Sacrifice, dialogue and intergenerational understanding (Rachel Swanson’s project in Chile)

Three weeks ago, our adventures were just beginning. My collaborators and friends and I were brimming with anticipationIMG_1597 and excitement to see each other and to get started on a project that we believed in. Today, I’m writing this final blog post from the Santiago airport, proud to say that we finished an extremely successful and important project. Let me tell you a little bit about what we did, what we learned, and what we believe our impact to be.

Every day we conducted an oral history session, with a grandchild and their grandparent(s). We were graciously invited into the grandparents’ homes, we spent hours getting to know the family, meeting and/or catching up with the grandchild, and building rapport. Although each of the conversations developed differently, we always spoke with the student first about the project, our goals, and what they were interested in learning. Only one set of grandparents declined to talk about the dictatorship (the grandchild was apologetic)—this unwillingness to talk about this painful period of history is very understandable, and we still were able to conduct an enriching session where we learned about the period leading up to the dictatorship and the transition after the 18 years of a military government.

We dialogued with families with a wide diversity of political views; although most of the grandparents opposed the violence and censorship, most also acknowledged the military government’s successfulness in implementing order. Since 1988 (the end of Pinochet’s “presidency”), delinquency and drug use have been on the rise, according to the grandparents. One of IMG_1514my favorite questions we asked the grandparents is if it is important to talk about this period of history. Not surprisingly, most of them acknowledged that, while it is important for the younger generation to know what happened during this time, it is painful to relive that era—most of the grandparents wanted their grandchildren to know what happened, but they didn’t necessarily want to have the responsibility of telling the younger generation.

Some of our days were really hard: we met an aunt whose brother had been “disappeared” by the Chilean military forces, never to be found or heard from again. I asked a grandmother about her childhood, and she began to cry, explaining that she was grateful that her grandchildren were growing up in a “different world.” Some days we sat at tables for five, six, seven hours on end—talking with aunts and uncles and grandparents and neighbors. We drank maté (an Argentinian tea that I brought as a gift), we talked about family and—at every single home—we laughed, we hugged and smiled. The three weeks were exhausting and intense but extremely fulfilling for everyone involved.

So, what did we accomplish? We recorded fifteen videos of grandchildren talking about the process—videos that will soon   be edited, uploaded to YouTube, and spread throughout Southern Chile. We created more openness within families which, IMG_1614 (1)admittedly, is difficult to measure, but as the videos reveal, both the grandparents and the grandchildren learned from each other. Personally, I feel incredible fortunate to have been invited into so many homes, and to have learned profound lessons not only about the Chilean dictatorship, but also about family, sacrifice, dialogue, history, and values. I’m thankful for the meals that were prepared for us, the many gifts we received, and the invitations to return.

A huge thank you to my Chilean collaborators (Carlos, Jairo, Roberto, Constanza, Sebastian, Diego, Catalina, Andrea, Ron, Miriam, Nicolás, Javier, Ricardo, Cristián, Robert, José, and Mauricio) and their families. I am sincerely grateful to the Macalester IGC Student Council and the Live It! fund for providing funding and advising, Anthropology professor Olga Gonzalez and her fall Politics of Truth and Memory course for consulting and improving this project, and my Chilean host family for graciously welcoming me once again into their home.

Growing From the S.T.E.M. – Nita & Alex | #1

As chemistry and biology majors, we want to offer younger students an opportunity to observe science in a new light, and expose them to some practical applications in an interesting manner.  We want empower them to understand their own ability to participate in scientific inquiry using their own observations and intuition.  The idea of being a scientist can be intimidating, and our goal is to make it less so, and therefore a more attainable path.  Our project, Growing From The S.T.E.M., aims to work with a diversity of students in the Twin Cities over the course of three sessions/sections of workshops, which will introduce them to scientific application and give them a chance to participate in hands-on activities.

Session 1: Introduction

In our first workshop we will discuss how chemistry and biology is applied in society while discussing the importance of collaboration between disciplines in applied research.  We have prepared an activity on keeping a laboratory notebook, an essential resource for scientist researchers.  The final important aspect of our first session will be a serious discussion of safety in the laboratory.

Session 2: Biology

In our second workshop, the students will learn about the digestive systems of humans and mice.  The students will do some hands-on activities to help them visualize the digestive system and also have a chance to look at cells under a microscope. The students will be able to see the different parts of the digestive system and understand the roles of the different organs in ingesting food, breaking it down into smaller parts for our bodies to use, and removing waste once the process is over.

Session 3: Chemistry

The third and final session will be the chemistry workshop, which will take place entirely in the Macalester analytical chemistry lab.  Almost all of the demos will involve and tie into what is known as the triangle of fire.  Students will be pushed to apply their understanding of this phenomenon to intuitively hypothesize what will occur in each demonstration.  Other core concepts emphasized will be stability of products vs. stability of reactants and how this affects reactivity, and basic understanding of properties that may make atoms and molecules reactive.  This section of the workshop will certainly be the most dangerous, however extra safety precautions have been put in place to prevent any accidents.

Most of our supplies/facilities were provided to us by our professors in the Macalester biology and chemistry departments.  General supplies were purchased from funding from the LiveIt! Fund at Macalester College.  We would like to thank both of these groups for their support and are grateful for the opportunity to share our own passion for science with a younger generation!

-Nita and Alex

Re-defining Manhood. Cristian & Sara, Northfield, MN.

This week we held the fist session of our project with the male latino community in Northfield. For this session, we wanted to have a small group of people to have a meaningful conversation. We therefore invited people we knew, and we held it at a local Mexican restaurant, where we had a private room for ourselves to give the group some intimacy.

Although we wanted to have an all-male group, we were actually happy that one young lady also showed up with her two brothers and her step father. The reason why we were happy she came along is that she proved our initial theory that not many men in the community know about our partner organization Growing up Healthy, but the only girl in the group did. She has attended some of their gardening, cooking and zumba classes. In fact, her step dad has attended a cooking class with her and her mom, but stopped attending because he was the only man in the room.

We had a great conversation about manhood and what it means to be a man. The participants shared with us that they believe manhood has a different meaning here than it has in their home country Mexico. We focused on discussing manhood, and we also touched the topic of why they are not attending the events that are offered for the latino community. They told us that in most cases they are not interested in what is being offered; however, they would attend if other things were offered such as soccer tournaments, basketball games or lifting classes. Furthermore, one of the participants told us that they have been wanting to build a soccer field in town so that they could use, and they would like our help to write some grants and talk to people in town who may be able to help.

We are extremely happy with the results and we can’t wait

Here are some pictures from our session!

photo 2  photo 3

Abuelos y nietos (Rachel Swanson’s project in Chile)

Hello from Southern Chile!

We are well into the project now- interviewing pairs of grandparents and grandchildren every day. The interviews have taken us into very rural areas, to villages, and to Temuco- a regional capital. Each oral history is different; sometimes, the interviews are short and concise, and other times, aunts, uncles, cousins, brothers and sisters stop by to listen and learn. To me, those have been the most rewarding—when people other than those directly involved in the project sit down and ask their grandparents questions. Today we will facilitate oral history #7, in a suburb of Temuco called Padre las Casas. Saturday, we will also be in Temuco, but Sunday and next week we will be traveling: to Victoria (by train!), to Mulchen (a small, rural village), and to Currarehue (a village in the Andes mountains), among others.

The project is moving quickly and almost flawlessly. I say almost because we have encountered a glitch- which is purely technological. During the first interview, I found out that my camera battery has stopped working (I know those are not technical terms, but basically it does not keep a charge). Consequently, I started using my phone to record the interviews. It is not the ideal situation, but because Temuco is not a large city, there is no place that sells the kind of battery I need. I could have gone to Santiago to get it (10-12 hours away), but the phone has been working just fine. It is a minor setback, but it didn’t cost us any time or affect our interviews.

Here are some of the most interesting lessons we’ve learned so far:

  • During the Chilean dictatorship, many parents did not talk about what was happening because their Children were attending school. They didn’t want their children to repeat what they heard in school at home.
  • The period before the dictatorship was extremely challenging: Chileans had to form long colas (or lines) to obtain sugar, oil, flour- the basics. Many of the families had to wake up at four in the morning and walk into town to get into these lines. Therefore, many people- regardless of their political inclinations- were excited for the coup d’état because it represented an end to an extremely difficult period.
  • All of the grandchildren we have interviewed have spoken at length about how special their relationship with their grandparents are. It is really impressive how excited grandchildren and grandparents alike are to have these conversations.

Thanks for reading!! Below are some snapshots from the videos we have recorded so far.


andrea diego jairo