For a good portion of her life, Cecilia Miranda has worked tirelessly for decades to promote Bolivian culture, music, heritage, folklore here in Madison through a wide variety of initiatives and organizations. All the while, she wasn’t thinking that anybody really noticed.
But many people did. And on Dec. 4 at Centro Hispano of Dane County, Miranda was honored with the “Ambassador of Bolivian Folklore” award by the Bolivian Association of Retirees in Wisconsin (Asociacion jubilados de Bolivianos en Wisconsin).
“I was very honored by this. It feels good. I never expected something like this from my Bolivian community,” Miranda tells Madison365. “Everything I did, I tried to do quietly and never wanted to take credit for it.”
Miranda is a founding member of Tiawanaku, a dance company that promoted Bolivian and Latin American culture and was a fixture at many Madison-area festivals, galas, banquets, summertime outdoor events and more. Miranda also served as the costume director for the organization. She is a also founding member of Centro de Residentes Bolivianos en Wisconsin, first serving as secretary, then for consecutive years as president.
In June of 2006, Miranda co-founded Boliviamanta Dance Group, whose mission is to share Bolivian culture with future generations. Through many performances, the group was able to promote Bolivian folklore throughout the midwest. In Quechua, Boliviamanta means “made in Bolivia” or “from Bolivia.”
The costumes for her dance groups are imported from Bolivia as well as designed and hand-made by Miranda, whose personal goal is to provide the dancers with a way to build self-esteem and to re-live Bolivian traditions by way of dancing.
On top of all of this, Miranda has been an active member of Bolivianitas, a group of Bolivian women formed with the purpose to help those in need in Bolivia. She has volunteered and traveled with Solidarity Bridge as an interpreter as a way to give back to her country.
“After I was honored with the award, I wrote all of these details out on a Facebook post because so many people had no idea where I had been or what I had been doing,” Miranda said. “I needed to tell them a little bit about what I did as a Bolivian for Bolivia. That’s what the award is about. Bolivians doing things for Bolivia.”
Miranda originally moved to Wisconsin from Bolivia when she was 13 years old. She describes herself as a “bit of an awkward teenager.”
“I lost all of my Bolivian stuff as a teenager … you tend to try to blend in with your peers. And my family wanted me to speak proper English – no Spanish … proper English. ‘There’s nobody that speaks Spanish here,’ they would say. They didn’t want me to lose any opportunities because of the language barrier,” she remembers.
A flush of Bolivian memories came back to her, by chance, when she was 18 or 19 and she met two other Bolivian girls performing at the Civic Center (now the Overture Center) at International Fest.
“I walked into the bathroom and saw this girl all dressed up in a Bolivian costume. It turns out her family was from the same city as me — Oruro (a city in Bolivia about the same size as Madison) – and that’s how it all started for me,” Miranda remembers. “The girl, Silvia Collier, and I would become best friends. When she got married, I was part of her wedding. All through the years, we never lost touch.”
Since then, Miranda has been on a mission to promote her Bolivian culture and heritage and to expose people in Madison and beyond to the many great customs and history of Bolivia.
“Lots of people don’t even know about Bolivia – its customs, its dances, its people, its food. I’m so happy to share,” she says. “I invest a lot of money in these Bolivian costumes for the performances. Everything has to be very glittery. The detail has to be there. I”m very visual.”
The Bolivian Association of Retirees in Wisconsin was formed by a large group of people here in Madison originally from Bolivia, the fifth-largest country in South America located in the western-central part of the continent bordered to the north and east by Brazil, to the southeast by Paraguay, to the south by Argentina, to the southwest by Chile, and to the northwest by Peru. The Bolivian Association of Retirees in Wisconsin is a non-profit organization created to maintain ties to Bolivia here in the midwest.
“Bolivians – we always tend to form an association, a membership, an organization. It’s so common back home to have this to be able to socialize,” Miranda says.
Miranda works many hours at her day job as a nursing assistant at UW Health, so the Bolivian Association of Retirees in Wisconsin had to be a little sneaky in trying to present her with this award for her lifetime of work.
“I remember them asking me about my work schedule and when I might have off, but I’m always working. I work about 64 hours a week and I work night shifts. So I said, ‘I’m free Dec. 4. But why?’ ‘Oh, just asking,’ they responded. ‘We’re doing something and we want you to be there.’
“The next thing I know I was being honored and it was so wonderful,” she adds. “I am forever grateful to the members of The Bolivian Association of Retirees in Wisconsin. This is something that I will cherish forever.”