Chile y Sus Otros

We’ve had a mentally exhausting week, as our new course is very thought-provoking and requires lots of close, critical reading.

We started late on Monday morning (11 a.m.) to recover from our flight the night before. Our professor Andreea introduced the course: “Chile and its Others,” all about how we define “others,” or marginalized people. We’ll be discussing the experience of indigenous peoples, people of newly emerging sexual orientations, and immigrants, with respect to Chile and also the U.S./world. We started the week by watching a documentary by Patricio Gúzman, a famous Chilean filmmaker exiled during the dictatorship, called “Nostalgia de la Luz.” The documentary related the astronomical studies in the deserts of Chile to the recuperation of the disappeared prisoners of the dictatorship. The largest concentration camp from that period is in the desert, and to this day, the mothers and wives of many disappeared men search for their remains. The connection Gúzman made between these women and astronomy was shaky at times; yes, both the women and astronomers are searching for answers, but their struggles are incomparable. In any case, it sparked lively conversation.

That afternoon, two directors of a play we’d see Wednesday came in to discuss the plot with us. The directors were young – probably late 20s/early 30s, a man and a woman. After being given a brief summary of what our class is about, they immediately were able to make connections between their play and the themes of the course, in an intelligent and adept way. They answered our questions – about racism in Chile, implicit and explicit violence, prejudice and bias – frankly and fully. We were stoked to see their play after such a thoughtful talk.

The play lived up to expectations. It was called “Tú amarás,” meaning, “You will love” – in a commanding, authoritative sort of way. The story follows five doctors – four males, one female – who are at a conference to present about prejudice toward patients. Specifically, they’ve been frequently encountering “ammenitas,” a fictitious group of aliens, who are meant to represent “others” – immigrants, the impoverished, etc. Throughout the play, the audience learns of the personal biases each doctor has toward treating the ammenitas – the female doctor asserts that all ammenitas are good, one male doctor tries to portray them as “cultural,” another implicitly associates them with dogs. The whole thing is aimed at us liberals in the audience – how we can animalize others, how we put people in boxes (“they’re all criminals,” “they’re all good”), preventing them from being themselves, how we patronize others when we think we’re being simply benevolent. The acting was fantastic and the lighting and music really kept us on our toes as the play transitioned from scene to scene. Overall, a rewarding experience to see a fast-paced play in Spanish, and such a relevant one at that.

This Friday, we also visited Londrés 38, a detention center from the dictatorship that is literally in the heart of Santiago. The space is quite bare and small, as it is preserved as “un espacio de la memoria”; in other words, it’s not a museum. Our guide Felipe brought us through a few rooms and opened up the conversation about human rights, explaining how he and his co-workers aim to spark dialogue and answer questions visitors have.

View from balcony at Londrés 38.

Londrés 38 saw likely around 2,000 prisoners – Felipe referred to them as “protagonists” in the history of Chile – walk through its doors, blindfolded. About 60-70 prisoners would arrive during the day, and the number would jump to around 120 by night, during the curfew.  Staying typically 5 days, the first thing the prisoners could see was the floor made of white and black checkerboard tiles. To simulate this experience, the cobblestone outside of the building has some random black and white tiles mixed in with the stone. The intention is to interrupt the daily routine of pedestrians and make them pay attention to the building. If you look closer, the stones also have the names of detainees, their age, and their party affiliation. Two-thirds belonged to MIR (Revolutionary Left Movement), while about 20% belonged to the Communist Party and 10% to the Socialist Party. The remainder is unknown. What’s really jarring is that 65% of the tortured/disappeared/killed were under the age of 30.

The space was used by DINA (Directorate of National Intelligence) as an interrogation and torture center, before prisoners were sent to other camps or possibly killed, thrown into the sea. The government hid the space by legally changing its address to Londrés 40, so people couldn’t find it. When the government was finished using it for interrogations, it converted the place into a “Military Investigations” unit and started making cosmetic changes to the building to once again, hide its previous purpose. Eventually in 2005, the site was declared a historical monument, at the request of the Londrés 38 Collective. In 2008, the Ministry of National Assets exchanged the property and then it was transferred to the State. People still deny the tortures and interrogations that occurred there.

The ceiling paint is crumbly and you can see where picture frames hung on the walls. There are several discussion boards where people have left comments and questions, as well as quotes on the walls. To finish the tour, we watched a video of testimonials, prisoners relaying their stories while a black and white animation was projected on the walls – very powerful. It was a somber, short trip, but one that had to be done.

After class, since we were already out and about, we took the opportunity to do some exploring. We first went to Piojera, which IFSA assistant Claudia told us is the best place to get terremotos. These terremotos weren’t significantly different from the two others we’ve tried, but they did have the best pineapple ice cream and were definitely strong. Piojera was clearly a local place, lots of rowdy Chileans, a little less clean but no tourists in sight. We also checked out Mercado Central, which is a large building that honestly has more markets/foods along its perimeter than inside. We saw lot and lots of fish. David bought what we thought was a persimmon, and we all took a bite of it…it turned our mouths completely numb. A couple Chileans watched as we doubled over in laughter at our predicament, baffled by this fruit. They told us that we probably bought one that wasn’t nearly ripe enough.

Let’s see…family updates. Clarita is still banned from going upstairs and we’re constantly yelling at her to stop jumping up on our legs, since she’ll hurt her back. My favorite command that Paula gives her is “Córtala, Clara!” or, “Cut it out!” Paula got a new haircut and dyed her darker, saying she hated how blonde she was getting. Ha. She also said her eyes get lighter in summer, which she doesn’t like. Thank god it’s winter. I got roasted again by her recently when we were watching Caso Cerrado. The defendant had the most enormous butt we had ever seen. It was impressive, honestly. And Paula just goes, “You’re just jealous because you don’t have a butt!” And I was like, “I’m not really jealous, just kind of amazed.” She laughed and went on to say, “We Chileans don’t really have big butts. But COLOMBIANS. They have the biggest butts!” Just your average dinner conversation.

Roberto is fine and his classes are going well, especially after last week when no students were showing up since they all went to protest something. Classic. He’ll have Labor Day off this week, whereas I will still go to school – something Paula cannot seem to accept. I also recently discovered that he will not eat ice cream unless I do; if I turn it down he’ll sadly turn it down as well, having no one to share the unhealthy experience with. I guess I have to make sure I save room every night, then.

Finally, Dani is working hard on her single. I think she’ll be shooting the music video for it in the next couple weeks!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

San Pedro de Atacama

April 23, 2018