Working in Secret

24 Oct, 2016 | Melody Chan

Social issues

Photos: Melody Chan

The Shoe-Shine Boys of La Paz.

In bright, crowded streets, La Paz’s lustrabotas wear dark clothes to blend in. It’s much too sunny for heavy black masks and jackets, but they choose the heat of anonymity over exposure, protected from discrimination and recognition while in their dark colors, their disguise. They are shoe shiners, carrying around small wooden boxes filled with polishes and smells that accompany their cries to lure in passersby.

Twenty years old, he likes to walk up and down El Prado, parking his wooden stool and sitting in front of each customer. He’s lively and vibrant, hugging his fellow masked brothers and dancing with street performers along the way. He greets the avenue like a familiar friend, having spent 10 years working and growing in the area.

He keeps his job a secret from friends and family. Only his eldest brother and his father know that he walks from El Alto after classes to pick up his supplies and mask from where he stores them overnight. With the coins he earns he attends university, with bright plans for the future: he will graduate and start looking for full-time work in a mechanic shop.


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