Chile Despertó: A Foreign Exchange Clown in Chile

For those of you just joining us, Sebastian is the designer and maker of our pipes, and Sebastian is from the country of Chile.

I'm Alice, and I'm a gringa. We've been together for 12 years, and I love our visits there, though they don't happen nearly as often as we would like.

We returned to Chile recently, on October 11th, for the wedding of dear friends. 

Chile and me, we are in a lifelong foreign exchange student/ host country relationship. My Spanish is terrible but my cultural curiosity is strong. Some of the first photos from the trip are of this unfortunate US cultural export, I mean of all the things for gringos to send over and for Chileans to adopt:

I don't know how to draw an arrow on this picture, but I'm talking about the family decals. Saw these on several cars, sadly. Also: cheerleading has made it in earnest to Chile. Couples do cheerleading stunts at stop lights for tips...

This was the nature of the trip's observations until October 18th, when a metro fare increase in Santiago lead to the burning of metro stations, a military crackdown, and a vast social protest movement in response.

Suddenly there were far more interesting things to observe: 

Cacerolazo, or literally 'casserole-ing', a protest form found in Chile, Argentina, Colombia, and Spain in which citizens protest by banging empty pots rhythmically with spoons, to signify that there is no food. 

The cacerolazo forms a natural foundation for music, and protests all over the city seemed lead by musicians. During one protest day, my sister-in-law and I happened upon a band playing on an apartment balcony. 

(Here are a couple more links to musicians of the protest)

"Toque de queda" is how they say 'curfew' in Chile - each night a curfew period was enforced by the military, from say 8 in the evening until 7 the next morning. The tanks would enter the streets to begin the curfew, and protesters would mostly scatter.  It was like the classic bar closing refrain, 'you don't have to go home but you can't stay here,' if the bartenders were throwing tear gas and shooting rubber bullets as they said it. And we often found ourselves in friends' houses for the duration of the curfew, with friendly hosts inviting us to spend the night, from 'toque a toque' -  old heads instantly resurrected slang from the Pinochet era in which there was a military toque de queda in place for many years. 

'Chile Despertó' is the common refrain sung in the streets, meaning, 'Chile woke up.' And from the outside, it looked like waking up felt like a country-wide catharsis. 

My foreign exchange clown self can't grasp the full political nuance of the current situation which continues as of the writing of this missive. 

What I do know, is that observing the heart and courage of the Chilean people as they woke up in mass protest of the same forces of inequality that we face here was a privilege.   

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