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Maddy Mitchell / Gavel Media

BC Hosts Conversation on Bolivian Borderlands and Migration

On March 24, Boston College hosted a conversation between Ben Nobbs-Thiessen and Sarah Sarzynski.

Professor Nobbs-Thiessen comes from the University of Winnipeg and Professor Sarzynski from Claremont McKenna. 

The topic of conversation was Nobbs-Thiessen’s book Landscape of Migration. In the book, he takes a look at the lives of those living in Bolivia in the last century, especially those on the border. 

The event was held on Zoom with 22 participants from different schools and ages, including professors, undergraduate, and graduate students. 

The event began with Sarah Saryznski asking questions directly to Professor Nobbs-Thiessen about the book. After that, the floor was open to everyone to ask questions, starting with graduate students. 

There are three main points that Nobbs-Thiessen drew attention to. 

The first is that there were not many writings on Latin American countries besides Mexico. 

Especially during the Trump presidency, Mexico’s borders were always spoken about. Professor Nobbs-Thiessen wanted to bring attention to other borders, specifically Bolivia.

There was a need for this because, as he explained, you can learn lessons by those observations and apply them outside of the context of South America. Topics like water scarcity and environmental change are especially important to think about. 

The main part of the discussion revolved around this idea of the Bolivian Lowlands, the main topic of the book. Groups of people like the Okinawans and Memonnites entered the lowlands as outsiders.

In the Q&A portion, he explained that the Okinawans were a group from Asia who were displaced because of the creation of U.S. military bases. The book itself follows the exact stories of these migrations—why they moved and how they got moved. 

After the migration to the Lowlands, there was a desire to move to the Highlands. The Highlands were where there were more resources; it was not very different from Northern Mexico. 

In order to access information, Professor Nobbs-Thiessen looked at petitions. These were from individuals from the highlands petitioning to settle in the lowlands. Their argument was they should be able to settle on their own frontier rather than go work in Argentina or somewhere else. 

The Mennonites were harder because any information was absent from state archives. Also, they did not record their own history. So, he had to rely on an oral history to gain any information. 

The next seminar in this series is at 12:30 p.m. on April 9, entitled Nationalizing Nature: Iguazu Falls and National Parks at the Brazil-Argentina Border.