the witch is dead, and we stand

the widow of one of the worst chilean dictators died yesterday, yet they weren’t the only satans from our past. massacre after massacre, we’re once again at the gates of a new sunrise, all the old evil eventually defeated — if not by justice, at least by time. today is a new day for Chile, the start of a new future, wherever it may go.

i’m a mere spectator of history, as i’ve always wanted to stay out of the big board as to make art that is universal, human, never to be poisoned by the endless bickering of politics. but i’m not ignorant, i know my history.

my grandfather was a syndicalist activist, and to this day a passionate communist. he was also a trucker, construction worker, and at one point a boxer too. he wasn’t a sinless man for sure, but he‘s always been honest and kind in his heart. always worried about his family and his fellow workers, he’s done as much good as any regular man could in his circumstances.

this story was passed down to me, and i’m recalling it from memory, more like a dream which was a once nightmare than historical fact, but this is what i remember being told.

one day in the 70s, at work in la constru, he was asked to join a group of workers in a truck to an “inspection site,” under the notion of it being a mere interview regarding working conditions. many of his co-workers got in the truck, but he decided against it at the last minute. the other men, many of them involved in syndicalism, never returned. i could have lost grandpa that day, and our story would be very different.

my grandpa could barely read for a long time, as he was an orphan and didn’t get a proper education, but he was also passionate about knowing what was going on in the country, so he read the newspaper religiously, even if he struggles with some words to this day. he also had an extensive collection of communist books and documents in his personal collection, but he had to burn most of them, for fears of being hunted down by Pinochet’s soldiers.

neighbors call him “el chino.” he’s from native blood, brown skin, black hair now white with age, but he got called that because of his thin indian eyes. since he was an orphan, there’s little information regarding where our family came from. we’re mestizos, and that’s that. we don’t have a memory: poverty and marginalization have made sure to drag our blood through the soil and onward through time away from our legacy, but we have what we have and what we share as a family — our values and achievements, that’s our identity, more than any race or creed.

my family lived for a long time in la pobla, on what used to be a toma de terreno, stolen territory from which my family, after living for the longest time in cheap shacks made of recycled wood and adobe, eventually built a proper house. it’s a humble home, built from cheap materials, but my grandfather made sure to keep a beautiful garden, filled with all sorts of culinary plants, for my grandma and him to use. in the dining room of my grandparent’s house, while other families would have images of Jesus or the Virgin Mary, we instead had a big portrait of Salvador Allende, looking down over our family gatherings.

for all the opinions i might have about modern left wing politics, Allende remains a man I admire because he believed and died for his ideals, which were socialist in principle, but were otherwise about improving Chile for everybody, in a time where the realities of social inequality were beyond unjust and exploitative. he might have also been too much of an idealist, which ain’t no sin, but this was used against him in what is probably one of the greatest atrocities committed in our modern history. made into a pawn by international politics by more than one imperialist power, he stood his ground until he couldn’t no more. he was murdered by cowards who feared nothing more than the natural course of humanity. this was a tragedy even if you remove the element of political injustice.

we’ve always held as much resentment as any family could have for his murderer, who’s also the man that could have killed my grandfather. i’ve heard these stories all my life: about neighbors murdered by soldiers, some of them good people that just wanted to live their lives; about my family struggling to survive and find something to eat in some of the worst moments of Pinochet’s regime; about the ridiculous surrealism of a dictatorship pretending to be a prosperous democracy while fear and violence consumed our culture and society. we survived, my family, our country, but we also lost those who would become our martyrs.

we too, as a family, have fought for our ideals and dreams. many of us have worked and struggled all our lives for something — as construction workers, as secretaries, as teachers, as artists. we’re still very poor, but we are decent people. we’d rather share how little we have than ever steal from others, because we know what it feels to have nothing. as severe as he might have been, that’s how my grandfather raised us — giving, honest, and brave.

we stand here because we’ve fought all the way. the regime of Pinochet could have destroyed our families, but we stand proud through time and its changes. my grandfather remains here, his old heart still beating. the witch is dead, and my grandpa survived to see her soul be snatched back to hell. that’s our vengeance, and our peace. oh, if only the old crook himself had paid for his crimes, if only someone had made sure to make Pinochet atone for all the evil he caused. but in any case he’s dead, his legacy cursed, while we’ve lived to love and fight, which is nothing but a great victory and a sign of divine justice.

and so, with more pieces of the great satan gone, another old scar of our collective trauma is pulled away too. i’ve always hoped that as a country we could move on from the fear, for there’s so much beauty in Chile, the people, and the things we’ve achieved. i’ve tried, in my art, and in my life, to look forward rather than be haunted by the past; to be a citizen of the world and sing to the whole of humanity, but never forget my love for my land, and the people i love in it. but that’s a difficult choice to make — the pain is real, and it’s not as easy to heal when some people have yet to be given real justice. i hope they find peace in their lifetime — it’s our right to achieve this, by any means.

with the evil slowly receding back into a forgotten nightmare, every day more faded and irrelevant, and with a prosperous future in the horizon for the country and our people, i just hope we can learn to forget, even if we might never forgive, which is only fair. i dream of a country that can see itself, and be seen by the world, as a people that have removed their veil of fear, for we are more than our trauma and our tainted history. we have beating hearts, alive with love and pride for everything we’ve survived, filled with dreams and glory, testament to everything we’ve constructed and rebuilt, and we will be so much more tomorrow, as we keep creating the Chile we always deserved.

viva Chile — let Chile live. -m.

all-purpose artist