I’m really proud of myself for the name I just came up with for this entry because I can make it have lots of meanings, but somewhat cornily. Afuera means out or outside. This weekend I went outside of Santiago for the first time since I arrived there. We visited Valparaiso/Viña del Mar. It was geographically afuera de la ciudad (outside the city) but I also felt very far from the experience of being in Santiago and like I was actually outside in nature because I could actually see the sky clearly without so much smog. Also, the words afuera and fuera were used a lot in the ULTIMATE FRISBEE GAME I got to play in thanks to Becky (whom it was awesome to see) to mean like out of bounds but also (I think) that people should lay out. And lastly, all of what I’ve been thinking about lately has only shown me that all of my perspective are completely that of an outsider and until I have more opportunities to have more profound conversations with Chileans about what I’m observing, I have no context to understand whether things I see are aspects of Chile, Santiago, or just the house or subway car I’m in at the time. In every way, I’m very much afuera.
Getting outside of Santiago was wonderful. Valpo and Viña are absolutely beautiful. I got to see Becky and meet her study abroad friends. I got to play frisbee. I got to see a new part of the country. Most of all though, it gave me some perspective (although it only made me realize how little I know, en vez de helping me understand things better).
I feel like Chile, or at least Santiago (and herein lies the problem, I no longer know where the distinction lies because I’m realizing more that there is one) is going through an identity crisis. My host parents explained to me once that socially Argentineans look down on Chileans because they think Argentina is more developed and European. In response, Chileans resent the stuck-up-ness of Argentina. However, Chileans feel the same way towards Bolivia and Peru– that Chile is better because it’s more economically developed, etc, and that treating their Bolivian and Peruvian immigrant laborers as second class citizens is okay. In turn, Bolivians and Peruvians don’t really like this (go figure) and so they resent Chile. Take all this with a grain of salt, it’s the interpretation of two people. But it does seem to make sense.
This leaves Chile in an interesting middle predicament, hence its apparent identity crisis. On the one hand, for a Latin American country it’s pretty developed. Indices such as its educational results, birth rates, life expectancy, literacy, etc put it near the top of Latin America. At the same time, there does exist something of a unique Chilean/South American culture that I personally really enjoy. And those same indices don’t put Chile very high in comparison to the rest of the world. Sometimes you can walk down the street in Santiago and feel like you could just be in any city in the world (a fact I don’t particularly enjoy) but other times I feel like I’m distinctly in Chile because of the people I’m around or what we’re doing or eating (like a plate full of french fries topped with meat, onions, and eggs– what?).
For me, it’s much more fun and abroad-like to put myself in situations where what to me seems like “real Chilean culture” comes through, like the Communist fonda I went to where I got to dance cueca and they only played Chilean music instead of the American stuff that’s always on the radio. And, walking down the streets of Valpo I felt much more as if I were in a different country, very much distinct from my own, than when I walk down Paseo Ahumada in Santiago and think about how much it looks like Downtown Crossing in Boston. However, my friend voiced this to someone in Valpo yesterday, that she felt like she was more experiencing Chile there, and the guy we were talking to responded “I think Santiago is much more of actual Chile than here”.
It’s an interesting question. If half of the population of the country lives in one city, is it fair to then say that that city keeps the pulse of the nation? If Santiago is changing, who am I to say that it’s becoming more “European” as opposed to just a different Chile? Who am I to determine what’s really Chilean culture and what isn’t? No one. I can’t. I have no idea. And the things I enjoy and find to be “Chilean”– aren’t they kind of shallow? In reality, I don’t even know what Chilean culture means. This is the globalization question right here before my eyes. I am morning the “loss” (but even that is suck a biased word) of the Latin American culture I came looking for, but no Chilean I’ve met seems to echo this sentiment. People are proud that their economy is strong. Why shouldn’t they be I guess, even if it is linked (from my outside perspective) to a significant change in culture? Not to mention that a lot of the economic policy that allows all this to happen comes from Pinochet, who killed thousands of his dissidents and was a military dictator. So yeah, I’m thoroughly confused.
Going to Valpo basically showed me that not all of the country is the same, which I knew as information but hadn’t really experienced. Now I have to question all of my thoughts about Chilean culture because I don’t know if it’s really just Santiago culture, but I also have to question to what extent Santiago culture counts as Chilean culture. After all, my view of Valpo could be totally romanticized due to the blue skies, frisbee, and paucity of time I spent there. I guess with everything I’m trying to learn about here (from culture to education), I continue to see that context is vital and is seriously lacking.
In conclusion though, I really want to go back to Valpo. It rocked.
Poop update: Friday we went to a typical Valpo restaurant for lunch as a whole group. They served us plates full of fries topped with scrambled eggs, onions, and meat (or for me, no meat). They also served us cerveza de puerta, which literally translates to beer of the port. I guess it was local beer. Anyway, this wasn’t particularly good for my stomach, as you can imagine. It allll came out of me at once later that day. So there you go, finally some pooptastic excitment. I feel fine now after two meals of chicken sandwiches with palta (avocado) and cheese yesterday (so delicious) and two and a half hours of frisbee.