This has been a month of Santiago. I’ve already been three times and intend to go a fourth before we head into June (yes time flies, no I don’t want to put a number on the amount of time I have left). Twice were airport trips, to pick up and then drop off my boyfriend Brandon who just finished his study abroad in India. The other was a class field trip, on which Brandon got to come along. It was for my CIEE class, which is a history, film and literature course about Valparaíso. Since we have talked a bit about Pablo Neruda, the iconic poet with a great affinity for Valparaíso’s ocean and way of life, we went to visit La Chascona, a home he built for his lover and future wife, Matilde Urrutia. In the afternoon we visited the Museum of Memory and Human Rights, devoted to the 1973 coup d’etat and subsequent dictatorship under General Pinochet.
There is a lot of background knowledge about Chilean history that I have picked up in my classes and just by living here, and so that combined with the language barrier made me into a sort of interpreter for Brandon. We were visiting Neruda’s house because he was not just a poet, he was an activist and politician whose life was tied closely to the history of the country and whose death followed less than a month after the coup. We learned that his funeral turned into the first protest against the new regime, and we learned more about the Winnipeg, a boat in which Neruda helped transport 2,200 Spanish refugees from France to Valparaíso.
Neruda was communist, but regardless of one’s political leaning, his outlook on poetry as an “act of peace” can inspire us all. Poetry, and other forms of art, are dangerous to dictators and are frequently the first things to be suppressed, censored, and burned. Especially during the first part of Pinochet’s dictatorship, the country saw the assassination, kidnapping, and exile of some of its most famous artists and musicians. Discussions of art and politics are frequently inseparable. To me, this is an expression of the importance of artists, whether or not their work is political. We should never take our artists for granted, nor our own ability and freedom to create art.
The Ramona Parra Brigade is a group of Chilean muralists who were forced underground with the beginning of Pinochet’s rule. As the began to paint once more, their slogan was “Contra la dictadura pintaremos hasta el cielo!” or, “We’ll paint against the dictatorship until we reach heaven!” It’s a sentiment that makes me want to pick up a paintbrush.