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“Si Somos Americanos”/”If All of us are Americans”

“Si Somos Americanos” / “If All of us are Americans”


Sounds of: La Paz, Bolivia

May 29th, 2013 “We´re Americans,”  “Ugh, yea so are we. But, where are you from?”

    We walk towards through the plaza towards our hostel and gunshots ring out. Dan wants to go towards them to see the commotion, I want to walk as far away as possible and ignore them (don’t want to die).      hustling-lapaz

Ever since we arrived in La Paz, Bolivia there have been protests seemingly every day. (The gunshots we hear however, are just fireworks being shot into the sky during demonstrations.)  One morning we watched as hundreds of people walked the streets blocking the bus routes that day. Another day we heard men on megaphones and loudspeakers shouting of “brotherhood” and “justice.” Shots rang out loud and clear for over a week morning and night.

Dan and I did not have a clue what these protests were all about, and until we came onto a roadblock ourselves getting back to La Paz from Coroico (a small mountain town at the end of our trek) we hadn’t looked into it. The roadblock we experienced forced our minibus driver to backup down the mountain after a mega truck, while cars, taxis, and cement trucks fought for space on the road to turn around and find another route (on top of a cliffhanging mountain road I might add.) The detour we were forced to take brought us up up up and close to (or on) “the world’s most dangerous road” a road that is known for it’s death toll of bikers and cars. dan-lapaz

Anyways we have been investigating the protests…

     All the roadblocks and protests stem from the C.O.B. which stands for the Central Obrera Boliviano, the largest workers union in the country. The main people within that union that are causing the commotion right now are the miners, the biggest coalition within the union. They are fighting for their retirement fund. They want 100% of their last-earned wages, which many people think is an unsustainable demand. The miners have just recently (in the last few days) accepted the offer by Evo Morales, the president of Bolivia, for 70 %, even though this was offered to them in the past. Miners are trying to show that they are still a force to be reckoned with, that they can close down the city, and even loot those stores that do not close for their behalf. Generally the public who are not associated with the C.O.B. think the protests are bullshit because it causes daily inconveniences such as traffic, store closings, and mayhem. However, doctors and teachers along with a few other professions are part of the workers union and smaller protests happen throughout the city for their own causes. (Apart from the workers unions, the selling of the nations natural rescources (mainly gas), and the mistreatment of the indigenous population, have also been main causes for conflicts in Bolivia.)

woman-lapazAnother day here we were refused coca leaves at the market. A woman simply would not sell them to us. She spoke sternly something that sounded like “No suporta!” but I’m not positive. Either way, she sat in front of her two GIANT garbage bags filled with coca leaves to sell, and did not sell them to us.  She couldn’t have known we were Americans because all I said was “Una bolsa por favor.” But we were white and the majority of “us” are against Bolivia opening up the coca market (because of the drug trade.) So after we walked away feeling like the unpopular kids in school who are refused a table at the cafeteria, we decided to look into this issue as well.

  Coca is a plant, not a narcotic. It is used as a replacement for coffee as a stimulant, for chewing, in mate teas, and for offerings to pachamama and other religious ceremonies. The plant posesses mild alkaloids that provide an essential barrier against altitude sickness and fatigue for farmers and miners in the highlands. People have been using coca foreeeever in Bolivia for traditional uses.  BUT Bolivia is also the third largest contributer of Cocaine to the drug market. Previously, the US Ambassador kept watch over Bolivia with DEA agents working in the country to eliminate illegal coca growing and trading. This in turn caused a ton of violence and deaths in Bolivia in the past decade. A government report said 60 people were killed and more than 700 were wounded in the Chapare alone (the largest coca growing zone in Bolivia) from 1998 to 2002 in violence related to eradication. When Evo Morales (a past coca grower, and the first indigenous president) became president in 2005 he established coca growing as an intrinsic part of Bolivian heritage and Andean culture!  Evo demanded the expulsion of the US ambassador from Bolivia and was then placed on the US’s drug “black list” in 2008 for not cooperating with them. Morales then kicked the DEA out of the country. He legalized the traditional chewing of the coca leaf and has been working hard to make an industry of coca bi-products such as medicines, teas, cosmetics, etc. However, Cocaine production is still a huge problem due to new refining processes (they have new technology to grow less coca and make more cocaine.) So Evo uses the motto “Coca yes, Cocaine no” and has created units to fight drug trafficking and related crime. His approach seems to be working as of now, and only time will tell. Either way, chewing coca leaves definitely helps us with nausea in the high mountains!

“It’s fascinating to look at a country that kicked out the United States ambassador and the D.E.A., and the expectation on the part of the United States is that drug war efforts would fall apart,” said Kathryn Ledebur, director of the Andean Information Network, a Bolivian research group. Instead, she said, Bolivia’s approach is “showing results.” – NY Times

“The results speak for themselves,” said Carlos Romero, the minister of government. “We have demonstrated that you can objectively do eradication work without violating human rights, without polemicizing the topic and with clear results.” – NY Times

For more info on the Coca situation in Boliva and the US!

We have had many people in Brazil, Argentina, and Bolivia greet us with warm holas, help us with directions (unasked), listen to and enjoy our music, feed us delicious food, give us shelter, and much more. We have also experienced a few unwelcome glances, a few unanswered “thank yous” a lot of ripping us off at the market, and some occurances of being fully ignored.

Our new instrument (the charango), our newly learned informatioflute-group-lapazn, and our location here in La Paz for the past few weeks have brought us to this song. We wanted to write a song that was  influenced by the city, its people, and our interactions with them. We chose to attempt to create a song to unify some of these barriers between North and South America.

While Dan was studying the Charango chords he came across a popular folk song with the perfect message and so we decided to revamp it! “Si somos Americanos” made us re evaluate what it means to be an American and we hope it does the same for you. Do you know your neighbors by their first names?

Original lyrics by Rolando Alárcon

Rolando Alarcon was a Chilean singer/songwriter/composer/teacher  of the 1960’s and 70’s. His music blends a strummed guitar folk sound with the chorango, as well as drums and panpipes of indigenous Andean music. He was an advocate for peace and justice throughout the Americas and beyond. During his career he traveled to Europe, France, Russia, Cuba, and later to the United States where in 1960 he recorded his songs in New York. He died when he was only 43, on February 4, 1973 in Santiago.

Si somos americanos      IMG_0407
somos hermanos, señores,
tenemos las mismas flores,
tenemos las mismas manos.

Si somos americanos,
seremos buenos vecinos,
compartiremos el trigo,
seremos buenos hermanos.

Bailaremos marinera,
refalosa, zamba y son.
Si somos americanos,
seremos una canción.

Si somos americanos,
no miraremos fronteras,
cuidaremos las semillas,
miraremos las banderas.

Si somos americanos,
seremos todos iguales,
el blanco, el mestizo, el indio
y el negro son como tales.

Literal English translation

Note: We strayed from the literal English translation because Ronaldo Alarcon wrote poetically, rhyming lines 2 and 4. (Except for vs.1 which he rhmes 1 and 4).  Any literal English translation would not do so. Also the song is written in 6/8 time which gives the multi/syllabled words in Spanish a beautiful fluency within the meter. We attempted to recreate this fluency by sacrificing the literal translation only enough to keep the melody alive.

If we are Americans,     IMG_0408
we are brothers, gentlemen.
We have the same flowers,
we have the same hands.

If we are Americans,
we will be good neighbors.
We will share the wheat,
we will be good brothers.

We will dance the marinera,
resfalosa, zamba and son.
If we are Americans,
we will be one song.IMG_0409

If we are Americans,
we will not patrol our borders.
We will take care of the seed,
we will watch the flags.

If we are Americans,
we will all be equals.
Whites, mestizos, indians
and blacks are all equal.

We will dance the marinera,
resfalosa, zamba and son.
If we are Americans,
we will be one song.

Our English translation

If all of us are Americans,         IMG_0410
we are brothers, we are sisters.
We have the same eyes and hands,
we have the same foes and kins.

If all of us are Americans,
we will be the best of neighbors,
we will share the bread and butter,
we will come when called for favor.

We will dance the macarena,
do the tango, samba, and some.
If all of us are Americans,
then we are to be one song.

If all of us are Americans,        IMG_0411
we will not patrol our borders.
The earth will be taken care of,
we will watch over each other.

If all of us are Americans,
we are equal to one another,
the colors they blind our judgement,
our sameness we must recover.

We will dance the macarena,
do the tango, samba, and some.
If all of us are Americans,
then we are to be one song.


IMG_0412       The instrument we bought is a Charango. It is a beautiful handmade Andean mini guitar with 5 sets of double strings, traditionally made out of the shell of an armadillo. Now the quirquincho (armadillo) is officially an endangered species and Bolivia has made a ban for the capture and use of the quirquincho for these purposes. Ours is made of one piece of solid wood. It came with a beautiful green bolivian handmade case and has a bright, happy sound similar to a ukulele. While buying the charango we met a sweet guy named Cristopher, who worked at the store and who helped us to record this song. He taught us a bit about the differences between Chilean music and Bolivian music (particularly the cueca style which we use in the song) and is playing the charango on the song. We met up with him a few times to practice in his charango shop down the street and recorded yesterday. We also used two latin percussive instruments, the chullus (a woven ribbon with dried goat hooves onto it), and a big bass drum made of cow hide. We had another guy play amazing classical lead guitar all over the song but unfortunately the recordings never turned out. Also, we were hoping to find a Spanish singer to sing the Spanish verses but it never happened. Maybe in Peru…Enjoy!