In October 2019, Bolivia took center stage in the news as mass protests and social division exploded over the contested presidential election. Bolivia’s first high profile Indigenous president, Evo Morales, was nearing the end of his near 14-year presidency and sought re-election. Mass protests and violence ensued and Morales obtained asylum in Mexico while an interim presidential constituency took over.
Differing perspectives, increasing death tolls and uncertainty over what was to come had Bolivian-Americans on the edge of their seat alongside the rest of the world. With a newfound interest in Bolivia and Bolivian politics, many people asked questions like “Where is Bolivia?” and “What’s its culture like?”
Here’s a quick rundown. Bolivia is one of the most ethnically diverse populations in the world and about 60% of people self-identify as Indigenous. It’s known as the “heart of South America”—both in location and in spirit—with much to offer in perspective, culture, identity, style and art.
Over the last few years, awareness of Bolivia’s culture has slowly seeped into the American consciousness. Stories like Vogue’s piece on Mountain-climbing cholitas, ABC’s short documentary on Cholita wrestlers, The New York Times’ feature on Freddy Mamani’s Psychedelic Aymara Architecture and others have served to highlight distinct stylistic aspects of the South American country.
We spoke to five Bolivian-American creatives who are expanding these narratives through varied forms of artistic expression within fashion, photography, music, film and art to further provoke a dialogue about their hybrid cultural experience. Click through each page below for a different story. First up? Fernanda Alcocer:
FERNANDA ALCOCER // FASHION DESIGNER
After graduating college in her hometown of Santa Cruz de la Sierra, Bolivia, Fernanda Alcocer jumped at the opportunity to work for TWELV Magazine [in New York] where she covered events, worked runway shows and met coveted designers like Mark Posen and Prabal Gurung.
The burgeoning streetwear scene was a launchpad of inspiration for Alcocer’s clothing brand ICE TEES—which she described as, “unisex, genderless streetwear & ready-to-wear brand, with a global sense of style.” All in all, it’s curated with diverse cultural representation in mind.
“I’d first think about functionality because we want the design and piece to be accessible for everyday wear but once we’d have the concept in mind we’d think, ‘how do we also incorporate what we consider to be the Bolivian cool factor’?”
What she once saw as commonplace Bolivian clothing, now strikes Alcocer as stylish inspiration for her designs. She pays homage to the elegant Cholita styles worn by Bolivian Indigenous women with pieces like the Hand Made Pollera Dress—which converts their traditional skirts (polleras) into full-length gowns—and adorned button-down shirts with iconic references to Bolivia’s majestic mountain Illimani.
In 2019, Fernanda’s fashion and streetwear journey came full circle when she partnered with NIKE BY YOU to design a shoe representative of her journey from Bolivia to the U.S.. The sneaker incorporated tributes to both her hometown of Santa Cruz and new home, New York, conveying the importance of opening opportunities for other immigrants to realize their dreams as well.
Fernanda Alcocer is preparing to launch the official ICE TEES web store and working on her “Made In Bolivia” event, created to promote other Bolivian designers and brands. Follow Fernanda’s journey @feraschmidt.