Pina Piccolo: Please tell us about your background
Ximena Soza: I am a Chilean born artist, poet, educator and researcher, currently living between San Francisco’s Bay Area and San Cristobal de las Casas in Chiapas, Mexico. I was born during the dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet, was involved in the student’s movement at a very young age. Learning about the horrors of the military regime marked my life forever, informed my art and my work. I learned to identify with the oppressed despite the privilege I have experienced; being White in a racist country like Chile, being a White passing Latina in the United States, bilingual and with a regular immigration status.
As an artist I have created several installations and exhibitions that talk about the disappeared in my country and Latin America as a whole, about the genocide of indigenous groups and about issues of immigration. As a poet and writer, I have explored those themes also, together with issues of mental illness and sexuality. As an educator I have worked in intercultural, antiracist and bilingual programs and I am now developing didactical material to promote indigenous languages such as Tsotsil, Tseltal and Quechua.
PP: Can you tell about your experience with the Mapuche?
XS: I am the mother of two Mapuche young men. That has taught me a lot, specially understanding that society sees my children differently than it sees me, because of the privilege I mentioned earlier. That has been painful and challenging. I have also come to understand that my children see the world in a different light and that our relationship has to be built in true understanding and respect. Through my son’s families I have been InTouch with Mapuche cultural practices and points of view for which I have a very deep respect. I studied Mapudungun (the Mapuche language) for four years, I speak it whenever I can to honor my son’s ancestors. That experience allowed me to learn further about the depth of the Mapuche cosmovision, its beauty and complexity.
I was a rural teacher in the island of Chiloe, where I developed an intercultural curriculum for the Williche community, I will be forever thankful of what they allowed me to learn from them. I am still in touch with my students there.
In California I am part of an organization that supports the Mapuche cause (Wallmapu Support Committee) through our work I have been able to be InTouch with Mapuche leaders, teachers, philosophers, political prisoners and their families. It is with great pain that I have witnessed their struggle and with great admiration that I have seen their acts of resistance.
PP: What made you decide to come to the city where you currently live?
I moved to California from Granada Spain and to Spain from Milwaukee, Wisconsin and to Wisconsin from many other places. From Wisconsin I left because it is one the most segregated cities in the United States and I could not bear to raise children under those conditions. From Spain I left because I was disappointed with the educational system there and because I could identify streaks of a colonialist mentality, so I felt I could not raise Mapuche children there. My oldest son was accepted to the University of California-Berkeley and I thought we needed to be closer.
When moving to California I liked the community I found. Now that I move between the Bay Area and Chiapas, it is because I also like the community I have there and all the learning opportunities that that place brings, in relation to the arts, the Zapatistas and the indigenous languages of the area.
PP: Did you participate in the different protest activities in Chile over the past years? Can you talk about the situation in Chile and the various stages that have culminated in the latest uprisings and the reaction from the State?
XS: I have not been in protests in Chile when I have visited, but the last three times I was in Chile I gave free presentations about racism and antiracist education and did a public installation about displacement.
The social and economic inequality that exists in Chile and that has built during the past thirty years are the cause of the uprisings. After the dictatorship people were hoping for a change and that change did not come, instead, the neoliberal system implemented in Pinochet’s era deepened and with it the inequality, the privatization of natural resources, etc. Also, the constitution developed by a regime that committed crimes against humanity cannot be the one that rules a country, and people in Chile know that.
PP: How do you think the current situation differs from the Pinochet years?
XS: The levels of repression that we are witnessing is like those seen during those times in terms of police brutality, and that is terrifying. It is outrageous to know that there are new people disappeared when we have not found those that were disappeared by the police, the intelligence agents and the military during the dictatorship.
The difference is that the new generations are fearless and that there is more access to information and ways to promote that information through social media. Also, I believe that the fact that the crimes committed during the dictatorship were made public worldwide will help to gain support from other communities. Our eyes are on Chile and we will not let them evade the responsibility they have in the reasons that brought Chile to this point and the violence with which they have treated Chileans.
PP: How do you think the uprisings in Chile relate to the protests and rebellions going on in Haiti, Honduras, Algeria, Colombia, Bolivia, Lebanon and other parts of the world?
XS: The uprising in all these places are a response to the inequality that neoliberalism has provoked, the inequality and the violence that patriarchy has caused, etc. Communities across borders are tired and they feel they have nothing else to lose because they have already lost everything. To that I have to add that people have not lost their dignity, their strength, their ability to love and be moved by injustice, that unite us all.
PP: Did you connect with Chilean community in the San Francisco Bay Area immediately or after the latest demonstrations began? Can you tell us how the Latin American community reacted at the news of the repression in Chile?
XS: I was in the Bay Area during the months of October and November, there is a large Chilean community in the Bay Area, I have been fortunate to be in Touch with them since I arrived to California. People immediately gathered to find ways in which they could organize themselves. Different working groups were created that have done different actions locally and that have organized themselves with other groups in the country and even internationally. There was a town hall meeting organized in Berkeley with the participation of approximately eighty people. A workshop about the Chilean constitution was also organized, a fundraiser event to support Salud in Resistencia and other groups that are working with people that have been injured by the police. There have also been several demonstrations among the Chilean community and, together with local organizations, murals have also been painted to create awareness. Several other actions are being planned for the future.
There have been lots of radio stations that have hosted members of the community and organizers in Chile. Other Latin American communities have expressed their solidarity and their interest to collaborate in order to create actions that address the situation that many Latin American countries are experiencing.
PP: What are your current and future projects to support the resistance in Chile?
XS: As an artist I am working on a couple of art pieces and poetry. I will also curate an exhibit that will gather art and photography from artists who come from some of the countries where these uprisings have happened. I am also collaborating with my sister, Carolina, who is an actress and theater director in the development of a play. I will continue to work with Wallmapu Support Committee to host events that inform and promote the cause of the Mapuche and Chileans. There is an event coming up at UC-Berkeley that will feature a human rights observer and a journalist who was injured by the police in Chile. The event will take place in a location that has been hosting a photography exhibit organized by us, about Camilo Catrillanca, a young Mapuche weichafe (warrior) who was killed by the Chilean police. I am also open to collaborating with members of other communities.
Cover Image: Group photo of solidarity activists in front of La Pena Community Center in Berkeley California after event on the new Chilean constitution, held on 28 October 2019. Courtesy of Ximena Soza.