Hidden People, Hidden Identity: socio-cultural and Linguistic change among Quechua migrants in lowland Bolivia

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Martínez-Acchini, Leonardo Miguel

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University of Florida


This research is about cultural and linguistic change among western Bolivian highland and valley peasants who have been migrating to the country’s eastern lowlands in the recent years, a very widespread phenomenon in developing economies of the Andean neo-tropics today. In particular, I want to know how Quechua-speaking people from the highlands and valleys adapt to lowland culture; which ethnic traits and linguistic resources they keep, and which ones they abandon; and which strategies they utilize to ease the process of adaptation. The results indicate that highland migrants who settled in the lowland community of Cuatro Cañadas (department of Santa Cruz) speak less Quechua among themselves, and especially with their children, although they assign great importance to the maintenance of this language. Four specific cultural practices that were selected as indicators of Quechua mode of life were measured and analyzed. The results indicate that there is a substantial reduction of these practices in the lowlands. Also, inter-ethnic marriage (highlanders seeking lowlanders), thought to be an important strategy of adaptation, was found to be a preference for a reduced proportion of both the single migrant population and the married population. Therefore, migrants in Cuatro Cañadas are reducing their traditional linguistic behavior and the practice of specific cultural traditions, but their alliance patterns are still somewhat conservative. In spite of this process of acculturation, the theoretical framework used in this research argues that highland migrants do not fully own Cuatro Cañadas: they are trapped between traditional, modern and globalizing codes, and just embrace the hybrid nature of their identities, which makes them speak and behave in certain ways depending on which ethnic identity they want to activate.


A dissertation presented to the graduate school of the University of Florida in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy. 2009


Migration, Identity formation, Quechua Culture, Bolivian lowlands, Pós-Graduação Teses de Doutorado


Martínez-Acchini, Leonardo Miguel. 2009. Hidden people, hidden identity: socio-cultural and linguistic change among Quechua migrants in lowland Bolivia. [Gainesville, Fla.]: University of Florida. https://purl.fcla.edu/fcla/etd/UFE0024856.