I have two separate anecdotes about Communists. One is funny and interesting (I hope) the other is very much not funny. The not funny one is much shorter, so that comes first.
The not funny one: Today I went to a march. It was a march to commemorate Sept. 11, 1973 when Pinochet took power in Chile in a military coup and commenced his seventeen year dictatorship. On that day he arrested many many people, locked them in the national stadium (the same one I can see from my window), tortured them, and killed most of them. The torture, disappearances, and oppression continued throughout his regime. Those associated with the left were specifically targeted.
The march today is one that occurs every year on the Sunday following Sept 11 and is organized by the left in general. Lots of different groups were present, all with the common cause of promoting human rights and remembering a past tragedy so as not to repeat it. The communist party had a particularly strong presence.
When we were told about the march we signed a contract saying that we’d stay close to our academic director and leave when he told us to even. We were going to stay at the front of the pack and leave early, thereby avoiding the violence and police suppression that most often occur at the back and at the end. We were also told to bring our phones (in case we got separated), wear sneakers (in case we had to run), and have some lemon with us (to squeeze the juice under our eyes in case of tear gas).
The mass of people had assembled and was ready to march. Red flags surrounded us, and a truck at the front carried the press and the man with the megaphone leading chants. But before we even started marching, René (the academic director) told us to step out and watch. He said that the leaders of the march had decided to take a route forbidden by the police, one that led past Salvador Allende’s grave. Just by walking we’d be breaking the law, and if we got caught arrested we could be deported. No go. So we stepped off to the side and watched as people started to walk by.
About five minutes later we saw a huge plume of what looked like smoke ahead of us, near where we might have been had we kept walking. It was water. The police were spraying people with a hose. René led us away quickly. We could hear the noise of the crowd rising as we headed down a side street and gathered at a corner. He directed us to the nearest subway stop in the opposite direction of the march and we left.
The funny one: Danielle’s host mom is a very important human rights lawyer. She is the president of something, though we’re not sure what. On Friday night she told Danielle that she had three tickets to a fundraising dinner for a political candidate. We later found out he was a mayoral candidate for the Communist party (we saw him at the march too), but I’ll get to that later. Anyway, Danielle invited me and Jordan to go with her. We had absolutely no idea what we were doing, what to wear, who would be there, or anything, but we went.
Danielle and I got to the subway station first, so while we were waiting for Jordan we scoped out where the thing was. Our first hint that we might be in over our heads came when we found the restaurant and saw that it was on the top floor of a three or four story building and it looked swanky. We waited for Jordan.
After prepping Jordan on the high potential for awkward, we scaled the steps. Danielle told the hostess (who I think was really the co-owner of the restaurant and knew all of the guests) the name of her host mom and she gave us a knowing nod. She introduced herself to us, and then introduced us to the restaurant owner. Then she gave whoever was seating us special instructions that we didn’t quite catch, and we were led to a table and seated.
Thank goodness the hostess woman had given us little pamphlets with pictures of the candidate, or we most definitely would not have realized that we were being seated at his table. Talk about intimidating. We didn’t even know at that point what alcalde meant (mayor), what his party was, or anything worth asking him about. He introduced himself and the other man at the table, a music producer and manager from the south of Chile. We answered all those questions from the mayor guy about what we were studying, where we were from, and then he left. Turns out he wasn’t actually sitting there, just making the rounds.
So that left us with the music guy alone. He was really friendly and spoke clearly enough that I could understand most of what he said. He talked to us a lot about our own elections, and wasn’t too condescending when I asked him what an alcalde did (not knowing it meant mayor). He said “Guliani” and laughed. I understood.
We also talked a bit about Chile and then its wine. After the first round of pisco sours (that’s like, the classic Chilean mixed drink but I think it’s considered pretty girly), he asked for wine for the table. When I refused the Chilean wine (because I don’t like wine) he ordered me another pisco sour, then proceeded to make fun of me for drinking it. Great. Then later he ordered another one to be placed in the middle of the table. None of us drank it. He also, at one point, leaned over to Jordan (the only guy in our entire group, but this man didn’t know that) and said “muchas mujeres” which means, “lots of women”. I think he was a bit curado (drunk) by that point.
All in all we were doing a pretty good and mostly unawkward job of, you know, being guests at a small private gathering for a mayoral candidate we’d never heard of in a foreign country. I even debated the merits of the electoral college in Spanish, although I don’t know how to say “devil’s advocate” so I think he thought I was a staunch supporter.
Things didn’t fall apart until the end. Since we had arrived approximately two hours late, our dinner courses were a bit behind everyone else’s, and as we finished up most people were leaving. So the hostess woman decided we should go join another one table, where the candidate and some other important people were sitting. Jordan talked to our music friend. I talked to a twelve year old girl about the Jonas Brothers (obviously) and we all felt really uncomfortable and wanted to leave. And we tried to, for like ten minutes, but the music dude couldn’t take a hint and stop talking, and we didn’t want to be rude. Finally we finagled our way into a standing position and thanked el candidato and our new friend. We thanked the hostess and started to walk away, but she called us back upstairs to kiss the cheek of each and every bartender/ server. I’m still not sure why.
As we finally descended the stairs we could barely stifle our laughter for long enough to make it to the ground floor. Actually that’s a huge lie, we couldn’t stifle our laughter at all and were in hysterics by the time we flung ourselves out the door of the building. I only hope we didn’t make some major faux pas that ruined Danielle’s host mom’s reputation. I must say though, the communists make a delicious salmon.