The month of September is a really special time to be in Chile. September 11 marks the anniversary of the military coup led by Pinochet that led to years of extreme violence and oppression. This was in 1973 and Pinochet was president until 1990 and continued to be commander in chief of the military until 1998. To this day, his constitution remains in place. During the dictatorship, thousands of people were murdered, exiled, tortured, or kidnapped. This day remains extremely painful for many who experienced this first-hand and lived through the dictatorship. I felt extremely lucky to be here learning about a history that the United States doesn’t acknowledge, despite having been extremely involved. Along with the anniversary of the military coup, on September 18, Chile celebrates its independence from Spain. This is done through an entire week of celebrations. One big part of this celebration is the fondas which are basically extremely large public parties. They are often held in public parks or areas. They include lots of games and food as well as dancing and, in some, rodeos. Think common ground fair, but a lot more meat. We got to learn how to dance the cueca, which is the national dance and a large part of the fondas. Also, the style of fonda varies greatly. Some are a lot more lowkey and more like a fair, while some have big concerts at night and are more similar to a festival.
When learning about the history of Chile it was easy to feel frustrated and emotionally drained. I heard many stories about unspeakable horrors from survivors of the dictatorship. I witnessed the places where hundreds were killed and tortured. I joined with thousands at the national stadium to mourn and remember this dark part of Chile’s history. It’s important to me to talk about this because this isn’t just Chile’s history. The United States fully backed Pinochet’s military coup and helped to implement the oppressive neoliberal economy that still remains today. The United States is intertwined into not only Chile’s but many other Latin American countries’ history. Yet, as a student raised in the United States, it took me traveling thousands of miles away and seeing firsthand the pain and violence to understand this relationship.
The national holiday was also a great reminder that after learning about terrible atrocities for weeks, the Chilean people are not beaten down. They are alive and well, and sure know how to party.