Learning is like the giddy feeling you get when you eat a doughnut. So every day, I basically eat a doughnut because I’m always learning (the perk: extra knowledge, not extra calories).
Making connections across histories and continents excites my mind. Tuesday in my Latin American politics class was no exception.
“If you ask Chileans where they were on 9/11, they’ll ask you, ‘Which one?’” my professor said.
Students chuckled awkwardly. But later in the week, I thought about it more. Each country has days that mark changes in its political, economic and social courses. We have to remember the significance of those days; we need to take a look into the past and the memories of the people who lived through those moments, no matter where we are.
Yesterday, here in the United States, we remembered a day that marked a deep change—and the loss of thousands of innocent lives—in America’s history, and the beginning of the War on Terror. We remember the bravery of those who sacrificed their lives to save others. We remember the shock of seeing the towers fall before us as we watched on TV.
Yesterday, Chileans remembered a day that marked a deep change in their history: the day Army Commander in Chief Augusto Pinochet led a coup d’etat in 1973 against Socialist president, Salvador Allende. Thousands of lives lost in the years the followed the authoritarian regime: those of leftist leanings were hunted down, some never to be seen again.
The takeover of the Chilean presidential palace:
Chile changed course from a socialist country to a repressive dictatorship for 17 years, from 1973 until 1990. (The coup was backed by Nixon’s government. The US did not want a Socialist country in its backyard and the context of the Cold War explain the support for Pinochet’s regime) Chile country returned to democracy in 1990.
A sense of peace was lost in both cases: in Chile, the peace brought with democratic elections and in the United States, the peace of security.
So how do we talk about painful histories? Those moments that are significant, marking a generation, policy and lives for years to come. How do we pass down these stories to our children and to our children’s children in a meaningful way?
On the one hand, talking about 9/11 in the United States in the immediate aftermath wasn’t taboo. But in Chile those who were politically opposed were shut down, killed, tortured or disappeared. Their voices weren’t heard, and it was up to family members, friends and loved ones to piece together what had happened. (At the end of Pinochet’s regime, the government did participate in piecing back together the history of those who died or were disappeared during those 17 years).
But essential to both countries has been the reconstruction of those memories. Chile opened the Museo de la Memoria in 2010, and the American 9/11 museum opened in 2011. Part of never forgetting is remembering the how and why the day happened, in hopes of explaining and understanding how the lives lost and changed plus the larger political context shape where we are right now.