18 September 2006

Fiestas Patrias 2006

September is a month of patriotic festivals in Chile, which culminate around the 18th, Independence Day. However, celebrations and merriment, flag waving and the sounds of cueca, the eating of empanadas and the drinking of chicha, as well as the decorating of even the smallest of spaces (including our tiny Expreso a la Costa bus terminal) as make-shift dance spaces (ramadas) with green garlands and leafy tree branches, are common throughout the month. Huasos posture along the beach between racesThis year our sleepy coastal community came out of its Winter hibernation early on the 17th to celebrate with a horse race on the beach, calling out area huasos to challenge each other along the tidal edge. A large number of area families came down to see the race, but mostly to converse and smile with neighbors, watch their children fly kites, and to pet the horses. The posturing among race participants and organizers was impressive as some rode out with full traditional wear, showing-off the beautiful workings of silver, leather, wood, and wool that adorn the horse of a true huaso. But possibly most impressive of all were the few that arrived bearing nothing, riding their steeds without even a saddle or reigns save a thin rope loosely thrown around the horse's neck, and still coming in first across the finish line. Regardless of the political nature of the national holidays, whose dates have been repeatedly changed throughout the country's history to serve various dictatorships and elected leaders alike, the heart of the month is in the gatherings of family and friends to dance, sing, drink, and celebrate in the mix of traditions that hold this country together, and all in at the edge of Winter, the threshold of Spring. Feliz Dieciocho y Salud!

11 September 2006

September 11 in Chile

Today is September 11, which I think, as a U.S. American, semi-obligates me to re-live the crashing, torturous scenes of the twin towers falling in downtown Manhattan. But I am in Chile and here it is a quiet day, a somber day where the choice may or may not be exercised to reflect on what happened so many years ago on this day in 1973… It was the era of the Cold War, the same self-declared arms race between the super-powers of the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. that sent ammunitions over the borders of Afghanistan and that intended to more than meddle in whatever other country’s local politics in order to demonstrate that the cult of Capitalism was indeed all-powerful.

Salvador Allende on Time's Cover September 24, 1973On September 11, 1973, the then Chief of the Chilean Army Augusto Pinochet, with the support of the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) which had given $8million (USD) to destabilize Chile’s fledgling socialist government, stormed the Presidential Palace in Santiago and overthrew the democratically-elected, Socialist President Salvador Allende. Allende broadcasted a poignant farewell to his “Chilean children” on national radio before his death at the hands of a machine gun. He may or may not have pulled the trigger himself, but given the circumstances and the cruelty later inflicted by the Pinochet dictatorship, it is not difficult to reason that even if the Socialist President had committed suicide, the decision was not entirely an exercise of “free-will,” especially as bombs fell over the palace, smoldering in ruins. For the next 17 years, the Pinochet dictatorship would empower the conservative, right-wing minority with violent acts against the people, resulting in hundreds of deaths, thousands tortured, and many hundreds to this day still unaccounted for. Even though Pinochet is no longer the self-proclaimed leader of the country, the dictator wrote himself a permanent seat in the National Congress, hides from international prosecution behind his own amnesty laws, and his Constitution is still official Chilean law.

Only now are the first generations of Chileans coming to voting age who have never had to suffer the terror and censorship of the military police. Yet, still they must deal with the left-over residue of the dictatorship: the infuriating right-wing minority that protects big-business at the cost of Chile’s natural beauty and the health of its people, that refuses to reform the Pinochet-created educational system that leaves most children, especially in rural areas or from poor families, far behind their private school compatriots, and that scatters crumbs to the masses as the distance between the rich and the poor rapidly expands.

I look out the window at the rain, this beautiful Chilean countryside where even here at the end of the world Fox News now broadcasts daily over cable into nearly every home, and my thoughts stream back a little angrily to the Northern Hemisphere, to the innumerable connections between Chile and the U.S. Seeing the buildings, the rescue workers, the crying families in my mind’s eye triggers a sadness within me that is beyond memorials and testimonies. What have we, U.S. citizens, done as a people since the planes fell from the sky five years ago to really make the world a better place? Have we drastically changed the policies, the politics, and the state of affairs that caused the hate to react, the hate that hate made? Have our aggressive dealings and patronizing meddlings in our global neighborhood ceased or, unfortunately, have they increased? What will future generations think of how we have and continue to behave? What hardships are we now creating and leaving for them to solve? If we do not learn from the lessons of past mistakes and the global effects of our actions, all the memorials in the world will not make the pain and hurt go away. Instead, we will actively create new regimes, new generations of anger, and more complex and expensive situations to remedy.

I think of the final words of Allende this fateful day in 1973: “I have faith in Chile and in its destiny. Other men will overcome this dark and bitter moment…. You must go on, safe in the knowledge that sooner rather than later, the great avenues will open once more, and free men will march along them to create a better society….” Those days are in motion in Chile, 33 years after the fall, but I hope we will not have to wait as long in the U.S. for the same pendulum swing. I fear the world can not afford to wait that long.

08 September 2006

No Cacho Ni’una Huev’a

If you’re not Chilean or never visited Chile for an extended period of time, actually interacting with Chileans, then you have probably never heard this expression, which translates roughly to: “I don’t understand a damn thing.” But if you have traveled and or lived in Chile, not only would you understand it, you would probably find yourself thinking the concept in your own language well before you even grasped the Chilean version. For anyone who has dared to live outside their own culture for a time, the concept of culture shock is more than a theory with set phases (euphoria, denial, anger, resentment, frustration, acceptance…), it’s a way of life, a bewildering experience of breaking down those cultural barriers that our ancestors and society worked so hard to form in order to protect and shelter us from the unknown.

To prepare myself for the big move from Washington, DC to rural, southern Chile at the end of 2004, I laughed with the rest of them reading David Sedaris’ Me Talk Pretty One Day and jogged my memory for all that analysis long-ago read in Anthropology classes. I comforted myself with the thought that at least I would be with Christine, who was already fluent in Spanish and Chilean culture, having lived in Valdivia for a year in 1997 and having visited nearly every year since then. In 2002 we had visited for a couple of weeks with Marcelo and Queno, extremely close friends of Christine then living in Santiago, whom we were now planning to move-in with on the southern coast outside of Valdivia in a tiny fishing village. It would be the first time that Christine and I would be living with other people as a couple, especially gay Chilean men, and it would be the first time that Marcelo and Queno would be living with women, especially lesbian gringas. Not to mention that I would be leaving the income and, what status there is, of working in an office while Christine would be role-reversing to the status of graduate student at the Universidad Austral de Chile, pursing a master degree in Latin-American Contemporary Literature. All of these changes complicated all the more by EVERYTHING being in Spanish and within a completely different cultural context.

There were many days of headaches, struggling to communicate basic needs, unable to describe my innermost feelings or to express my thoughts, and quite a few Sedaris “me cry alone at night” moments. My emotions fluctuated like a pendulum on a roller coaster: becoming enraged one minute by the incomprehensible differences in opinion on the definition of hygienic dish washing, weepy that I was such a wreck the next, then euphorically in bliss by the beauty of where we were and the kindness of our new Chilean friends… back to weepy for not being able to fully contribute to the love everyone was pouring over me. I needed support to know that I was still an intelligent human, only unintelligible for the moment. Christine needed support in her quest to comfort me, and as she struggled with the stresses of pursuing a graduate degree in another language and a new academic culture where deadlines aren’t consistently critical and errands can take seconds or weeks, depending on who you talk to.

I didn’t answer the phone for the first 3-4 months. It would ring and I would cringe and pretend it wasn’t there because I knew there wasn’t any way that I would understand what someone on the other line might want or need or care to say. In the beginning it was fine because we arrived in Summer, New Year’s Eve December 31, 2004, and there was always someone else around, strings of guests arriving announced or not, staying for hours or weeks, to deal with the phone, but in March when Christine started teaching English at a language institute and getting ready for classes, it started to become a problem. I finally had to just start using that blasted device. After a short while of heartache and anxiety, it wasn’t so bad, but it took a lot of time and a lot of learning to even get to that point. I had to accept, not just theorize, but really accept the fact that there are no absolutes in the world, nothing is inherent, and everything is relative.

Additionally, one has to understand, that is to say we have had to learn with reminders every day, that not only are Christine and I foreigners, but we are highly educated, independent women without boyfriends who had not lived at home with our parents for years, and we come from a culture only understood in the area where we live as that Hollywood stereotyping which is broadcasted over global cable television. In the highly machista society of rural Chile, the very fact that our landlords even let us live here (obvious to the entire fishing village that we are two gay couples, though no one will ever say it out loud) is a miracle, but I think we have our emissary Marcelo to thank for that, having moved here a few months before us and quickly falling into their hearts as a near adopted son.

A Rainbow after the RainAlthough by now, nearly two years later, Sra. Pati and Don Raúl are basically our Chilean parents as well, we continue to misunderstand them and to be misunderstood by them on a regular basis. We are from different planets. Even the stars that shine at night are different overhead. But even though we may never truly understand one another or be able to see each other without our own, stubbornly-ingrained cultural mirrors, we do love one another and that’s a lesson even better than understanding. That’s finding family and the rainbow that comes after the rain.

07 September 2006


La Luna rises over the bayThe Moon has just passed being full, but it continues to toss me awake these past two nights. Maybe it’s just some phase of being Cancer, but I’ve got too many ideas bumbling about in my head to be contained. The idea of blogging intrigues me, but let me be clear that I worry that it’s an ego-centric business, an off-shoot of the post-capitalist era.

Some years ago I stopped saving my “Sent Messages” on my email account. This was before you could have 1 Gb or more of space and I found the extra messages bulky. When email accounts all over the net bumped-up their memory capacity, I considered re-instating the “Save Sent Messages” function, but made the conscience decision not to; I had lived quite peacefully for some time without them and they were indeed unnecessary baggage. After all, what kind of egotist would I be to think that my words are so important that every little blurb or advice or description or comment that I had sent out to friends and family over the years is worth saving for all time? Let my sent messages be sent, a cyber-version of a Buddhist mandala made in sand and washed clean in water, out in the universe, but never again to be seen.

So, when the blogging craze began, I considered it akin to saving your sent messages, only now they can be public and anyone can read them and I thought, “We really are becoming very ego-centric.” I avoided it, but still the possibility was out there. People told me that I ought to have a blog, that it would be interesting to read about a pescatarian, bi-racial Chinese-U.S. American lesbian who left the corporate-government world to live abroad in Southern Chile with her partner and their gay Chilean friends, trying to live a more artistic and human existence on the coastal countryside where a river meets the sea. But hey, that’s just life. Breaking myself down into categories and then publicly touting my life story as interesting, that’s marketing. And I abhor marketing. Everyone’s story is interesting if you sell it right; I mean, I read somewhere that over 50% of U.S. Americans consider their lives worthy of a book and if that’s not ego-centricism, I don’t know what is. Do I really want to be a part of that?

Then I decided to go out and read some blogs, to see for myself what is really going on there in cyberspace. And I found that there’s opportunity here to do more than glorify yourself and your life experiences. There’s the possibility of adding to the voices, sharing another unique perspective, giving your political views a little added weight. A friend once told me that the modern-day equivalent to oral tradition is the internet, and although I only agree with that in some senses (oral tradition is an art captured in the moment, an expression dependent on the telling… like implying that a recording of a live concert can replicate the real experience), I’d be a terrible lover of culture if I didn’t do my part to participate. After all, the internet provides power to the individual to just be the many diverse beings that each of us are in a world where more and more often cultures, places, and ideas are becoming mono-chromatic and, at best, binary.

So here goes… misgivings aside, trying to keep the ego in check, and to share a little love from the Chilean coast, or at least until the Moon let’s me sleep again at night. Enjoy.