On April 23, 1964, Adalberta Monica Rey Gutierrez was born in Comunidad Marca, Bolivia. She lived with her mother Florentina Gutiérrez Barra and her step-father Simeón Rey Barra, both Simeón and Florentina worked in agriculture to provide for their family. Monica was a great student who consistently excelled in her schooling. At the age of eleven, Monica and her family moved to the city of La Paz, Bolivia, where she began attending a boarding school named Hogar y Colegio Ave María. Monica’s intellectual prowess helped her graduate from Hogar y Colegio Ave Maria as the first Afro-Bolivian to earn a diploma from the school. After graduating from boarding school, Monica continued her education by attending the Higher University of San Andrés. She went on to graduate from the university in 1997 with a bachelor’s degree in social communications, her thesis titled Saya as Mode of Communication and Cultural Expression in the Afro-Bolivian Community, was groundbreaking in that it was the first time someone presented thorough and accurate research about the Afro-Bolivian people. The thesis focused on a musical and dancing aspect of Afro-Bolivian culture called Saya. Saya is important to Afro-Bolivian culture and Monica used her thesis to articulate its importance to non-Afro-Bolivians.
In 1989, Monica became a leader within the Afro-Bolivian Saya Cultural Movement, which became an official organization that same year. The organization’s objective was to protect Afro-Bolivian people and culture while bringing Afro-Bolivian culture to the forefront and breaking the stereotypes. The Afro-Bolivian Saya Cultural Movement was able to apply enough pressure on the Bolivian government to change the way Afro-Bolivians were recognized. The terms Negrito, which means little black person, and Moreno, which means dark-colored people, were replaced with Afro-Bolivians. The people made sure they were recognized as both African and Bolivian. Afro-Bolivians had a victory but still more gains were needed. In 1994, Monica led a march for the recognition of Afro-Bolivian people on the grounds of the presidential palace because they needed their demands met. In 2001, Monica stepped down as the president of the Afro-Bolivian Saya Cultural Movement. In more groundbreaking work, Monica was able to work with an organization to conduct surveys on Afro-Bolivian people, studying them and acquire the needed information about the people for the first time.
The Inter-American Development Bank founded the research project, which led to the report titled Diagnostic of the Situation of the Black Community in Bolivia, which for the first time reported an estimate of the size of the Afro-Bolivian population, which was around 20,000. Monica followed the diagnostic report with a collaboration with Fundación Simón y Patiño in 1998, with the production of the booklet The Main Drum, a booklet that displayed the history and culture of Afro-Bolivian people. She became the General Directorate of Archaeology and Anthropology for a year before taking a position as a professor at the Franz Tamayo Private University. She taught at Franz Tamayo Private University for five years before taking a position as a professor at the Higher University of San Andrés. From 1990 to 2009 Monica served as an ambassador for Afro-Bolivian people, and in 2009 she became the Director-General of the Fight Against Racism within the Vice-Ministry of Decolonization. In 2010, She became the advisor to the Office of the Ministry of Productive Development and Plural Economy.
Because of the work Monica was doing, Afro-Bolivian people were allowed to participate in government for the first time in history. The National Council of Afro-Bolivians was formed and Monica served as the secretary. Afro-Bolivians were recognized as an individual ethnic group within the Bolivian census for the first time. Monica continued to achieve and is still achieving to this day. In 2014, she became the supranational deputy in the Chamber of Deputies of the administration of President Evo Morales, along with becoming the Director-General of Consumer Protection in the Ministry of Productive Development. In 2016, she introduced legislation to protect the human and civil rights of the Afro-Bolivian people. She dedicated her life’s work to helping her people and fighting racism. Afro-Bolivian people have more human rights and recognition because of the work of Monica Rey Gutierrez. To Adalberta Monica Rey Gutierrez, we proudly stand on your shoulders.
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