Bolivian Festival in Queens Uses Mini Figures to Think Big

Blanca Morales and Ekeko, the Andean god of prosperity and luck who presides over Alasitas. (Photo by Miranda Shafer via Feet in 2 Worlds)

Blanca Morales and Ekeko, the Andean god of prosperity and luck who presides over Alasitas. (Photo by Miranda Shafer via Feet in 2 Worlds)

With only 4,339 people, the Bolivian population in New York City accounts for a fraction of the Spanish-speaking immigrant communities, according to the 2011 American Community Survey. But in Queens, home to 60 percent of those Bolivians, the numbers are enough to preserve a tradition from home, reports Miranda Shafer for Feet in 2 Worlds: Alasitas, an indigenous festival where participants buy miniature figures of objects they hope to receive in the new year – houses, money, cars and diplomas for example. In keeping with the size of the Bolivian community here, the festival will be marked on a single day, January 25, whereas in Bolivia and Peru, it goes on for two weeks.

Blanca Morales runs the Queens festivities, which on Saturday will start out in Corona where a priest will bless the objects. There will also be vendors selling food, souvenirs and miniature objects. It’s a jump from its humble beginnings a dozen years ago.

The indigenous festival of “wishes and dreams” was first celebrated in New York twelve years ago when the president of the Bolivian Civic Cultural Community, Mirtha Cabrera, began hosting Alasitas in her house with her husband, Eduardo Medrano. The festival quickly outgrew their home and expanded to the couple’s restaurant in Elmhurst, Queens until Cabrera and Medrano handed over leadership to Morales.

Bolivian immigrants may have to settle for an abridged version of Alasitas in Queens but there are also other differences – namely in how they approach the festival and how they celebrate it.

First, Bolivians who might not have partaken in Alasitas back home do so now, according to Eduardo Medrano.

“In Bolivia the people that pretended to be white didn’t want to be associated with this type of tradition and culture, therefore it was looked upon as less. In New York, being from Bolivia itself is more important than being not white; we are more accepting of others.”

Mini houses and stores for Alasitas (Photo by Miranda Shafer via Feet in 2 Worlds)

Mini houses and stores for Alasitas (Photo by Miranda Shafer via Feet in 2 Worlds)

Medrano adds that Bolivians also think bigger here when it comes to their miniature versions.

“In Bolivia we used to buy small versions of sugar, rice, vegetables. Here we buy a little more than that; it’s probably our capitalistic point of view. We don’t buy that alone; we buy a replica of a small store,” he says. “The dream that we had in Bolivia of owning enough in the United States becomes owning that plus.”

Visit Feet in 2 Worlds to listen to Bolivians talk about the festival and for additional photos and more information on Saturday’s celebrations.

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