I found this exercise to be difficult but worthwhile. My journal entries started out rather short and diluted. It was difficult to remember what a young kid’s voice would have sounded like, especially when put under the duress of a dictatorship that I have never had to experience. Yet the question begs of how much a kid would understand of the dictatorship, especially when his parents are relatively wealthy and don’t engage in political activism. My own insulation initially made it hard to create longer and more detailed posts. I felt so insulated from Chile’s own dictatorship that writing long, involved posts about Marco’s life became a difficult task. I did include a few moments where the regime change impacted Marco, like when he hears his parents discuss disappearances at his father’s job or how his history teacher disappeared. These details pointed the way toward Marco’s budding distrust of Pinochet and his future political activism. They were the details that I could draw on as I got into more depth on my later posts.
I would be remiss if I did not admit that talking to you, Steve, as well as drawing inspiration from other classmates helped me deepen the quality of my posts. I realized that this activity is as much a project of creativity as reality. I am not Chilean, and I did not grow up during the dictatorship, but there are certain universal truths in history on which I can draw. Everyone has a family, desires, and suffering in their lives. One can draw on these experiences when crafting the life of someone else. The decision about law school may have stemmed from my brother’s own experiences applying to law school or my mother’s experiences as a lawyer. I drew on these realities to construct an artificial one for Marco, albeit one that was grounded in the historical circumstances of Chile.
While Chilean history remained the frame under which I operated, I drew on my own experiences and memories to give the project emotional depth. For a project like this, I believe that such an approach is necessary. It also echoes the common refrain among writers that you cannot divorce your own experiences from your writing. I was continually living out my own thoughts and desires as I was writing. Marco wanted the dictatorship to fail because I wanted the dictatorship to fail. The challenge was to create a convincing narrative around that idea. As I took bits and pieces of my own memories and juxtaposed them onto Chile’s broader history, I eventually drew the picture of a man whose life is both unique and grounded in someone else’s.
I see this project as a way to encapsulate history on an individual level. The brief time that we have in the classroom necessitates a broader approach, devoted to structural themes that pervaded the dictatorship, resistance movements, and the restructuring of civil society after. By engaging in a project devoted to one individual, I gained a glimpse into how one person lived during that time. Empathy may be the one word most closely aligned with the goals of the project. A rationalistic approach can only provide students of history with so much. At the end of the day, we realize that history is a collection of narratives, with each narrative equally contributing to the greater whole.