September 14th, 2012
When I started writing this story on a scrap of reused paper, I could not have imagined what a story I would tell. Even now as I type down my memories on this computer, I find it hard to believe that I survived it all. My dad’s death, moving to Santiago, being a part of the protests, going from job to job, barely making enough for mother and I to eat, becoming a painter, voting out Pinochet, marrying Anita, and having two wonderful children. It all seems too incredible for just one person. Anita and I have both decided to each write down a short memoir about our lives, and in the process, I discovered that we still had all of my old diaries, even including that little scrap of paper I started it all off with.
As I’ve been writing, I’ve also been looking around for objects or other things besides my words to tell the story. I found the old cash register that we had back in Concepción, and it reminded me of my mother’s store, the old women who would come and chat there, and the smells of home. If only history did not happen as it did, maybe I would still be in that store, happy and content, with my father and my mother there to see me raise a family. But I guess it is better to celebrate what you have than what you do not.
While I was looking around for evidence of my past on the Internet, I found a video of the advertisement that I was involved in during the 1988 campaign to get rid of Pinochet. Here is the web address: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RnyhMaf__hE
I show up about 15 seconds into the video, with my back to the camera. It seems like yesterday when we were marching in the streets, waving flags and banners, and then celebrating, hugging and crying, after we learned that Pinochet was defeated, that we had one our country back. It brings tears to my eyes even now to think of it. I think of how I protested the junta not four years before that, throwing bottles and building blockades just like the rest.
I think that I have lived a rich life, that I strived for a country free of the oppressor, free to help the workers, and open enough for me to raise children, to make a real family. Sometimes, I regret having waited so long to marry Anita and to have our kids, but I still stand by my pledge not to bring any baby into a Chile ruled by Pinocho, the great lier. I think that Anita understood this, and since we have had Valeria I have explained it to her. I would not want to raise a child when a murderer and a thief controlled their country.
Searching for relics of the past has also reminded me of what has happened recently, especially with the visits to Anita’s sister. Although Josefina was shy at first, we have since become friends, and I have spent hours at a time talking with her about the past, about my job, and about Anita and my children. She told me about growing up in Santiago, and I even learned that she was a decent potter before the dictatorship. She still has trouble talking about what happened to her when she was tortured, but I don’t blame her. I still have a hard time describing my father and what he went through, even though it has been almost 40 years. I think my mother would have liked her, and I’m sad that they never got to meet.
Speaking of my mother, Andres sometimes asks about mother, and when he does my heart aches, for I know that meeting him, even when he was a baby, would have made my mother so happy, and proud. I still cannot believe that she survived it all, that she recovered as much as she did, and that she was able to surpass her own difficulties and help others. She has been my inspiration all of my life, and continues to be so now, even 17 years after her passing. I see her in my children, in their eyes and their hair, and I see her in myself. When I look in the mirror, it’s almost like she, and my father, are standing behind me. They don’t say a word, don’t smile, or wave, just stand, as if they know that I am a good son, and that they don’t need to do anything to show it, that their mere presence is enough to say it.
But I survived, and so did my family, and despite everything against us, even between the oppression and the depression, we made it. Me, Anita, and our two wonderful children. And maybe, just maybe, we can live the rest of our days in a Chile free from dictators, a Chile of equality and freedom, a Chile where anyone can live and raise a family without fear, and without hate. Looking back shows how far we have come, but looking forward shows how far there is left to go.