This past weekend marked the 200th anniversary of independence in Chile! Since I arrived in late July, I’ve noticed the preparation for this grand celebration of “El Bicentenario” or “Fiestas Patrias.” To give you an image of how important it is, imagine Chilean flags waving throughout the city, on taxis, houses, banners, and sold by practically every street vendor in sizes from a pack of cards to a few feet long. It’s hard not to feel some sense of patriotism with the red, white and blue all over (the colors of both Chilean and American flags).
During the entire week, there were festivals, concerts, fireworks, and copious amounts of food and alcohol. All of the big stores close down for the day, and only small markets remain open. Many families vacation in the countryside for the weekend; those who don’t congregate in the parks, beaches and backyards here to celebrate. Kids are crazy for kites here, and since September is known for being a windy month they flock to the beaches to fly them. All in all, in comparison to the fourth of July in America, Chile appears to make a much bigger deal out of their independence day and the cities here were pulsing with energy during the entire week.
Despite how enjoyable the celebrations were, the viewpoint of a certain dance teacher I met a couple days ago sticks in my mind. When asked what she thought about the Bicentenario celebrations during an interview, she said (more eloquently than I can paraphrase here) that she thought it was a ridiculously exorbitant celebration for a country like Chile. Her questions: What independence? How could the government spend thousands on extravagant fireworks shows when there are still people uprooted by the 8.8 magnitude earthquake in February forced to live in the streets?
This week of celebration was also marked by protests, as every year it’s tradition to protest the anniversary of the coup d’état on September 11th, a date that sobers many worldwide for various reasons. Although I tend not to express my own opinions on politics very often here, I must say that I am incredibly impressed by the student commitment to demonstration here. I recall watching one of many protests in my university, La Catolica, with a friend before class. The students were divided by major and surrounded the entire enormous courtyard. They all held huge posters declaring their opinions. They marched against government repression. They sang and chanted in unison. This was only a small taste of the extensive solidarity that exists amongst student protesters in Chile, but I will forever remember the feeling in the air. Granted, I did feel like an outsider staring in disbelief at the sheer number of students protesting, but nevertheless I felt affected by this call to action.
Whether or not one is for or against celebrating Chile’s independence, this 200th year anniversary is a historical marker that I feel lucky to have been here to witness.