One Week in Chile
TEM Lab, Fall 2018
Written by Emmit Bryant
September 11 and September 18 are exactly a week apart. This one week in September encapsulates two major events in Chile’s history that still resonate deeply. These two dates have just passed and having been in Chile to witness both has been a reminder that historical context shapes the world in which we live and who we are as people.
Long before September 11 became synonymous with the Twin Towers, it was a day of upheaval in Chile. In 1973, a military coup stormed the offices of President Salvador Allende. Allende made history as an openly elected socialist leader of a nation. Allende was cornered in the Palacio La Moneda and was eventually killed. The signs of the skirmish can still be seen by the damage to the facades of surrounding buildings. Today, a statue of Allende stands outside of the palace. There are waxy mounds at the base of the statue, the remains of a vigil from supporters. Every year to mark the coup, some Chileans participate in a day of protest. This year, while walking home past a high school one of our team members nearly got hit by a smoke bomb thrown by the kids. While not a serious protest, it nonetheless demonstrates the place the day holds in Chile’s culture.
Following the coup were years of authoritarian rule headed by Augusto Pinochet. Pinochet is widely regarded as a dictator, but the topic is still a sensitive one. Pinochet’s rule led to disappearances and exiles, leaving thousands clueless as to the fate of their loved ones. Today, The Museum of Memory and Human Rights, chronicles this tumultuous time in Chilean history. We visited the museum brings to understand the rise and abuses of the Pinochet regime and the path back to democracy. The Museum and September 11 both stand as reminders to this pivotal period that have greatly shaped Chile into the country it is today.
Despite having undergone a military coup and subsequent dictatorship, Chile emerged from the 1980s as a leader in Latin America. Since then they have made great strides to reconcile the past and move forward productively. Today’s Chile is prosperous country with much to be proud of.
On September 18, Chilean pride is at its height for the Fiesta Patrias (national holidays). On Dieciocho (18th), the country celebrates its independence from Spanish rule, thanks largely to military victories of founding father Bernardo O’Higgins. This historic day eclipses the 11th in scale and scope of celebration. The recognized holiday is a three-day period surrounding the 18th in which shops close, people travel and time is spent celebrating with loved ones. This normally reserved country bursts into carrete (party) mode. Fondas (party venues) pop up in local parks. Typical Chilean cocktails, terremotos and piscolas, are poured to toast the beloved country. Everywhere there are Chilean flags: in front of every shop, waving from cars, on children’s kites.
We had the pleasure of attending a fonda with the staff of TechnoServe at a park in Santiago. They wore customary dress and we joined them in a few traditional dances. BBQ smoke, music and laughter filled the park. Every ramada was filled with patrons celebrating on a beautiful sunny afternoon.
September is a great time to be in Chile. History and culture are on full display. The start of spring mimics the progress the country has made in the past 30 years. Chile has a complicated past, but it has bloomed into the leading nation in South America with a vibrant economy and culture. The future looks ever brighter.