an inch of wiggle room, will take and take until there is nothing left to give. The elitist population can sip on champagne because they have made money by stripping the indigenous people of their right to water, thus deeming them as less than human. The filmmakers even treat a man as a commodity by trading him with the police for some money just so he will finish the film, then they agreed to bring him right back to jail. Nothing matters except for money until the end of the film when a child gets hurt, and even then the fighting and racism did not stop.

        By the end of the film, it is unclear whether the situation in Bolivia improved based on the civil unrest that occurred but the people made their needs known. The filmmakers came to see how the movie they were making about the past was still relevant in their immediate life. There were many points where actors would be reading lines or acting out scenes only to be followed by situations that directly correlated to their present. One clear connection to the colonial past would be when the police crews sent out dogs to quiet the unrest in the streets. In the colonial section of the film, Spaniards sent attack dogs after runaway indigenous peoples forcing the scarification of an elderly woman who could not keep up. This is a direct parallel to when the rioting picks up steam in present Bolivia.

        Even the Rain exemplifies the role biopolitics play in today and yesterday’s societies. Changing the social order in order to control an entire group of people may seem like the methods of the past, but this film has shown that this concept still determines power. Biopolitics is centered on the control of one’s ability to live. While physical death plays a huge role in biopolitics, the quality of life is also a major component. In the colonial past, this can be seen through the murder if the indigenous populations and the brutality of the Spaniards. The entire order of indigenous society was upheaved so that the Spaniards had total control over quality of life and death. Human rights, as we see them today, were nonexistent.

        Even the Rain sheds light on the role of biopolitics in today’s society as well. By privatizing water in Bolivia, big businesses effectively control who can have clean drinking water. Only those willing and able to pay high taxes and rates can have the kind of water conducive with healthy living. The poor in Bolivia, who need the clean water as much as anyone else, are forced to have their children use what is available no matter the health risk. This control over quality of life is another aspect of biopolitics often looked over in regards to human rights. The connections between the past, present, and future are clear if racism and biopolitics continue to control human society. The desire for power seems to always overpower the right to life

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