On the outskirts of São Paulo, where the richest city in Brazil is lost among Asian dining rooms and street markets traced to the Andean highlands, Korean and Bolivian migrant communities are waging a fierce battle for the monopoly on the counterfeiting of branded clothing. Since survival is kill or be killed, a plan emerges in the Pacsi family’s workshop. Tayson, the first-born, the first of the clan with a Brazilian passport, can disguise the lineage enough to spy on the competition and go unnoticed. Business picks up. His father takes out a loan to buy a car. Tayson, on the verge of adolescence, becomes the hero of the neighborhood. But the happy ending of the migrant yearning begins to crumble the day they discover it.
“As much as we want, we cannot hide who we are,” says the Pacsi patriarch in a premonition that augurs a swift return home. Seoul, Sao Paulo, the story with which Gabriel Mamani Magne (La Paz, 33 years old) won the last National Novel Prize in Bolivia and caused an earthquake in the country’s literary landscape, begins there. The Pacsi return to the family home with the failure of the return silenced under the myths of their success abroad. Back in La Paz, while his father longs to return to Brazil, Tayson must face his inevitable Bolivianity in the face of social codes that he does not know, a language that he does not use and national symbols that he does not care about. From the first person of the relative who guides the newcomer, Mamani Magne builds a story about the crossing of two mountain ranges, adolescence and uprooting, in a country where identity has been historically constructed from racism.
“It is the Bolivia that has been silenced,” says the writer and professor of Bolivian Literature at the Catholic University of La Paz in an interview with this newspaper. “My characters are not poor, they do not fulfill the stereotype of the miserable Aymara. They represent the emerging Bolivia, which has become rich. What I tell in the book is the popular, people who live from day to day, migrants, merchants. All of that is very Bolivian. I wanted to naturalize him to say that a Quechua or an Aymara have a life like that of any person ”.
The Pacsi cousins face their final year of high school amidst mandatory military service professing a historical hatred of Chile for the loss of the ocean access and the implosion of Korean pop and sexuality on their middle-class youth phones. Tayson, one of the more than 300,000 Bolivians living in Brazil for work reasons, meets his Bolivian side back in his parents’ country. The narrator, who keeps up with him as he meets with Homeland, he meets his Aymarism, another way of being a foreigner in the country that does not fully admit multiculturalism in his idea of the national. Far from the celebration of miscegenation and the tragic course that being indigenous has always marked in Bolivian literature, Mamani Magne achieves a sweet and ironic look summarized in a family that cries, laughs and gets drunk to the rhythm of the cumbia in a sheltered room by a pre-Inca monolith and the many inches of his plasma television.
“I am very suspicious of the word mestizo in Bolivia,” says the writer. “Especially from the discourse of the elites who have used the concept to say that there are no racial differences that violate rights in the country. The idea of miscegenation is the lair of Bolivia that does not want to admit its indigenous side. It is a refuge to say ‘I am not so Indian,’ says the author, who won the National Novel Prize in 2019, in the midst of the political crisis that ended in exile of former president Evo Morales and the death of at least 23 people by military repression.
While a conservative wave took power and exposed the racist fracture of the country, Mamani Magne put the magnifying glass on the eternal Bolivian identity crisis. National criticism was unanimous. Even the one who looked for a loose leg in the story — such as the absence of a strong female voice — celebrated the novel as an essential story for its time. “Something that stung me is that there was talk that I showed ‘another Bolivia,” admits the author. “What other Bolivia? When the majority of the country lives like these characters, the other Bolivia is the one that has always been narrated. It seems to me an attempt to show the book as exotic, when they are the exotics ”.
Winner of the highest literary award in the Andean country in 2019 – the last year it was summoned – Mamani Magne made a pilgrimage for almost a year to receive the entire prize of the contest. Between the ruling and the award, the interim government of Jeanine Áñez suppressed the Ministry of Culture and, after the return of Morales’ party to power in the October 2020 elections, economic efforts focused on the covid-19 pandemic . “You also have to understand that the publishing machinery in Bolivia is very weak,” says the author, who in the last decade has forged himself as one of the most elastic voices in national literature, winning practically all the literary competitions in the country: the Prize Franz Tamayo for a story, in 2018, the Eduardo Abaroa Award in the category of cultural journalism, in 2015, and the Children’s Literature Award, in 2012.
Two years after its publication, Seoul, Sao Paulo (Editorial 3600), it continues to be commented in literary circles in Bolivia, “even though it did not have the necessary distribution”, in the author’s words. From last week can be purchased online all over the world. “I ask: how do I get them to read me? Something machine, something pulls you. And those people come from the same circle, I would dare to say that from the same elite ”, reflects Mamani Magne. “I think that is very difficult to overcome. But hey, technology, the internet, it does help to democratize ”.
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