Some critics are concerned that decolonization's focus on bloodline and ethnicity forces Bolivians to choose a single identity, and that could polarize the nation's ethnic groups. With each generation since Spaniard Francisco Pizarro's 1532 conquest, the ethnic lines have blurred a little more. Mestizos mixed with Indigenous mixed with Europeans, and family trees became entwined and entangled. This cycle repeated so many times that there are few purely Native or Spanish-descended Bolivians today.

Breaking the glass ceiling
   But an ethnic segregation has persisted nonetheless.
   "I can say that thanks to that culture of no unity, there are exploiters and exploited," said Muruchi, the director of the Department of Health Services in Cochabamba.
   Spanish colonization of the Natives pushed Bolivia's originarios to a place of inferiority from which they still have not returned. Diseases and advanced arms wiped out much of the population, and the rest were ripped from their traditions and forced to adopt those of their new rulers. These masses became the ancestors of generations barred from schools, prohibited from voting and largely unable to overcome extreme poverty. Nearly a third of Bolivians were living on less than $2 a day five years ago. These are the people — covered in battered clothes and a thick layer of dirt, living in rural villages or huddled on the sidewalks of La Paz — for whom calloused hands are trying to push through the glass ceiling.
   "I was trained with Western values, the system of the invaders, and it is hard to recover my own identity," Muruchi said.
   Until the 1950s, a small, elite population of mestizos and criollos, those who claim Spanish blood, kept a strong hold of the country's economic and political power. Many still live in Santa Cruz,where opposition was strongest against Morales when he was an Indigenous presidential hopeful. But a 1952 revolution helped pry open their firm grip, creating the perfect storm that would eventually lead to the coca farmer's election. With Morales in office, originarios gave national power to a man who looks like them: brown skin, broad facial features and coarse black hair.
   "We have the first Indigenous president. He not only has knowledge but also has the passion," Muruchi said. "He may not have gone to Harvard or Oxford, but his university has been his people. My president feels what the majority feels, it is the epistemological revolution."
   Bolivians launched Morales into office with the largest margin of votes for any leader in more than 30 years. He rode in on promises of "decolonizing the state" and meshing Native traditions and knowledge with national policies. One of the most visible — and audible — ways to do that is through language.

Cultural collage
   With Bolivia's dozens of ethnic cultures come a number of distinct languages. Spanish is the country's official language and the first choice of about 61 percent of the population, according to the 2001 Bolivian census. But the census reports that another 21 percent speak Quechua, 15 percent speak Aymara and 3 percent choose another language as their mother tongue.
   Since Morales' election and the creation of the country's newest constitution, he has made bilingualism a priority in his sweep of national changes.
   "The new constitution of the Bolivian state guarantees, for example, little by little, we all have to learn to speak a local language and a foreign language," Morales said in a 2009 GRITtv interview with Laura Flanders. "Of course Spanish is known, but also, as children of this noble land, it's necessary to know a Native language," he said.
   In the resurgence came the rise of community radio, which broadcasts programs in Indigenous languages.
   The linguistic revival, though still in progress, has breathed new life into other key aspects of Indigenous culture, such as religion. Although the majority of Bolivians identify with a branch of European Christianity, many self-proclaimed Catholics — including President Morales — create a hybrid by interweaving Native beliefs with Western worship. Bolivia's originarios tend to center their faith on nature and divine spirits, such as the Andean earth goddess Pachamama and sun god Inti.
   In a 1991 encyclical letter to Catholic bishops, Pope John Paul II welcomed the meshing of culture with Catholicism, saying that, "For an adequate formation of a culture, the involvement of the whole person is required, whereby he exercises his creativity, intelligence and knowledge of the world and of people."
   For an increasing number of Bolivians, that world includes pieces of their ancestors' faiths and practices. Many have caught on; a 2008-2009 Gallup study reported 59 percent of Bolivians as Catholics, a significant drop from the 78 percent who identified with the religion in the 1992 census.
   "I am not from the right or the left, and I never will be," Simón Yampara, an Aymara who works in La Paz as a delegate of international affairs in the mayor's office, said in Spanish. Many, Yampara said, feel the tug between colonial institutions — Christianity, liberalism, capitalism — and the ways of their ancestors. "At some point the Indigenous people have to take that out of their minds and hearts," he said.

A fresh start
   As Bolivia's decolonization debate continues, many originarios have begun to hold their heads higher. Radio airwaves carry more Nativelanguage programming, broadcasting ancient words through the streets of modern cities. Among peers clad in jeans and T-shirts, many young women have embraced the cholita style of their mothers and grandmothers, that of bowler hats, shawls, layered skirts and long black braids. And thousands crowd festivals rooted in Indigenous customs, such as the Andean New Year celebration.
   "We are not different, and we are not bowing our heads to anybody," Escobar said. "We are fighting as equals for a better world, for everybody. This is our way of fighting."
   The Andean New Year dominated the front pages of several Bolivian newspapers, showing the vitality of Indigenous culture in the nation's modern society. Throughout the country, Bolivians welcomed a fresh start, and they did it their way.
   "I am in a moment of reinventing the identity given to me by my grandparents and this urban space where I live my life daily," Escobar said. "It is not about coming back, because we never lost it. [It] actually is to reinvent what is already here."
   So Escobar stands with Muruchi and thousands of others across Bolivia. Under the wave of the massive wiphala, celebrators gather around smoldering fires or look out across the landscape in the glow of the young morning. As they talk and sing, a mark of blood from a sacrificial llama becomes animated on their cheeks, showing their ties to their ancestors and branding them as children of the earth.