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Feet in 2 Worlds: "Bolivian Immigrants Celebrate ‘Alasitas’ Festival by Making Big Dreams Small"

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Feet in 2 Worlds: "Bolivian Immigrants Celebrate ‘Alasitas’ Festival by Making Big Dreams Small"

Miranda Shafer

I published this multimedia story for Feet in 2 Worlds in January 2014. You can hear the original story here.

Blanca Morales pulls out bins of miniature statues of cars and houses and bags of money at her home in Corona, Queens, for the upcoming Bolivian festival known as Alasitas. During Alasitas participants buy miniature representations of the things they want in the New Year with the hopes of getting the real thing.

For the second year in a row Morales is organizing the Alasitas festival. In Bolivia and Peru the festival typically runs for two weeks, but the Queens version is a one-day event, this year on Jan. 25. And while participants were once more likely to buy miniature foods and other basic necessities, Morales’ bins contain tiny houses, cars, money and diplomas—just a handful of the offerings for this year’s Alasitas.

The indigenous festival of “wishes and dreams” was first celebrated in New York 12 years ago when the president of the Bolivian Civic Cultural Community, Mirtha Cabrera, began hosting Alasitas in her house with her husband, Eduardo Medrano. The festival quickly outgrew their home and expanded to the couple’s restaurant in Elmhurst until Cabrera and Medrano handed over leadership to Morales.

At noon on Saturday the festival will begin at the Veterans of Foreign Wars building on 108th Street in Corona, when a local priest will bless the miniatures, a job once reserved for a shaman. Vendors will be on hand to sell miniatures, souvenirs and traditional foods. The Bolivian community in Queens is small enough that organizers spread the word through emails, flyers and word of mouth.

Ekeko, the Andean god of prosperity and luck, presides over Alasitas. He is most often represented as a short, portly man carrying multiple bags of food, houses, cars, land, and money. Morales’ Ekeko is about a foot tall, with gold teeth and a green bow tie. He carries a yellow car and a bag of confetti hangs from his back, and an orange house is slung over his shoulder. He has a satchel filled with money and an additional basket with a Ziploc bag of money, which Morales calls “dream money,” and an even tinier car.