...except for me and my monkey! "Everything we see hides another thing. We always want to see what is hidden by what we see." -Rene Magritte

Monday, September 12, 2005

Four years later

I didn´t cry on September 11, 2001. I did cry yesterday, a little bit.

Four years. I can´t believe it´s been four years.

Four years ago I was sixteen years old and had just started my junior year in high school. Our house seemed uncommonly full, because my grandmother was visiting and we had a houseguest staying with us--one of my mom´s friends from Oklahoma. My dad got a call early that morning from a family friend in Virginia, Bill. Bill was so upset that he could only say ´´It´s horrible--horrible--´´ and to tell us to turn on the news. We all watched together as the second tower fell, and then I rode my bike to South like I always did and arrived late to IB Economics, where everyone sat in silence watching a TV that had been wheeled in and when the students who hadn´t heard it on the news that morning came in, laughing and talking, their faces fell and one girl was sobbing and her friend was trying to comfort her. We all walked around that day in a fog, before we knew anything, before we even knew for sure that it was al-Queda.

Being in Chile on September 11 was difficult. On September 11, 1973, Chile experienced a violent coup d´etat staged by General Pinochet and a right-wing military junta. The coup kicked off a brutal and repressive military dictatorship that ruled Chile until 1990, during which thousands of people were tortured, killed, or ´´disappeared.´´ I´ve talked a lot about the coup with my host grandfather, Antonio. Describing our conversations, I wrote the following email to my mom:

I was talking with Antonio, my host grandfather, about September 11 the other day, asking him if there is any sort of public commemoration of the coup d´etat (golpe de estado) that Pinochet and the military junta staged in 1973 against Allende. Antonio told me that both the leftists always put on huge demonstrations and marches which the police break up, sometimes violently, and that the rightists commemorate the day more quietly, so as to not attract attention. Antonio told me that he himself was never in support of Allende and that he actually supported the coup and hung a Chilean flag out of his window after he heard about it. But he, along with the majority of Chileans who supported the coup, thought that the coup was going to take out Allende and then call for re-elections. Soon it became clear that Pinochet only wanted power for himself and for the junta, but mostly for himself. Then the news about all of the human rights violations and torture started surfacing, and it was like a nightmare. He told me that regardless of the fact that Chile improved economically during the dictatorship, he (Antonio) will never be able to forgive Pinochet and those who supported him for all the people who were killed, tortured, or ´´disappeared.´´

I didn´t quite know how to respond to all of that and I said something about how September 11 is a difficult day for both our countries. Antonio told me, ´´Yes, but September 11 brings your country together. September 11 divides Chile, because we will never be able to forget what happened. Families who lost their children or who had to go into exile will never be able to forgive the rightwing for supporting Pinochet.´´ I asked if he thought it would always be that way, or if at some time in the distant future it will be able to bring Chile together. He told me that it will always be a day that reminds people of the awful history of the dictatorship, and that it will always divide the country into left vs. right, those who stayed vs. those who went into exile, those who lost family members vs. those who didn´t, etc. It was a really sad conversation but I was glad to have had it with him.

I didn´t see any protests or demonstrations in front of the Congress building or in any of the main plazas yesterday when I was in Valparaíso. WhenI got back home in the afternoon, we had some guests over for lunch, as we usually do on Sundays. This time, they were Ximena, a friend of Ambar´s, and her six-year-old daughter Javiera. We started talking about the day after lunch and Ximena told me that her parents were both very conversative and supported the military and Pinochet. One of her brothers was a mirista--he belonged to the guerilla group MIR--and after the coup, when she was a young child, the police came to her house and took her brother away by force. As she was remembering how he was tortured--they pulled off his fingernails and toenails, horrible things like that--she started to cry, and I did too.