14 December 1987

Dearest Papa,

I write to you in the most joyous mood I have been in, perhaps, since Simon went missing all those many years ago. I have decided to marry Clara, Papa. Do you remember Clara? It has been a long while, I know, but I wanted to tell you, she’s more beautiful than she was then and gets ever more so by the day. I proposed to her Tuesday. Tuesday the 11th of December. Her spirit is radiant. It scintillates through the kitchen, throwing a shiny luster onto utensils, pulling lost shimmers from the depths of people’s eyes, igniting glimmers of hope that have been constantly wavering for so many years. I have never known someone to inspire others the way she does. Our weekly organization meetings that have been going on since I last wrote have grown exponentially. The kitchen is bursting with community members, they fill the chairs, sit on the tables, and situate themselves in all of the nooks and crannies to discuss a peaceful return to democracy— I am truly amazed and immensely proud to call these people my neighbors, my friends, and my comrades. A few months ago, as I’m sure you heard, a group attempted to assassinate Pinochet. He was inches from death, I’ve heard. But, honestly, I am glad that he did not die. I cannot understand how sweeping the rug out from under Pinochet’s feet and leaving him to sit in the dark depths of the earth will accomplish anything positive. We want a return to a peaceful society, a harmonious democracy, to start to rebuild out of sadness and hurt with hope and vision. To kill someone in the name of democracy is not the answer. We are not murderers. And it is damn well time that these people realize it. With this in mind, and steaming empanadas to fuel our bodies, we planned a march over the course of the past few months to push for the democracy’s restitution.

Born from this was the most magnificent interaction I have ever witnessed between two human beings. One night during the planning of this march, it was about two weeks ago, if I can recall correctly, a moment occurred that is now stored carefully away in my memory. It was gorgeous, Papa. Two neighborhood children from a few blocks down, José, who is 11, and Oliver, who is 12, were working on a banner. They worked endlessly all evening long, for almost four hours, I believe. I have never seen children this captivated by an activity for so long. They had brought a bucket full of paints of every color—charcoal, ruby, scarlet, chestnut, carmine, orange, gold, green, teal, lavender. I was preoccupied for much of the night working on various other logistics of the march, but when 10 PM rolled around and I went to check on what they had done I was absolutely amazed. In front of me sat José and Oliver, covered in as much paint as was on the banner, and the banner itself, a striking collage of color illustrated many figures of children, men, women, and, most astounding, Pinochet himself, all surrounding the word believe. They asked, looking wide-eyed up at me, “Do you like it Señor Vidal?” I hardly had words, but I managed to ask why Pinochet was in the group. And Oliver told me, speaking for the both of them, “Why should he be hurt in the same way he has hurt us? We know he’s done bad things, really bad things, and has made Chile not so great a place, but it seems like killing him won’t do anything good either, right? I don’t know a lot, but just because someone does bad things that doesn’t make them a bad person. That’s what Mama said, anyway, and I think I believe her. We’ve heard that word “believe” so many times here, especially from you, Señor Vidal, we thought it’d be good to put on a banner. We thought more people would joinin the march if we put our community all here together using a lot of bright colors. Do you like it Señor Vidal? We really hope you do. We really want to help.” I’m telling you father, I don’t think it needs much of an explanation. To be that compassionate at such a young age? I really am at a loss for words.

That night, I did not sleep a minute. All I could do was reflect on my own life as a child. The ways in which I was raised and how it shaped who I have become. How moments like this that I have witnessed will become integral parts of José and Oliver’s personal histories; how these tendencies will become part of the fabric of their being. How such brave and tender boys can and will weave these threads into the fabric of Chile itself, as we as a people, hopefully head toward peaceful democracy. I faintly remember writing to you when I was wishing to enter the Universidad about wanting to study history. I realized that no amount of studying could teach me about history the way those boys did that day. They showed me how kindness and compassion is what overcomes struggle, even in the seemingly darkest of times. This piece of themselves that they unknowingly shared with me will inevitably become part of my history as well, being baked into layer after layer of creamy white empanada dough inspired by



Much love, your son,

Joaquin Oliveras Vidal


1 thought on “14 December 1987

  1. ssvolk says:

    Antes que nada, Joaquín, felicitaciones! Congratulations on your impending wedding. Let me tell you, Clara is one lucky girl! And thank you for sharing that story of José and Oliver. I don’t think that I could have been capable of the same feelings. I agree with you that Pinochet should face his judgment in a court (and whatever happens in the next world, I’ll leave for others to speculate), but I’m so angry at what he’s done to our country that I couldn’t summon the same degree of compassion. I guess that if our country passes to the hands of people like José and Oliver, I should be happy.

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