El Bicentenario

El lago Riñihue, with the snow-covered Volcán Villarica in the distance

The 18th of September is Chile’s independence day and the 19th is the Día de las Glorias del Ejército, so it’s always crazy to be here at this time of year. But 2010 is also Chile’s bicentennial (well, the bicentennial of the declaration of independence from Spain, anyway) so the whole country was in full celebration mode. Major events in Santiago included a historical light show at La Moneda which was way cooler than it sounds and a huge military parade.

Empanadas (de pino) del horno

Although most of my fellow exchange students stayed in Santiago to partake in the festivities, I headed down south to Riñihue, in the lakes district of Chile for a little R&R with my host family. Little did I know that they would put me to work making empanadas de pino and alfajores de higo, two traditional dieciocho de septiembre foods.

Visiting the house of my host mother’s childhood was an eye-opening experience for me. Listening to her recount stories of her juventud–eight kids, a farm, no electricity–I had imagined that her youth was one of poverty. But after visiting the house (large and beautiful, with a fantastic view of the lake), I realized that this family had been then (as they are now) a middle class family. Although they had been a country family, her father had owned the land and had others come in and work the fields for/with him. There hadn’t been electricity, true, but because of the developmental stage of the country and the region, not because of the socioeconomic status of the family.

In Santiago, it’s easy to forget that Chile was classified as an “undeveloped, Third World” country not fifty years ago. That I’m living a life not that different from my middle-class existence in the U.S. is largely due to the economic policies imposed during Pinochet’s dictatorship. Had Allende been able to complete his vision of the country, it’s pretty doubtful that Chile would be in the place it’s in today, for better or worse. Which is to say that the history of this country is forcing me to again rethink the democracy-good-dictatorship-bad dichotomy that we Americans are ingrained with from day one.

Guess I’d better get back to my paper about constitutional reform before I betray my radical roots!


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