Bolivian Americans

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Bolivian Americans
Total population
116,646 (2018)[1]
0.04% of the U.S. population (2018)[1]
Regions with significant populations
Predominantly Roman Catholic • Protestant • Mennonite, Mormon • Jehovah's Witnesses • Judaism • Atheist • Non-religious
Related ethnic groups
Spanish Americans, Latin Americans, Hispanic Americans, Latinos, Paraguayan Americans, Argentine Americans, Peruvian Americans, Brazilian Americans, Quechua Alliance

Bolivian Americans or Bolivia-Americans (Spanish: boliviano-americano, norteamericanos de origen boliviano or estadounidenses de origen boliviano) are Americans of at least partial Bolivian descent.

Bolivian Americans are usually those of Indigenous, Mestizo, or Spanish background but also occasionally having African, German, Croatian, Lebanese and/or Japanese heritage.

Bolivians compose the third smallest Latin American group in the United States, with a 2010 Census population of 99,210. The highest concentration resides in the Washington D.C. metropolitan area, which accounts for 38% of the total Bolivian population in the United States (especially Fairfax County, Virginia).[2] Additional areas of concentration include the New York City borough of Queens, Miami-Dade County, and the cities of Los Angeles and Providence, Rhode Island. In relative terms, a large number of Bolivian-born medical doctors reside in the Chicago metropolitan area.


Westlake Theatre building, side wall mural of Jaime Escalante and Edward James Olmos.

Small numbers of Bolivians have been immigrating into the United States since at least the California Gold Rush in the mid-nineteenth century. In the first half of the twentieth century, some upper-class Bolivians came to the United States seeking to further their and their children's academic education or artistic training, including, for example, the father of Raquel Welch, an aeronautical engineering student at the University of Illinois in the 1930s, and the father of violin child prodigy Jaime Laredo, who moved to San Francisco in the 1940s.

Large-scale Bolivian immigration into the United States occurred in two significant phases. The first phase occurred during and subsequent to the 1952 National Revolution (between 1952 and the latter 1960s). Most of these immigrants consisted of middle- to upper-middle income occupational professionals or political dissidents, belonging mainly to Bolivia's European descendant community.[3] This group included many engineers, medical doctors, academics and business executives. In many cases, they had first come to the United States on college athletic scholarships (e.g. tennis) in the 1960s and thereafter, for medical residency training, or for post-graduate university education, including the first Fulbright Scholars from Bolivia in the mid-1950s—for men, civil engineer Walter Gonzalez Gonzalez at the University of Illinois;[4] for women, economist Blanca Sfeir Cavero at the University of Iowa.[5][6] Some of these professionals quickly organized themselves institutionally. For example, in New York City, the Bolivian American Chamber of Commerce[7] was formed; in Chicago, the Bolivian American Medical Society was incorporated;[8] and in Urbana, Illinois, the Bolivian Studies Journal was founded.[9] One of the members of the Board of Directors of the Bolivian American Chamber of Commerce is Marcelo Claure. One of the members of the Board of Directors of the Bolivian American Medical Society was Dr. Hugo Muriel, who served as the City of Chicago's Health Commissioner in the Mayor Jane Byrne administration. Another Board member, Jorge A. Cavero was honored by the American Medical Association Foundation in 2021 with its Medical Excellence/Pride in the Profession Award. Moreover, in the early 1990s, the Bolivian American Medical Society received the Order of the Condor of the Andes award from the then president of Bolivia Jaime Paz Zamora. Another Bolivian American medical doctor, Enrique Via-Reque is a founder and board member of Solidarity Bridge, an Illinois not-for-profit that organizes medical mission trips to Bolivia and Paraguay. One of the founding editors of the Bolivian Studies Journal, Nelly Sfeir Gonzalez, was awarded the Jose Toribio Medina Prize and served as president of the Seminar on the Acquisition of Latin American Library Materials.

The second notable phase of Bolivian immigration (between 1980 and 1988) was a result of Bolivia's fiscal policies in the 1970s which gave way to the hyperinflation throughout most of the 1980s. Most of these immigrants consisted of lower-income Mestizo (European/Amerindian mix) and Indigenous Bolivians obtaining work posts as service and manual laborers. Most of the Bolivian American population is of Quechua descent, with the majority of them hailing from the Valle Alto region of Cochabamba, from towns like Tarata, Arbieto, Cliza, Punata, and Tolata, with most of them living in the D.C. area.[10] They have also organized themselves into institutions. For example, in Chicago, the group Renacer Boliviano, the core of which hails from La Paz and Oruro, began as a caporales folk dance troupe, expanded into hosting Bolivian carnaval dinner dances in the winter and 6 de agosto barbecues in the summer, and finally has become a charitable organization that raises funds for charities in Bolivia[11] and in northern Virginia, the Arlington Bolivian Soccer League Inc is a 501(c)3 not for profit[12] that has provided funding for erecting in the Tarata town square an equestrian statue of war of independence hero Esteban Arze.

Another way that Bolivian immigrants to the United States maintain community is through annual reunions of graduates of Bolivian high schools, such as the American Institute ("Amerinst"),[13] which has schools in La Paz and Cochabamba, and Colegio La Salle ("La Salle"), which has schools in La Paz, Cochabamba, Oruro, Santa Cruz, and Trinidad. Amerinst was founded by Methodist missionaries from Illinois and La Salle was founded by Catholic Christian brothers from France and Spain. Notable alumni of Amerinst include President Hernan Siles Zuazo and Vice President Juan Lechin Oquendo as well as Bolivian Americans Jorge Berindoague, Michael Jusbasche, Nelly Sfeir Gonzalez, and Daisy Urquiola Wende. In addition, Chilean writer Isabel Allende is also an alumna of Amerinst. Notable alumni of Colegio La Salle include President Jorge Quiroga, neuroscientist Mohammed Mostajo-Radji, and Nobel laureate in literature Mario Vargas Llosa.

In terms of cultural impact, Bolivian Americans have expanded the menu of foods available to mainstream Americans. There are Bolivian restaurants in New York City, northern Virginia, San Francisco and Los Angeles, among other major metropolitan centers. The Bolivian empanada, called saltena has a growing following in the United States. Bolivian foods such as quinoa and cherimoya are sold in many grocery stores across the country. One of the first to grow cherimoya commercially in the United States was Samuel Grossberger, a Bolivian immigrant medical doctor from Cochabamba who settled in California in the 1960s. In terms of music, Bolivian flute and panpipe melodies are well known to those who appreciate world music. The Bolivian folk group Los Kjarkas performs to sold-out audiences in New York City, Los Angeles and Miami. Their song "Llorando se fue" became known as the lambada song and was a global number one hit. In terms of fashion, Bolivian Americans, in particular the designer Daisy Wende in the 1970s, popularized the poncho as part of a stylish woman's wardrobe (previously, it had been considered male clothing). In terms of fine art, the Bolivian medical doctor and amateur painter Ruben German Plaza assembled and exhibited in the 1990s an extensive collection of prize-winning watercolors by Ohio artists (the "Plaza Collection"). Donna Huanca, born in Chicago, Illinois and resident of Berlin, Germany, is a painter, sculptor and performance artist who has shown her work internationally, including at Exhibition 211. Carolina Zumaran-Jones is a Maryland-based fine art photographer. Bolivian Americans have also left their mark on Hollywood. Jaime Mendoza-Nava composed musical soundtracks for a number of Hollywood films. Raquel Welch and Pato Hoffmann have had starring roles in Hollywood films and Jose Luis Penaranda, Reynaldo Pacheco and Ryan Emilio Molina have had supporting roles. Doris Casap is an independent film producer. Rommel Villa is a director of short films. In journalism, Natalia Girard is a UNIVISION news anchor for the Miami metropolitan area.

Many Bolivians who emigrated to the United States came as tourists. However, many remained of indefinite way in the country, setting with family and friends. This made it difficult to know the number of Bolivians living in the United States. Between 1984 and 1993, only 4,574 Bolivians got U.S. citizenship. In this period about 457 were naturalized each year.[14]


Actress and singer Raquel Welch.

Bolivians have settled throughout the United States, mainly in Washington D.C., California and Maryland; there are also large groups of Bolivian immigrants in Texas, New York City, New Jersey, South Florida, North Carolina, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, and Chicago, home to a community of Bolivian medical doctors and their families, most of whom originally from Cochabamba. Included in this group are cardiologist Patricia Cavero, urologist Fernando Gonzalez, general surgeon Oscar Herbas and internist Alex Montero. The number of Bolivians in the U.S. in 2006 was estimated at 82,322. Most Bolivian immigrants are high school or college graduates; many work in companies, in government or in academia.[14] For example, Eduardo Gamarra is a professor of Latin American politics at Florida International University; Elizabeth Monasterios is professor of Latin American literature at the University of Pittsburgh; and Maria Tapias is a professor of anthropology at Grinnell College. In the STEM fields, standouts include chemical engineer Markita del Carpio Landry, neuroscientist Mohammed Mostajo-Radji, and mathematician and quantitative neuroscientist Xavier Gonzalez, a Rhodes Scholar. Others who have STEM PhDs have made successful careers in private industry, including electrical engineer Augusto Gutierrez-Aitken (expertise in lasers and photosensors) and materials scientist Luis Fanor Vega. A couple of entrepreneurs have become billionaires in the US, including Marcelo Claure and Michael Jusbasche. A Bolivian-born biotech entrepreneur is Rodrigo Navarro. Among the new generation of US-born entrepreneurs focusing on opportunities in data science are lawyer Pablo Ormachea and psychologist Juan Manuel Contreras. In the field of corporate law, John Paul Crespo is a partner at a major Houston law firm, Vania Montero is deputy general counsel of one of the largest US airlines, and Javier Gonzalez-Sfeir was an international lawyer and general counsel. A good number of Bolivian-Americans are musicians specializing in string instruments such as violin virtuoso Jaime Laredo, guitar maestro Javier Calderon, and charango wizard Eddy Navia (one of the founders of the iconic Bolivian folk group Savia Andina). Bolivian-born Fabiana Claure, prize winner at the 2002 Arthur Fraser International Piano Competition, and US-born Ana-Maria Vera, whose recording of Mozart and Hadyn concertos with the Rotterdam Philharmonic was awarded a Gold Record by Philips Records, are two outstanding Bolivian American concert pianists. Liz Calle is a lyrical and cross-over soprano. Of the Bolivian Americans born in the United States, many are medical doctors, engineers, lawyers and university professors. Some have served in the United States armed forces in Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan. Major Emily Georgette Sfeir, US Army, was part of Task Force Argo that rescued Afghan interpreters and their families following the Taliban takeover in 2022. Bolivian Americans have also excelled in the teaching profession: AP Calculus teacher Jaime Escalante received the Presidential Medal of Excellence in Education from President Ronald Reagan in 1988, Javier Ergueta was named the 2018 Delaware History Teacher of the Year by the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History, and Graciela Lara de Penaranda (a political self-exile who was a judge and prosecutor in Bolivia) was the head of the Spanish and French department at the Lado International Institute in Washington DC in the 1980s. Bolivian Americans can be found as students in the finest universities in the country, including Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Stanford, M.I.T., and the United States Military Academy. Bolivian American college students have been awarded the Fulbright Scholarship,[15] the Marshall Scholarship[16] and the Rhodes Scholarship[17] Many Bolivian American women, both those born in Bolivia as well as those born in the United States, have had noteworthy success in NCAA women's tennis. [18][19] Furthermore, Gualberto Escudero at Pepperdine University and Ramiro Azcui at Indiana University have served as long-time head coaches of NCAA Division I varsity women's tennis programs.


A Bolivian restaurant in Falls Church, Virginia

The largest populations of Bolivians are situated in the following areas (Source: Census 2010):

  1. Washington-Arlington-Alexandria, DC-VA-MD-WV MSA – 37,607
  2. New York-Northern New Jersey-Long Island, NY-NJ-PA MSA – 9,749
  3. Los Angeles-Long Beach-Santa Ana, CA MSA – 7,068
  4. Miami-Fort Lauderdale-Pompano Beach, FL MSA – 6,697
  5. Houston-Sugar Land-Baytown, TX MSA – 2,359
  6. Chicago-Joliet-Naperville, IL-IN-WI MSA – 2,099
  7. San Francisco-Oakland-Fremont, CA MSA – 2,078
  8. Providence-New Bedford-Fall River, RI-MA MSA – 1,970
  9. Dallas-Fort Worth-Arlington, TX MSA – 1,223
  10. Boston-Cambridge-Quincy, MA-NH MSA – 1,170
  11. Riverside-San Bernardino-Ontario, CA MSA – 1,114
  12. San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara, CA MSA – 898
  13. San Diego-Carlsbad-San Marcos, CA MSA and Tampa-St. Petersburg-Clearwater, FL MSA – 808
  14. Orlando-Kissimmee-Sanford, FL MSA – 744
  15. Baltimore-Towson, MD MSA – 710
  16. Atlanta-Sandy Springs-Marietta, GA MSA – 647
  17. Seattle-Tacoma-Bellevue, WA MSA – 558
  18. Philadelphia-Camden-Wilmington, PA-NJ-DE-MD MSA – 524
  19. Salt Lake City, UT MSA – 519
  20. Phoenix-Mesa-Glendale, AZ MSA – 502

Immigrants by County 2015-2019[2]

Total immigrant population from Bolivia in the U.S.: 78,900

Top Counties:

1) Fairfax County, VA ---------------------------- 13,000

2) Miami-Dade County, FL --------------------- 4,000

3) Los Angeles County, CA -------------------- 3,600

4) Arlington County, VA -------------------------- 3,600

5) Montgomery County, MD ------------------- 3,500

6) Prince William County, VA ------------------ 3,300

7) Queens Borough, NY -------------------------- 1,800

8) Orange County, CA ----------------------------- 1,800

9) Loudoun County, VA --------------------------- 1,800

10) Providence County, RI ---------------------- 1,700

11) Harris County, TX ----------------------------- 1,600

12) Collier County, FL ----------------------------- 1,500

13) Broward County, FL -------------------------- 1,400

14) Alexandria City, VA --------------------------- 1,300

15) Cook County, IL -------------------------------- 1,100

Notable people[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b "B03001 HISPANIC OR LATINO ORIGIN BY SPECIFIC ORIGIN - United States - 2018 American Community Survey 1-Year Estimates". U.S. Census Bureau. July 1, 2018. Retrieved November 25, 2019.
  2. ^ a b "U.S. Immigrant Population by State and County". February 4, 2014. Retrieved May 1, 2022.
  3. ^ The American Latino: Psychodynamic Perspectives on Culture and Mental Health Issues.
  4. ^ Jaldin, Marcelo (November 13, 2022). "Premio Walter Gonzalez: la Excelencia Académica de Ingenieria Civil" [Walter Gonzalez Prize: Academic Excellence in Civil Engineering]. La Razon (in Spanish). LaPaz, Bolivia. Retrieved September 21, 2023.
  5. ^ a b "In Memoriam: Nelly Sfeir Gonzalez". February 5, 2021.
  6. ^ "Nelly Sfeir Gonzalez". Champaign-Urbana News Gazette. December 12, 2020.
  7. ^ "History & Mission". Bolivian American Chamber of Commerce. 2023. Retrieved September 23, 2023.
  8. ^ Cavero, Raleigh. "Our Latino Heritage: Why Chicago Became Home to Many Bolivian Doctors". Latino Reports. NBC News.
  9. ^ History
  10. ^ Only the Bridge Matters Now
  11. ^ "Renacer Boliviano". Archived from the original on September 26, 2023.
  12. ^ Wax, Emily. "For Area Bolivians, Cherishing the Past, Looking to the Future". local news. The Washington Post.
  13. ^ <!—Not Stated—> (2022). "Asociación de Ex-Alumnos Amerinst USA (AEA-USA)". AEA-USA. Retrieved October 4, 2023.[dead link]
  14. ^ a b Bolivian Americans by Tim Eigo
  15. ^ "Natasha Gonzalez named Fulbright Scholar". Harvard University Women's Tennis. April 29, 2020.
  16. ^ Ryan, Paul (October 8, 2018). "Tennis is a Synonym for Friendship". USTA Texas. Austin. Retrieved September 17, 2023.
  17. ^ "Men's Tennis' Xavier Gonzalez Named Rhodes Scholar". Harvard University Men's Tennis. November 20, 2017.
  18. ^ "HPU Athletics Honors 2018 Hall of Fame Class". High Point University Athletics. April 21, 2018.
  19. ^ "Natasha Gonzalez Awarded ITA Northeast's Arthur Ashe Award". Harvard University Women's Tennis. May 18, 2020. Retrieved September 18, 2023. Gonzalez, the 2019-20 team co-captain, has also been named to the Spring 2020 Academic All-Ivy team
  20. ^ "HPU Athletics Honors 2018 Hall of Fame Class". High Point University Athletics. April 21, 2018.
  21. ^ "Nelly Sfeir Gonzalez". Champaign-Urbana News Gazette. December 12, 2020.
  22. ^ "Gonzalez, Nelly S. 1930". on line: on line encyclopedia. 2004. Retrieved October 2, 2023.
  23. ^ Mantilla, Martha; Sotomayor, Antonio (January 2022). "Remembering Nelly Sfeir Gonzalez". Bolivian Studies Journal. 28 (2022): 7–18. doi:10.5195/bsj.2022.259. Retrieved September 29, 2023.
  24. ^ Durango: Songwriters Expo Archived 2010-12-24 at the Wayback Machine.
  25. ^ "Bolivian-Iranian Comedian Martin Amini Provides the Kind of Relief We Need Right Now".

Further reading[edit]