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Interview with writer and cultural agent Marcela Baratelli:
At South's South

Even when a flowered dress does not match Magallanes' landscape, at Chile's extreme south our Independence Day (September 18th) imposes its central pattern, ignoring local peculiarities. Meanwhile, Bicentennial plans for the year 2010 may give some cultural structure to a region that suffers from a fierce isolation. We spoke with Marcela Baratelli, Argentinean writer and important cultural agent at Chile's Twelfth Region.

"Each territory which is part of the Chilean State should see their reflection on the country's conception", says Baratelli. "That is a small utopia worth working for".

By Rosario Mena


—What are the circumstances and elements that most condition Magallanes' cultural identity in contrast to the rest of the country?
This is impossible to summarize in a short answer. Maybe the best thing would be to count some realities:

1. To travel to or from the region you need a four-hour air flight, at the least. By land, crossing Argentinean territory would take you a couple of days. On business, the cost of the ticket is of 100,000 pesos (140 dollars) and it is as expensive to get to Puerto Montt as it is to Santiago, there's not much of a difference. There is only one airline.

2. All medical treatments of some complexity must be done in Santiago, but health plans rarely include transportation.

3. Each time I watch Art Awards or theater and music listings, I wonder when will we know what that is all about.

4. Wind, a magnificent element.

5. The few hours of light during the winter and wide clarity in summer.

6. Few people from the North know that you cannot reach Punta Arenas by land.

7. Few people from the North know that Concepcion is not really south. That's why we have to call ourselves "South's south".

8. Cinema started a long time ago in Porvenir, where we had trains, rural telephones, electricity, and tap water. That pioneer vision was partially responsible of the region's ethnic extermination. We are a land with a complex cultural tradition that started with a prison, a military base... Different productive activities also determinated who reached the region, and what was "from Magallanes" was redefined many times during our History.

9. Geographical isolation is a fact that operates as a double side weapon.

10. The relations we have with space, the skies, the landscape, and immensity.

—What value do Patagonians give to this date as a celebration of Chile's Independence? To what extent do they identify with this process whose scenery is Central Chile?
—Because this is a land of mixtures; people that came from the North have a strong identification with the Independence process. Naturally, people from Magallanes too. I believe it is associated with a time of celebration, joy, a "Viva Chile, dammit!" Military presence is something you feel. It is not the same to see a military parade in Santiago that one in a city of twelve thousand people, where marches and cannon shots feel close, soldiers walk through the streets and one lives with regiment in one own's city. So there is a presence of "oficialdom" around this celebration that also shows in the big participation of community organizations in the civic-military parade.

We should not forget that Gabriela Mistral arrived to Punta Arenas with the mission of "making the city more Chilean". The model now used for celebration does not yet incorporate country's cultural diversity, with its vision limited to the use of clothing, dances and scenarios far from our daily life, by an official criteria of how that day is supposed to be. I cannot imagine somebody from Easter Island dancing "cueca" and nor do I think it's necessary. And the same with every region, every territory, and every nation that shapes the Chilean State. They should all see the reflection of themselves in the country's conception. A small utopia worth working for.

—How is Independence Day celebrated at the Patagonia?
—In Magallanes, the celebration is very similar to the one at the Central Zone. All the peculiarities of a region with a big percentage of foreign immigration is something that has been getting lost with time, partially because descendents migrated to the North, and also because of successive migrations of northern families for work reasons. Oil, public services, military presence and people's immigration from the Tenth region: all these produced a progressive "Chileanization" of our costumes, preserving some of the zone's particularities. We celebrate it as much as possible, schools have vacations in September and this favors that some make short trips, inside the Region and to nearby cities in Argentina. We have "empanadas", "anticuchos", "curantos" (typical meat and sea food) barbecues, wine, and "chicha" (liquor made out of apples). We organize fairs at schools and gyms, generally indoors because the weather can get rough. We may dance some "cueca" (national dance) but then switch to any fashionable music style.

—How does the region views itself for this Bicentennial (2010)? What importance do you give to it?
—Bicentennial is a true possibility for us to get resources and concrete some necessary projects for the Region. In Punta Arenas there is only one theater, built privately at the end of the 19th Century. We are in a total state of need for a minimal cultural structure. There is an invaluable cultural, architectural and historical patrimony, and we still lack some clear signs, protection and recuperation policies that would stop its deterioration and loss. When there are plans to invest State resources in the region, usually what is thought are traditional economical activities. I believe that if we work hard to tie the zone's patrimonial, cultural and tourist issues we would have something completely profitable and that could be seen as an investment on the traditional sense. So it is as important as the hiring of workers. The Bicentennial has a sense of refoundation, so it is then that we have to incorporate regional visions —and there are quite a few—to the country's scenery, to redesign investments, give development tools, solve the urgent needs of internal territories. To think together, work together; take the challenge of talking to somebody different, respecting his difference. There is a tendency towards underestimating regional capacities; there is also a tendency within the regions to do just "what is possible". We should find a point that breaks that state of things.

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