This is a guest post written jointly by Tatiana Cherry Santos and Melissa Flores, graduate students from the Center of Latin American Studies at Georgetown University’s Walsh School of Foreign Service.
“El pueblo, unido, jamás será vencido,” I chanted into the buzzing crowd around me. Even as a young child I knew these words, “the people united, will never be divided,” to be true. For me, protesting was a natural part of life; it simply flowed organically. From an even younger age I heard of the trauma my grandfather and others in my family had endured because of the 17-yearlong long dictatorship in Chile. As the granddaughter of a former Chilean political prisoner and the daughter of a political refugee, I understood how powerful education, community engagement, and most importantly, storytelling is. The stories I learned through my family’s exile, specifically those told by my grandparents, have shaped my identity and the way in which I view September 11, 1973. Their exile has become a part of the memory I have inherited. It became central to my very being just as it had been central to the being of my grandparents, my aunt, and my mother. This is the power storytelling holds. This entry point I had to this historic moment formed the foundation of the way I interact with history, memory, and latinidad and because I had the family scene animating my whole life, it became clear to me that those in my communities–school, friends, county–did not.
Early on after Tatiana and I met, we would talk about the conditions that led our families to uproot from their countries of origin. How did they end up in the United States, and how did each of our families view the United States? As you may have read by now, her family’s reasoning was political – a decree passed by Pinochet forcing her family away from their homeland. My family’s reasoning was economic – the hyperinflation of the 90’s in Brazil. Our examples are two out of the seventeen countries that comprise Latin America – and that’s not even counting the Caribbean. Despite these “major” differences between how our families got here, their experiences living here are eerily similar. It consists of learning how to speak English, creating community with others that share the same nationality, remaining connected to a “home” country through food, music, and traditions. I’ve learned about my family’s experiences in this country through the countless stories they re-tell, family scenes not much different than the one we have highlighted.
Our final semester of graduate school at the Center of Latin American Studies at Georgetown University’s Walsh School of Foreign Service, we were tasked with creating a final capstone that showcased what we learned in the two years of our Master’s degree. As two students who love cultural institutions (and all the work that goes into them), we relish opportunities to visit different exhibits, especially those pertaining to Latin America and Latinx/e communities living in the United States. After visiting museums both in Santiago, Chile and Washington D.C. we soon realized that exiles were missing from the narrative. As well as, in D.C. the narrative largely stayed within Mexican and Cuban diasporas, although it also considered Puerto Ricans. As we left, we asked ourselves an important question: Did we want to see Southern Cone representation because it spoke to us personally, or is there something about the Chilean case (or even a Brazilian case) that could illuminate or reframe the way we think about certain themes? What would it mean to represent members of the Latin American diaspora whose experiences were definitely shaped by more contemporary hemispheric political and economic circumstances involving the countries of our family’s origins and the United States?
With that idea in mind, we got to work. The year 2023 marks the 200th anniversary of foreign relations between Chile and the United States as well as the 50th anniversary of the coup of 1973. As we reflect on the coup’s 50th anniversary, it is important to consider the role commemorations play in how we remember the past and reinterpret it in the present. To do this, we chose to elevate the stories of those who were exiled from Chile and found refuge in the United States, specifically because they encourage us to reflect on the relationship between these two countries’ governments during this period.
To acknowledge the effects this period had on individuals, our work centers around the memory of four members of the Santos family that were exiled to the United States in 1976. We use this family scene to explore the emotional, physical, and mnemonically liminal space of what it means to be an “exile,” as well as, the complex relationship between the concept of identity and nationalism, and the construction of historical vs. personal memories. We add the individual experience to the social sciences by taking the macro-level dialogue of the dictatorship in Chile, and migration to the United States, to a micro-level by recording the experiences of the Santos family currently living in Boulder, Colorado.
The result of this work is the Research Guide we have created in partnership with the Hispanic Reading Room and our Georgetown University StoryMap. The Library of Congress’ research guide provides an entry point into the background of the Chilean coup and showcases the materials available in different collections regarding legislation, manuscripts, photos, and solidarity posters. We hope this research guide not only provides the context to the wider project we have created, but also give researchers a sense of the diversity of materials the Library houses and how these materials can guide others to explore different themes within the Chilean context. Our StoryMap humanizes this history by following along the story of an exiled family and adds a personal narrative to the data on foreign policy during this period.
By incorporating the family scene as history, our work uses personal memory to better understand what we thought we knew about a well-known event in history, as well as to provide a deeper understanding of migration, identity, and advocacy that better informs the way we think about diasporic communities in the United States and their reasons for leaving their home countries. To interact with the family scene through our StoryMap Aquí, pero allá (Here But There) click here. For our research guide Aquí, pero allá (Here, But There): A Guide on Chile from 1964-1990 and Chilean Exiles Living in the United States click here.
Handbook of Latin American Studies (HLAS): A Resource Guide The Handbook of Latin American Studies is a bibliography on Latin America consisting of works selected and annotated by scholars.
The PALABRA Archive at the Library of Congress The PALABRA Archive is a collection of original audio recordings of 20th and 21st century Luso-Hispanic poets and writers reading from their works. This link takes you to the audio recordings of South American authors. This other link takes you to PALABRA Indigenous Voices Project, a subset of the PALABRA Archive focused on poetry and literature written and spoken in Indigenous languages.
Library of Congress Research Guides Library’s guides organized by research topic and collections – these include both online materials, and materials only available on site. The guides related to the Caribbean, Iberian, and Latin American Studies can be found here.
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