Living in Chile is living between two territories: the “Barrio” or the “Población”*. I wonder when that difference was born, since living in one or the other seems to be totally different realities. I write them in capital letters, because they are specific places, in the “site specific” style that contemporary art theorists speak of. Faced with this, when I try to position myself, I find myself in a limit territory, a place that is actually two places, two territories marked by an imaginary line, two peripheral populations whose centers escape all the tourist infrastructure, centers that are not centers, but spaces of agglomeration, of crowd, of community, of marginalization and begging for the “bread of every day”.
I’m from Santiago, the capital of a country that looks like a mountain range. My place is not the center, but the boundary, the border. I returned to this city in October 2019, as soon as I finished my master’s degree in arts in Seville, Spain. I came back, and my city was not the same, there were soldiers on the streets and the whole tourist center was covered with posters calling for a revolution: the Chilean social explosion had begun. The protests were increasing and in my condition as a newcomer my family welcomed me with open arms, in this same house where I am quarantined three months ago.
The virus came at a decisive moment: on April 26 we were going to vote in a plebiscite to approve or reject amendments to the current Constitution, the virus that has been weakening Chile since 1980. With this isolation became increasing and political change took to the fore. I could say that my life has changed, that the life of the population has changed, but in fact what has changed is the way of looking at space, of seeing one another and knowing in a context, longing for this pandemic to make real “forgive us our offenses”, after 30 years of forgiving those who have offended us.
I live at the intersection of two streets that, according to the map, belong to the Población de San Joaquín and Población La Victoria. If you ask me which one I identify with the most, clearly taking to La Victoria. This Población was born with the first occupation of Chile, a land occupied by many families from a space called El cordon de la Miseria. I imagine La Victoria as an allegory of the “site specific”, an intervention whose work is unique and that leaves marks in the field of urban geography: they created the concept of Settlers.
Later times was born the Población de San Joaquín, and the house of my family, from where I write to you, is on the corner where these two spaces meet, from where today depart their Settlers as martyrs of the Chilean minimum wage, from where, as in most poblaciónes de Santiago, the greatest number of dead and cases of contagion are concentrated , from where you need to go out to work, so that the center remains the center.
Where am I? Watching on a screen how my country’s public policies inspire me to want to leave, cross the imaginary border and relive the social explosion that seemed more hopeful than this new reality. I am inside doors, wondering how long this pandemic will force me to observe the Settlers as if I were elsewhere, as if my life were the center and they were the periphery, that territory, which I do not cross by following the rules of the most radical game of my existence.
“Only the People help the People,” say the posters of some neighbors who, it seems, know very well what it means to lose fear and resist.
*In Chile, poblaciónes are the equivalent of favelas in Brazil, where the poorest live, while the Barrios are the traditional and planned neighborhoods.
**Mical Acuña holds a degree in teaching and a master’s degree in arts from the University of Seville. He lives in Santiago, the capital of Chile.