Rachel is a third-year studying Spanish literature. This past summer she spent time in Chile studying abroad. This is her second post from her journeys
Although it is not without its occasional hardships and frustrations, time in this country is good for me in a lot of ways. It fills my soul with some of the very things that make it feel most full. Last week, I stepped off a bus during a spontaneous trip north and breathed in the air of the Andes Mountains. The mountains were tall and indigo, rising from the cactus-speckled ground out of a thin layer of fog. It was an untouched terrain, except for the foxes and birds and guanaco that roam as they please. Standing there, I felt small and infinite at the same time. I knew that the dry earth upon which I placed my feet was the same earth to inspire generations of writers, workers, educators, and political revolutionaries. I was standing on a land home to the type of suffering and resilience I have never experienced in my lifetime.
My eyes have seen some incredible sights in Chile – tranquil valleys filled end to end with vineyards, the sun dipping behind the snow-capped peaks that tower over the city of Santiago, pelicans on otherwise uninhabited islands perched upon black rocks resisting the tumultuous crash of turquoise waves…the list goes on.
But far more interesting than any view are the people who make up the history and culture of this land. As part of a research project for class, I had the opportunity to visit the Valparaíso fish market in the early hours of the day as fisherman were just arriving at the pier. As they picked fish out of the nets one by one and lined them up on trays to be sold directly to customers, they spoke to me of the difficulties experienced over the last fifteen years as a rise in industrialization has led to all sorts of fish shortages and laws that leave their nets empty and their families hungry.
In the month that I have been here, the city’s thousands of university students have been on strike, sacrificing their time and education on behalf of the large population of Chileans who don’t have access to such opportunities. Education in Chile is not free, and students nationwide understand the limitations that fact places on future generations. It is not uncommon to see them marching through the streets demanding to be heard, taking each step with new hopes of defeating inequality.
Yesterday, I visited Santiago’s Museum of Memory and Human Rights. For several hours, I saw footage and read documents and testimonies of the oppression suffered by the nation under the 16-year dictatorship of August Pinochet, a period of darkness and terror provoked by the 1970 election of Salvador Allende, the continent’s first democratically elected Marxist president. Though my head ached from the tales of torture and defeat, I was moved by an image in the final exhibit of mass of smiling Chileans displaying a banner that read “joy is coming”.
On a weekend trip to Valley Elquí, I strolled through the quiet hometown of Gabriela Mistral, the first woman in Latin America to win the Nobel Prize in Literature. As a female intellectual in a male-dominated society, she wasn’t able to spend her entire life in the Chile that she loved, but instead devoted her life to improving the quality of rural education across the continent and promoting the rights of women and children. Like Pablo Neruda, the nation’s other famous poet, she was a writer with a mission. Her very existence cried out for justice.
This is why I love Chile. The characters that make up its history and its present give me a better picture of what it means to endure and live selflessly in a world that is broken, and to give up everything in order to stand with those who were given nothing. It is a country rich with people as vibrant as its landscapes. I’m not sure anymore what I was expecting when I came “learn about culture”, but these are things I have learned, and for that I must say: Thanks, Chile, for blowing my expectations.