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Bonfire of our vanities

“It’s Mayday.”

“No, I think it’s their labour day or something.”

“It’s el día internacional de los trabajadores, everyone has the day off and, even if they didn’t, they’d take the day off; there’s too much to fight for, we can’t afford not to.”

“I don’t care, as long as we have the day off from school. Usually I have to wake up early on Wednesday but tomorrow I get to sleep in.”

The energy in Viña del Mar and Valparaíso concentrated, a story of silence I imagined being repeated miles up the coast from Reñaca and Con-con onward, a juxtaposition identical to a solitary heart attack, the world in silence, the air thick, the center thumping and struggling, palpitating, an arrhythmia of people ––el pueblo–– trying to determine whether it would revivify itself for a little longer or succumb to the stress and bow out. We all knew what would happen in Santiago ––a peaceful protest surrounded by flames, broken glass, doused in chemicals in front of a wall of shields and rifles; we could hear the accusations of delinquency, todo es insólito y insolente–– but we were Valparaíso. We had nothing to prove over Santiago, they were our comrades in this struggle, and we could only help them by being ourselves.

“The funny thing about Mayday is that it’s no more than a cough in the dusty pages of history in the very place it started.”

––funny is certainly not an appropriate word––

“Where’s that?”

“¡Solidaridad con Chicago con Canada con Bahrain¡” The loudspeaker on the back of the truck let out cries of acknowledgement; of course it was not only Valpo and Santiago, of course this was not simply labour day, como si fuemos connected no through the truck that lead the thousands through the streets but the fists in the air, the smiles on the faces, and the chants that overtook the volume of the loudspeaker. An hour before the march began Plaza Sotomayor was as empty as the rest of Valpo. One could at least see the occasional car or micro drive through, but the amount of people there could have easily been memorized.

“Do you know what our government calls it now? The day of loyalty and law. Eisenhower dreamed that up, our day of labour was taken from us and moved months away; we were not only alienated from our own production pero from context and celebration.”

Red flags rounded corners into the plaza, toy horns made their presence known, a crew of drummers eventually arrived, and as people hugged and shook hands and asked questions the plaza finally regained its life. The noise that enlivens the streets is born in the breath of the pueblo, and the people were ready to make this known. Before everything got underway a tour group of American students stopped by the plaza and sequestered a man for the large Chilean flag is was holding. They snapped a photo with their activists faces and their fists halfheartedly pumped, returned the flag and left before things got too rowdy ––if there is one truth about South Americans it is that their impassioned populism always turns violent, thank safety for our democracy.

“Anyway, I’m going to take the time to do the homework I’m behind on, there are too many clubs here.”

There were various groups present; MIR is still alive, CUT is going strong, and various other shades of red an scholarship amassed in the streets. Jovenes lead by their mothers were a favorite of many, as were the ancianos fighting for pensions and tax changes, and those wishing to stop the construction of new malls. To me, the most empowering “factions” were two of the smaller ones. One was a group of women with taped mouths and a banner, they sought to call attention to the unaddressed sexism still very much alive in Chile ––despite my pride in social movements it is no secret that they are far from perfect, on this particular day in Valpo only a few women spoke at the final rally and sexism was not a subject beyond the banner of those few women. No struggle should take more precedent than another, but to ignore aspects of what makes us human while fighting with and, for some, on behalf of humans is a dangerous precipice. The other empowering group was a man and two women holding the flags of Chile, Peru, and Bolivia. From academics and progressive to church goers and the devoutly religious, Peruvians and Bolivians are hated in Chile; people see them a poor, dirty, inept individuals looking for jobs in Chile but not class ––which Chileans think they can offer in abundance. These three flags were another message that needs to be clearer.

Ultimately, I do not speak for Chileans, I do not speak for Americans, I do not speak for any entity beyond myself, but I can’t help but think even those comfortable enough to not take to the streets would benefit from it ––then again, that South American socialism could be getting to me. Though I saw none in Valpo plenty of Americans took to the streets back home, fighting for education reform, immigrants rights, and several other worthy ideas that are often left out of the quotidian conversations (in a meaningful way). My heart goes out to all those that fought this mayday, whether in the streets or in spirit, thank you all.


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