“Me Siento Mas Boliviano Que Nunca”: Interviews and Observations on the Soccer Field

For my final research post, I wanted to share a bit about one of the most important parts of my project: to conduct both interviews and participant observation with a Bolivian soccer league in Buenos Aires. As with much of my research, where exactly this would take place depended much on the contacts I made and where they led me. Dr. Manuel Cervantes at FUNCRUSUR connected me with Augustin Flores, who brought me to two different parks: Parque Avellaneda y Parque Roca. My first day there, I talked with several “mesas de directores,” where the league leaders keep the paperwork and such. The first day, I completed some general interviews about basic organizational structures and took a lot of pictures.

Tollefson - Argentina - Asociacion
Me with Rigoberto (committee leader) and Pedro (president) of the Asociacion Deportiva Guaqui.
Two weeks later, I returned to the Parque Avellaneda to talk more formally with the president and committee leader of the Asociacion Deportiva Guaqui, Pedro and Rigoberto. The Asociacion Deportiva Guaqui (ADQ) includes mainly members from the town of Guaqui near Lake Titicaca, following the normal pattern of groups made up of individuals from the same region of Bolivia.

Tollefson - Argentina - Grupo
Game schedule.
Pedro and Rigoberto were incredibly forthcoming with their information, providing a wealth of data relating to both organization and how the leagues create camaraderie within the colectividad. This information will support my final project by allowing me a closer understanding of the reasons for and consequences of the league: it provides a space for Bolivians to meet, escape discrimination (even “small” acts of discrimination, such as for their accent), and allows young people and adults alike a place to escape boredom that can lead to undesirable activities. Many of the people I spoke with mentioned this last aspect, stating that it provided an outlet for energy that could otherwise be spent drinking. As the title of this post indicates, Rigoberto stated that his involvement in the Bolivian league makes him “feel more Bolivian than ever.” This so clearly expresses the ways in which these leagues are working to maintain ethnic and national ties with the country of origin within the migrant community.

Tollefson - Argentina - Players
Players during one of the Sunday league games.
Perhaps most importantly, this research opens the way for numerous other, more sustained research opportunities. The ADG leaders estimated there are 50-100 other campeonatos bolivianos just within Bueos Aires. Considering this particular league has over 750 players in itself, there are a number of ways a broader project could be approached – surveys of all of the leaders of all of the campeonatos, surveys of all of the players of just one league, a more in-depth look at just one team. The opportunities are endless!

When I spoke with UBA professor Pablo Alabarces last week, we talked about the difference between a framework and a focus. The framework, in this project, is understanding how an immigrant group relates within its host society. But, by using the focus of soccer, I can see migration, societal relations, migrant groups, negotiation of identity, processes of inclusion and exclusion, and identification. If one important conclusion has come out of the research I just completed, before I even sit down to try to analyze the myriad implications it carries, it’s this: completing fieldwork absolutely reaffirmed my belief in soccer as a useful entrance point/focus of research, allowing a narrowed glimpse into the greater issues in life.

Posted by Amanda Tollefson – MA Candidate at CLACS

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