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.

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