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Home/Stories and articles/Recovery
September 2002
Iquique in September:
Chile's month?

On September 18th, 1810, when our country declared its Independence from Spain, the Northern regions still belonged to Peru and Bolivia. This situation was later settled by the Pacific War, fought between Chile and the neighboring countries (1879-1883). The Iquique Naval Combat, on May 21st, 1879, is the landmark by which we remember the Chilean sovereignty over that land, previously Peruvian. It is this, and none other, Iquique's most important Patriotic Event. If to this we add the Andean influence over the region, one understands the big difference that September has for them and for the rest of Chile, and the scarce interest the northern people show for the Bicentennial (2010) as an anniversary.

By Rosario Mena.

The dance rehearsals, the "cueca" suits, the ramadas and fondas (typical fairs), that can now be seen all over towns and cities, have little meaning for some Chileans. Such is the case of the people of Iquique. For Chile's Independence —September 18th, 1810— they were still Peruvians. So that date lacks a specific significance for them.

Bernardo Guerrero, historian and professor from Iquique's Arturo Prat University, explains it this way:

"The degree of support to the idea of a Chilean identity, defined from the Center part of the country, is not the same. That doesn't mean we have no loyalty for the country. But the way it is expressed is different. If we think about ritual music, such as the cueca, and the fondas and ramadas, they have another meaning over here. Here, we are determined by the combination between what's popular and what's Andean. Northern music is fundamental, or new northern music, such as sound".

Kites, popular games, new clothes, are all lost National Day's traditions. People from Iquique have replaced them by their new main attraction: the mall. The absence of cueca and the success of the sound bands (light techno-dance music) on the celebrations, go to show that national identity is something diverse and heterogeneous, subject to influences and transformations, that has no unique definition. "The people from Santiago and the South, complain that people here don't dance cueca. But this so-called national dance does not identify us like a cachimbo, a morenada or a vals do. Let's not forget we have Andean roots, and that we were Peruvians", says Guerrero.

May 21st, the date of the Iquique Naval Combat, is the Event that commemorates Chilean sovereignty in the city, celebrating, along with the Naval Glories, the defense of the territory taken on May of 1879 by the Chilean troops.

"The Pacific War divides Iquique's history in two parts: one Peruvian, the other Chilean. The former has been cast into oblivion. About the latter, we are taken to believe that Iquique was founded in 1879. That's why the City's Anniversary is celebrated in November, the month when the first Chilean Municipal Council was formed. The streets changed their names: Tacna became Opispo Labbé, etc. This creates a confusion on people".

According to Guerrero, the Iquique-Peruvian roots go deep in their idiosyncrasy, no matter the intents there have been to erase them, including aggressive methods. "During the decades of the 10s and 20s, the Patriotic Leagues (civil fascists groups) violently expelled the Peruvians. But the Peruvian trace has been something impossible to erase. It is present in our foods, music and dances. There has just started the appreciation of Peruvian history, by some of Iquique's intellectuals. Such is the case of Sergio González, Mario Zolezzi, Pedro Bravo Elizondo, Carlos Donoso, among others".

But Iquique's cultural identity peculiarities go beyond its Peruvian past.

"The fact of inhabiting a unique territory, geographically speaking, like world's driest desert, and developing a cosmopolitan sociability that allowed us to dominate it and transform it into a human land. The fact of living the nitrate modernity, at the beginning of the 20th Century, that meant the beginning of trends such as the worker's movement, the anti-clerical fights (Catholics against the Masons), the big union's strikes (December 21st, 1907), the existence of a worker's and a management's press. All that created an identity founded on the opening to the world.

There is no person from Iquique who doesn't have friends or relatives that are Croatian, British, Italians, Spaniards, etc. We have a paradoxical identity: we are Chilean but do not vibrate with the symbols built at the Center: the huaso, the tonada (typical rural song), the spurs, etc. We listen to Andean music with devotion, but that doesn't make us any less Chilean. We have a skeptic view about centralism. And that is justified on our region's history. It is the Cinderella complex. To be from Iquique is a whole ideology and it has its 'isms', like the pilgrimagism. We venerate the Virgin of Carmen. Or the championism, because we are a Land of Champions. Or the 'Sorismo', we have Chile's most voted Mayor (Jorge Soria), the only one who views Iquique on an international level and defies centralism".

According to Guerrero, the process of becoming Chilean —or of "political socialization", in the words of Juan Podestá— has ignored the singularities on Iquique's cultural identity, identifying it simplistically with what's Peruvian and Andean. "Modernity or Chile itself has made the kids sing songs such as 'Noche oscura', ignoring the wide repertory of Iquique's musical heritage. Pinochet's regime changed the streets' name, so in Iquique streets have up to four names. Lately, under the Concertación's ruling there was changed the name of a beach, from Peruvian Beach to Ike-Ike. The people, civil society, still call it with its original name".

The Bicentennial issue and its importance as cultural perspective concerning identity and heritage, is something alien to Iquique's people.

"The idea of the Bicentennial, in Iquique is just that: an idea going around some intellectual circles. But nobody is aware of it in daily life. For us, Iquique's people, the Bicentennial is a Central Chile kind of celebration. The North has been Chilean only after 1879. The Independence, its heroes and its thousand battles, reach us by education, obligatory military service, etc. But, I insist, are facts that mark a zone of Chile that has little to do with the North. Maybe the Bicentennial should be celebrated when we get to the two hundred years of Iquique's Naval Combat".

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