History of the Gringo Tambo

In 2002, a number of social science researchers began dissertation work in and around the city of La Paz, Bolivia. Connected by a network of overlapping institutional affiliations, research interests, and the Fulbright office at the U.S. Embassy, they quickly came to know each other. Two of them rented an apartment to serve as temporary housing while visiting La Paz from their fieldsites. The four-bedroom apartment always had space for an extra person passing through, short term housing for the summer, or a corner to store a few things while traveling. While the residents of the Tambo were often elsewhere, once or twice a month they would gather informally. The residents have changed over time, but the apartment continues to be rented by a member of our community.

The apartment came to be called the “Gringo Tambo.”

In 2007, a group of the original roommates (most of whom were in the final stages of completing their doctorates) decided that the Tambo should go online. The Gringo Tambo website you see here is a continuation of the conversations and collegiality of our experience in La Paz, and an experiment in public academia.

A note on the unusual name. A tambo in the Andes was, among the Inca, a residence for travelers and a storehouse for supplies to provision armies or other large, state-sponsored traveling groups. In the colonial period, the term came to describe something like an inn, although in many cases use was limited to a specific group, such as a business association. We feel “tambo” describes the collaborative nature of this project, which respects our individual contributions and allows for our transient presence as we move between places and projects. The GT blog accepts contributions from members on their own schedule and about topics of their choosing, written in English, Spanish, Aymara, Quechua, or Guarani.

The adjective “gringo” is admittedly problematic. In Bolivia, this word describes foreigners from the United States, Canada, or Europe, and while not always flattering, is not always insulting. Not all residents of the Tambo or contributors to this website are gringos, and we welcome researchers of all nationalities. We have kept the name here to emphasize that most of us are outsiders to Bolivian society, and to remind our readers that we do not claim to speak on behalf of Bolivians. We can offer only our own perspectives as researchers who have lived and conducted research in that country. There are many websites where Bolivians speak for themselves, and we encourage you to read them.

If you wish to participate in this effort, please contact the administrator, Clare Sammells.

The Gringo Tambo has no physical office or address, no paid staff, no official institutional affiliation, no funding, and is not in a position to grant direct financial assistance to other projects.

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