Maria, Emily, and I were sitting in the living room; silence pervaded the room in the absence of the sound of the television. I realized that we were all holding hands. We all agreed to take a trip to Santiago, that today should be a family day. The car ride over was surreal; it was as if the scope of memories of the past thirty plus years was dawning on me simultaneously. As I was trying to focus on the road, they kept rushing back to me, overwhelming me with turbulent, mixed emotions. There was a moment where we past the street corner where I had been taken back in 1973. A nondescript group of men forced me into the back of their Ford Falcon, put a bad over my head, and kicked me in the stomach every time I was about to regain my breath. The pain of that memory welled up inside my chest, and spread to the rest of my body, making me tremble. I pulled over to the side of the road and focused on my breathing. Maria’s embraced me; I could feel the heat coming off her tear soaked cheek on the back of my neck. Emily looked out the window stony faced, I could tell that she was grinding her teeth.
I am so proud of Emily, in times of difficulty she has always seemed to be strongest one in our family. She has helped start part an organization designed to provide education to women, particularly about the law, and a safe space for traumatized individuals to receive support. But lately she ha been incredibly quiet, I am worried that she tries to be too strong sometimes, that it is at the expense of herself.
Upon reaching the center of town, we saw that the streets were filled with people celebrating; dancing and singing and chanting slogans. It was a festive atmosphere on the surface intermingled with pain, anger, and hope that would bubble to the surface. As I was looking at all of those faces in the crowd, I first found myself wondering who looked old enough to have lived through the dictatorship. This crowd embodies two different kinds of reconciliation processes. There were those who were trying to reconcile with their emotions as a result of their traumatic memories. And there were also those who had no memories of the dictatorship their own, but they still had been endowed with emotions by growing up in the social environment of the post dictatorship.
For me personally, there are two halves to the idea and the process of reconciliation. First, there is reconciliation with myself; within my own psyche. Since the dictatorship has ended, my family and myself have been living with our distinct memories and traumas. I have tried to reach within myself and remember what that debilitating fear and helplessness felt like. It has taken me a long time to get to the point I am today. I have found my inner strength again enough that I can confront those memories that used to be unbearable. Other times my memories feel far from resolved, I still carry my pain, and I still have deep feelings of anger.
The second half of reconciliation is the aspect of justice, which is inexorably tied to Pinochet. The bastard died without being convicted from his crimes, and not having publicly uttered a single regret for the horrors he subjected his own people. Justice was denied and obstructed for so long to a society that still is reeling from the aftermath of Pinochet’s rule. For such a long time, I harbored the hope in my soul to see him behind bars, and to see the look of disbelief on his face as he would receive his sentence. It is very painful for me to accept that these hopes are now dead, that this aspect of justice will never be realized.
But we cannot let our future be held hostage by the memories of a tyrant in the past, by what is out of our control. The fate of Chile’s future is contingent upon reconciliation with the past, which is in turn dependent on justice. That is why we all agreed as a family that is most important to try to actively and self sufficiently get at justice. We must confront our individual memories and emotions, engage with each other, and facilitate dialogue, education, and community. In tandem, we can all work together to improve our understanding of the past through building collective memory. It is crucial to this process that we provide those who’s voices were stolen an environment to speak and most importantly to be listened to. Future generations should come to understand the past through engagement with this process, which is crucial to ensuring that Chile learns from its past. Nunca mas must remain Nunca mas.