There are 3000 shoe shiners who go out into the streets of La Paz and El Alto suburbs each day in search of clients. They are from all ages and in recent years have become a social phenomenon in the Bolivian capital. What characterizes this tribe is the use of ski masks so they will not be recognized by those around them. They confront the discrimination they face through these masks; in their neighbourhoods no one knows that they work as shoe shiners, at school they hide this fact, and even their own families believe they have a different job when they head down to the center of the city from El Alto. The mask is their strongest identity, what makes them invisible while at the same time unites them. This collective anonymity makes them tougher when facing the rest of society and is their resistance against the exclusion they suffer because they carry out this work.
For three years I have been collaborating with sixty shoe shiners associated with the NGO “Hormigón Armado”. We planned together the scenes during a series of graphic novels workshops, incorporating the local elements of the urbanity of El Alto and producing photographic sessions with them as co-authors of a photo essay to fight against their social discrimination.