by Sera Tolgay:
On Friday, part of our group met up with freelance journalist Brittany Peterson to attend an event with an impressive title, “Towards the Construction of a Concrete Interculturality” (Hacia la Construcción de Una Interculturalidad Concreta), which she helped organize. After a short ride with our cab driver, a proud fan of Elvis Presley, we arrived at Universidad Católica Silva Henríquez, where we found Brittany chatting with a couple students from the university. The university was founded after the late Silva Henríquez, a cardinal who defended social change and land reform, and who also helped keep records of those who were tortured during the Pinochet regime—so it isn’t surprising that the university is still known for its support for the student movement and the radical-left stance of its students.
Brittany briefly told us about her project, “Esencia Mapuche,” based on her experience in the southern city of Temuca, where she lived in a traditional Mapuche home and teamed up with a Chilean artist to document their daily life. The Mapuche are the indigenous inhabitants of central and southern Chile, who make up roughly 4 percent of Chilean population. However, this estimate is not reflective of the reality. A lot of stigma is attached to being Mapuche, so although many people in urban areas have Mapuche last names, they choose not to self-identify as Mapuche. Instead, they have become part of the urban fabric of Santiago. In rural areas, where social organization consists of extended families, the situation is different, as identity and ancestral land matters.
We then went to the conference room, where we stayed for about 2 hours, trying to understand the panelists with our rusty Spanish. Sitting in front of an inverted world map with Latin America’s southern tip at the top, the panelists reflected on what they identified as the problems Chile has been facing in addressing indigenous rights issues and promoting “interculturality.” Claudio Curiqueo, a leader of the Mapuche student organization CODEMU, commented that the Mapuche are suffering from “essentialism, racism, nationalism, fundamentalism and sensationalism.” Pablo Mariman, an anthropology student, added that “oppression under colonization now manifests itself in neo-liberalism.” Both panelists said that the Mapuche need recognition and autonomy. Yet after the weighty tone of panel, we left the event on a lighter note, with poems and songs by Mapuchean artists, reminding us that this rich culture surpasses the discordant politics. This is how they want to be remembered.