La Paz's Colonial Specters: Urbanization, Migration, and Indigenous Political Participation, 1900-52 (Bloomsbury, 2021) explores the urban history of one of Latin America’s most indigenous large cities in the first half of the twentieth century. Tracing the expansion of the “extramuro,” indigenous neighborhoods beyond the center of the city in these decades, Sierra brings to life the activists who transformed the city leading up to Bolivia’s National Revolution in 1952. Sierra begins by highlighting the racialized debates about space, modernization, and popular politics among elites that dominated Bolivia’s 1925 centenary celebrations and projects for urban development. Many elites hoped to relegate visible signs of indigeneity outside an imaginary line that divided the respectable, wealthy urban core from the mixed indigenous spaces of the urban periphery. However, as Sierra demonstrates, indigenous Bolivians were crucial to the functioning of urban life from the very heart of the old Spanish city to its rapidly expanding markets and outskirts. Therefore, lower class urbanites, indigenous and not, were able to insist upon an alternative vision of the city built upon neighborhood organizations, unions, and popular use of space long before the revolutionary days of urban street battles in April 1952.
This book will be of interest to urban historians and Latin American historians alike. Its careful explorations of gender, race, class and the mechanisms that build urban belonging will make this book essential reading for anyone interested in social movements and popular politics. Finally, by tracing the understudied history of neighborhood associations in the early twentieth century, La Paz’s Colonial Specters provides an essential background for scholars seeking to understand the roots of contemporary neighborhood organizations that continue to dominate Bolivia’s popular politics to this day.
Luis Sierra is Associate Professor of History at Thomas More University.
Elena McGrath is Assistant Professor of History at Union College.