Chile’s Independence Day was September 18th….and YES! I see the theme in my posts—always a good month overdue and usually on the verge of falling into the abyss of uninteresting, dated stories. (Or already there-no offense taken!) But despite the potential mootness of these events, the Chilean Independence Day was/is QUITE the affair, and so twas necessary that I logged all the fun that went with it into this here “adventure journal.”
In any event, Independence Day, or “Dieciocho” as the Chilean’s call it, is THE HOLIDAY OF THE YEAR. Over the course of September, and now even into October, supermarkets, stores and street corners have been flooded with all things CHILE- showcasing bold displays of red, white and blue, hallmark of the Chilean national flag. Upon a visit to such a tienda, one will find Chilean National Flags of all sizes, little flags to hang on the inside and outside of the car, (side note: displaying the flag at your house and on your car are legally required, or you face a fine, during this week), traditional Chilean clothing depicting Huasos and Huasas (Cowboys and Cowgirls), kites, aprons, napkins, plates, décor, bbq tools…anything and everything you can think of that celebrates “Dieciocho”.</span
In addition to the public displays of flashy festive fun and the Fiestas Patrias’ (patriotic parties) the children across the city dress up as little Huasitos and Huasitas for their school celebrations, often engaging in classes, festivals and performances where they learn and perform La Cueca, the traditional Chilean dance which involves a partner and a handkerchief. The men in the dance wear the huaso’s hat, shirts, flannel poncho, riding pants and boots, short jacket, riding boots, and spurs. The women wear flowered dresses. Cueca dancing apparently resembles a rooster-chicken relationship. The man approaches the woman and offers his arm, then the women accompanies him and they walk around the room. They then face each other and hold their handkerchief in the air, and begin to dance. They never touch, but still maintain contact through facial expressions and movements. The handkerchief is KEY to the Cueca.
The week of Dieciocho, there is absolutely no school in session the entire week, and there is very little production. This year, it fell on a Thursday, meaning that by law everyone was off of work Thursday-Sunday. In fact, the government specifically called for everything to be closed Thursday and Friday to “allow workers to spend time with family and dance cueca”. Employees were to denounce any employer that required them to work, and the government sent out “enforcers” to assure the mandatory holiday law was respected. Businesses caught breaking the law risked fines between US $400 and US $1600. In other words, this is the celebration of all celebrations, garnering more recognition than Christmas, so I am told.
I understand that the week of Fiesta Patrias in any given city, kicks off with a Fonda, which is essentially a food stand and asada (BBQ). At this festive party, Chileans celebrate with music, dance, and plenty of traditional foods: empanadas, choripanes (chorizo sausage sandwiches) and drinks, particularly chicha (a very sweet partially fermented grape almost-wine—it reminds me a bit of an apple-cider lager as well). Over the course of the celebration, there are also activities for the kids to partake in to celebrate the countries culture, such as futbol and tenis camps, and toys and games at the local Parque Saval here in Valdivia. At night the community attends rodeos and traditional dance performances, including La Cueca and Ballet Fokolorico.
Unfortunately, because of the considerable vacation time given we took full advantage and embarked on a family trip to Bariloche, Argentina during the actual 18th festivities. However, thankfully a “mini-dieciocho” was celebrated in early-October, allowing us to sort of experience first hand what it’s actually like…and it was FUN!
As I’m sure you can now imagine, it’s difficult to miss how very seriously Chile takes it’s Independence day, as really any country should. As such, it seemed to me that if we are going to live here, and celebrate along side our friends, it is important that we understand the story behind Chile’s independence and just what in fact we are celebrating.
Chile was discovered and conquered by Spain through Pedro de Valdivia in 1541. It was never considered a kingdom because it was constantly at war with the local indigenous peoples, primarily the Mapuche, and so as a result it was ruled militarily. September 18, 1810 actually marks the first day of the war for independence from Spain. The war lasted a decade-or until 1821 when the royalists were expelled back to Spain. The actual date independence was proclaimed was February 12th.
September 19th is also a holiday. In addition to the fact that I understand it to largely be a “recovery” day from the 18th celebrations, it also is called “Glorious Army Day”, a day set to honor the troops and their success against the Spanish Army.
Interestingly, or oddly, enough, the week immediately before the week of great celebration and unity in Chile occurs a week of strife, protests and division.
While in the US, every year we remember and honor September 11th with great sadness, never forgetting what happened to our beloved fellow citizens and country on that horrible day, Chile, too, has a September 11th that it mourns annually.
On September 11, 1973, following a great period of economic disrepair and unrest between sectors of government in Chile, the military overthrew the then sitting President Allende in a Coup d ‘etat. The Chilean Congress and Courts, the world at large, and in particular apparently the US, were concerned with President Allende’s communistic reforms, the then existing black market and extreme poverty that had resulted from his policies, his meetings with Fidel Castro, and his overtaking of private companies (including US held companies). Interestingly, the United States, fearing an irreversible Communist regime during this Cold War area, helped create the conditions for the coup, looking at it from the standpoint of assisting in the overthrowing a Communist government. The facts and opinions regarding the US role are all over the board, and so aren’t something I’m going to delve into but certainly something worth reading if you so choose….though I will say thankfully I haven’t felt any strong opinions towards Americans one way or the other on this matter while we’ve been here.
As a result of the 9/11 Coup, the Army General, Augosto Pinochet, assumed power and ruled Chile in a Dictatorship for the next 17 years. Following the coup, the military killed thousands of leftists, real and suspected, or forced their “disappearances.” Roughly 40,000 more were imprisoned in the National Stadium, and thousands more were imprisoned and tortured in “concentration camps” throughout the country. One statistic shows that 130,000 were arrested in the first 3 years of the Pinochet Regime. Some say that with any given person you talk to in Chile, they know someone or at least of someone who “disappeared” during this time. Thankfully, Pinochet was voted out by a 56% majority in 1988 and Chile has been governed as a peaceful, democratic republic since.
And so, while Chile’s tensions are high around the September 11th marker, with this year actual bombings occurring in Santiago (they’ve been caught! And no don’t worry-it really is still an INCREDIBLY SAFE COUNTRY-with 99.9% of the protests happening during this time being very peaceful), that quickly shifts to a love of country, love for each other, and all around GOOD TIME on the 18th.
Quite honestly, to date I haven’t spoken with anyone in any great depth on the subject of the Pinochet years…only catching fleeting comments on the topic. I recall on our first trip here visiting a library that one man was organizing, practically single-handedly. In that library, he not only PROUDLY displays books of every kind, but has music lessons, movie viewing, and art classes as well. While we as Americans might dismiss this without a second thought-blessed to know nothing different…here it is SO IMPORTANT because during those Pinochet years, years that were in most adults lifetime, the people were not able to read the books they wanted to or listen to the music of their choice. Even their mail was intercepted and read before they were able to. And so it was with great celebration that this small community now had access to books, and art! Another reminder, anywhere in the world, to not take such things for granted.
And so, even really knowing only very little and sincerely hoping I did not provide any inaccurate information, it is easy to understand and appreciate why September 18th is a celebration. A celebration of Independence from Spain, but also a celebration of again finding true liberty even more recently in our lifetimes. Considering what the country has been through, and the AMAZING place it finds itself today, a BEAUTIFUL country, with WONDERFUL people…loving, hard-working and humble, with one of the most thriving and fast-growing economies in the world, and considered the safest country in South America and one of the safest in the world, (of note with a well-known straight and narrow police force-priding itself in being impenetrable to bribery and its strict adherence to the law), they have MUCHISIMO to celebrate! And we feel so incredibly blessed to be able to live here, and get to know the amazing place that it is.
So on that note- VIVA CHILE!