Tag Archives: Chile

Hands up, Hands Down: a message from Chile to the USA?

Santiago Countdown 1 095The cultural center in Santiago, Chile is the type of place one dreams of having nearby: a government-funded center where kids learn to dance, juggle, play the cello, just because they want to. If they walk in, they get to learn something.

When we visited, I couldn’t stop taking photos as the Tours4Tips guides talked us through the various forms of dance and street art we were seeing. Finally I understood how all those stop-light entertainers acquired their skills. (When cars wait at a red light, kids don’t rush out offering to clean your windscreen; they pedal out on unicycles, carry devil sticks, do yo-yo tricks. It’s fun to drive in Chile.)Santiago Countdown 1 093

But then our guides Carrie and Flores led us down to the main auditorium. The building was in active use when Pinochet’s coup descended and things in Chile changed rapidly–including the ability to express oneself. When it first opened, the bronze door handles on the Cultural Center displayed fists pumping toward the sky, an artistic expression of victory. Pinochet had them flipped over, so that they looked like the fists of someone being handcuffed.

Artists joined the poor students and labor workers vanishing; perhaps the most famous was the songwriting guitarist Victor Jara (in Argentina); the police broke his fingers before they shot him.

“These handles were a hint,” Carrie said, tracing an upward fist with one finger. Her body blocked the other handle. “Don’t forget what can happen if you sing too loudly.”

When Pinochet was voted out peacefully in the late ‘80s, many things were quickly set to rights in Chile, but in one of those “healing is in the details” moments, debate over the center’s door handles raged. Should they be turned back up; left down as a reminder that artists sometimes paid in blood; one up, one down, remembering the past while looking to the future?

“Whadya think they did?” Carrie smiled at her group of Scots, Australians, and Germans, plus me and one other American. Then she stepped aside so we could see both handles; two fists reached for the sky.

Santiago Countdown 1 096A soft murmur rose from the group, but the other American locked eyes with me and I saw we were thinking about the same thing: police handcuffs, don’t shoot, equal justice for all … maybe someday America would be two fists up in victory again?

God bless the families suffering loss in this ongoing violence, and grant us strength to create peace born of justice. We have better music in us than this.

Leave a comment

Filed under Big Stone Gap, blue funks, folklore and ethnography, Life reflections, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, small town USA, Uncategorized, Wendy Welch, YA fiction

Senora DeFarge

arpillera protest 2I went to Chile hoping to see textiles in action, to visit women who spun wool and practiced traditional weaving and carved their own crochet hooks. This I found, but also something more.

The world’s most famous knitter is probably Madame DeFarge, of Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities. Via her stitch code recording wrongs perpetrated by the autocracy during the French Revolution, many an innocent (if irregular-looking) scarf doomed someone to the guillotine. Portrayed largely unsympathetically until the end of the novel, she is herself a victim of the crimes she records.

In the aftermath of Pinochet’s Military Coup in Chile, Senora DeFarge emerged. Several Latin American cultures have a tradition of arpilleras. These are a combination of applique and embroidery depicting a typical scene from everyday life. In order to understand how they became a central fixture of a protest movement, you need to know that in 1973 Pinochet took the country by military coup from Allende (who in 1970 became the world’s first socialist party president to be democratically elected—and you can imagine how scary that was during the Cold War).

I encourage you to look up the English translation of the speech Allende gave when he knew not only death, but also revocation of his reforms to date, was imminent. His moving final address applies to a wider situation than his immediate one.chile protest

Pinochet’s promises mutated into repression. People began disappearing. Many left voluntarily after seeing the handwriting on the wall. Some received “if you’re still here next week” messages and took the hint; more than 200,000 “voluntary” exiles left between 1973 and 1988. About 3,000 people disappeared into camps–as in no one ever found the bodies–with another 40,000 detained and released.

Freedom of the press ended; unions for miners and transport workers were emasculated; and food shortages grew. The Chilean exiles talked non-stop about their homeland being taken apart, but since they were from a “Communist country” (America in particular did not like Allende) not everyone listened—at first. Inside Chile, mostly poor men and students were disappearing, so who cared?donde estan

Enter the arpillera-makers. Sad as it is to admit, attracting international attention to injustice can be hard. There’s just so much of the stuff going around, who gets attention can literally depend on how well you sell the message. Women in prison smuggled out embroidered scenes, made from threads pulled from their own clothes and wood splinter needles, showing the horrors. Outside the camps, mothers, sisters, daughters, and wives began marching, but not about the political issues; instead they made famous the question “Donde Estan?” (Where are they?) shouted from arpillera banners as they silently walked.

chile arpillera protestFrom as small as 10×12 inches, to bigger than five feet square, the arpilleras also went up on walls, got smuggled out of (and into) the country, and caught the interest of television stations.

It’s amazing how loud a silent art form can be. Pinochet was peacefully voted from power in 1988 after international sanctions showed him that he’d run through his foreign friends. The “Mothers of the Disappeared” protests didn’t just help get Pinochet out with no shots fired in the change-over, they also helped locate and close the camps no one wanted to admit were out there. Never underestimate a woman’s love, plus needle and thread.

reconciliationBut the arpillera legacy continued. When the Chileans who’d left came home to a different country, when their children who’d matured elsewhere couldn’t identify as Chileans, when those who stayed scorned those who fled for abandoning a country that needed them, again the arpilleras came out, this time as an act of reconciliation. Scenes depicted returnees welcomed, Chile united, hands reaching across water.reconciliation 2

Stitching up wounds, women’s true colors show.

 

 

making them

3 Comments

Filed under Big Stone Gap, crafting, folklore and ethnography, home improvements, Life reflections, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, publishing, small town USA, Uncategorized, Wendy Welch, writing, YA fiction