Aside from a quick nod to Squanto on Thanksgiving (who, frankly, may as well be that holiday’s equivalent of the Easter Bunny), the US largely fails to keep its original settlers alive in its collective conscious. This is undoubtedly due to the fact that 90 percent of those original populations were decimated by European newcomers whose descendants, today, form a solid majority of the US’ current populace. You’re just not likely to see an Iroquois or Navajo face on your daily hop over to Starbucks.
Chilean society, on the other hand — though considered significantly more “European” than other South American nations such as Bolivia and Peru — appears to make a greater effort to keep both the memory and vestiges of its ancient cultures alive, whether these be the Mapuche on the mainland or the Rapa Nui on Easter Island (yes, the giant heads).
(Of course, nothing is perfect: Southern Chile is ablaze with violence as Mapuche activists fight to reclaim land that was seized from them generations ago.)
Ever since 2006 and spiking in 2011, Chilean university students have led a charge to reform a series of antiquated policies, from nonexistent abortion rights to access to better education. Spend a few weeks in Santiago and you’ll become all too familiar with the smell of tear gas, liberally deployed by law enforcers during protests.
While the effectiveness of taking to the streets is certainly a whole conversation in and of itself, it’s undeniable that Chilean youth are much more politically active than their US counterparts — so much so, in fact, that a few former student leaders, all shy of 30, today are parliamentary deputies. It certainly doesn’t hurt to have some parliamentary eye candy. (Who said deputies couldn’t be devastatingly attractive while implementing education reform? Looking at you, Camila Vallejo).
Never one to seek out street art, I’ve become a hardcore fan ever since I moved to Chile. I never tire of strolling through Bella Vista and Yungay in Santiago and fell in love with Valparaíso the first time I visited.
While certain urban areas in the US definitely have their own brands of masterful graffiti, the sheer quantity and craftsmanship just doesn’t compare. I’m not talking about “Juan Pablo + Maria 4 eva” — torrid high school romance it may be — or the avant garde sketches of a bored teenager. Chilean murals are masterful and provocative works of art.
Twice a week, I attend a Zumba class in my neighborhood. Approximately 15 of us are packed into a small, unventilated room and made to follow a series of jumps and gyrations without crashing into each other (something that inevitably happens every few minutes). The whole thing is made doubly more challenging by the number of toddlers running among us as we dance, like mobile landmines on a spandex-infested terrain.
Many of the women are young mothers and bring their children with them to class. While US mothers would probably ship their kids off to some sort of childcare facility or consign a nanny, Chileans view childcare as a more communal undertaking. It’s a given that neighbors and family will pitch in — or in this case, your fellow Zumba-ers.
So we waste approximately 15 minutes of Zumba cooing over infants and passing them from one set of arms to another, but it’s a relief to know that a child protection S.W.A.T. team won’t parachute in to save the children from us “strangers.”