Thursday, December 10, 2009

"Is this real life?!?!??!"

The “in Santiago” part of the “Sophie in Santiago” blog is ending for good in four hours. This is all too big to think about. Since I can’t formulate coherent thoughts right now, I’m going to make a bulleted list of my incoherent thoughts:

• I’ve been planning my study abroad semester since my senior year of high school. Now it is over. I have used it as motivation and something to look forward to since I was seventeen—a semester of break from normalcy. I don’t think that I will be in this type of situation again.
• I will never have this type of experience again—living far away I mean. I don’t see myself ever living in a country other than the US permanently, which isn’t something I could have said four months ago.
• I leave for Brazil in four hours, where I will be meeting and staying with a few random relatives who I got in touch with via e-mail six months ago.
• I took my friends to the airport today—these are people who I have spent every day with (almost) for the past three and a half months. Although I’m pretty sure I will see almost all of them again, I highly doubt that we’ll ever all be together. Except at Kim’s wedding. (Kimi, I hope you still read this.)
• “Is this real life?!?!??!?” (The second most commonly used phrase of our program—after “It’s fine.”)
• There is a strong likelihood that I will never return to Chile. If I do, it will definitely be in a different context—I will be a tourist rather than a student. Chances are it will be in a long time.
• I will not be speaking in Spanish every day anymore (well, really that’s a three-weeks-from-now concern.) It’s pretty likely that if I do, people won’t be able to understand me because of Chile’s crazy dialect. They don’t exactly put “po” after every sentence anywhere else…
• There is a very strong likelihood that I will never see Mercedes again after tomorrow morning. I am trying not to think about this.

I’ll try to post from Brazil, Peru, and will definitely be posting reflections from home. For now, chau from Chile.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

ISP Complete!

I have finished my independent study project and paper! I’m not going to post the entire forty-two-page document here, so I will just leave you all with the sixteen-line abstract (in English!)

Mapuche culture is changing, and with it, the role of Mapuche women. The aim of this study was to see how/what Mapuche men and women think and write differently about the gender roles in the Mapuche community of the past, present, and future. Thirty-seven secondary school students between fourteen to sixteen years of age participated in this study. These students were 87% Mapuche. Over six days, the students participated in dialogues on changing roles of Mapuche women. Additionally, they wrote creative compositions on the lives of their grandmothers, mothers, selves, and future daughters to examine the histories of women they knew who lived with these gender roles. The male and female students wrote differently about the women in their lives, as well as the role of Mapuche women. The males used positive language when describing the past, idolizing the roles fulfilled by their mothers and grandmothers, and were more neutral when talking about the future, expressing the desire for their future daughters to rely on the men in their lives. The females, however, had the opposite reaction: they wrote negatively about the effects of the gender roles of the past, and wrote positively and hopefully about the future.

I am exhausted. I haven’t really thought about much else other than this project for the past four weeks, so now my mind doesn’t really know where to go!

Tomorrow we head back to Algorrobo, where we spent our first few days together, to give presentations on our ISPs, have a re-orientation to the USA, and go to the beach before we all head our separate ways next Wednesday.

Thursday morning, I leave Chile for Brazil, where I will meet family I hadn’t heard of until five months ago (third cousins a few times removed?) But I will post more about those plans when I have time (likely on Wednesday after everyone else leaves.) For now, I am going to get some very-much-needed sleep.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Update from Temuco

My new family in Chapod reminds me a bit of my family at home—particularly of my cousins on my mom’s side of the family—in that we basically do nothing except sit around the house, talk, eat, and laugh about everything that comes up in conversation. My host parents, Clorinda and Octavio, are warm, welcoming, and incredibly sweet. I have three host sisters: Loli, who is twenty-nine and has an adorable five-year-old daughter named Belen (she lives about twenty minutes away, but comes over for dinner a few times a week); Damaris, who is twenty-six and studies at university in Temuco; and Jemi, who is twenty and studies intercultural and bilingual education (and has the same love for the strange combination of folk music and rock music that I do). Damaris and Jemi live in Temuco during the week, but come home on weekends to be with their family.

I also have a host brother named Pato, who is, for lack of better terms, The Man. He is thirteen years old and bounces off walls like any other seventh grader, and is obsessed with Green Day. He is one of the happiest and most optimistic people I have come across in my life, which is definitely a good influence on me these days…

The primary school in Chapod is closing its seventh and eighth grade programs next year due to severe underenrollment (there would be 6 eighth graders, 2 seventh graders, and law states that eighth grade can’t be combined with other grades.) As a result, Pato has to find somewhere else to go to school. This wouldn’t be nearly as devastating if there were a school nearby that offered the programs, but the closest schools are an hour away, in Temuco—and Pato would have to be at school before the earliest bus from Chapod could get him there.

So, chances are that Pato will leave Chapod and go to live with his sisters in Temuco—but this gives way to a whole other host of issues: Damaris and Jemi don’t have room in their apartment for Pato, so they’ll have to get a bigger place; Pato will be alone for most of the day, and as a thirteen-year-old will have no one to make sure he does his homework, or cook him dinner, or look after him; the city of Temuco is much more dangerous than little Chapod, and thus Pato, though a mature kid, will be at much higher risk than if he were living at home with his mother.

His parents blame it on birth control. People are having fewer kids, so enrollment at schools is down—and this hurts schools in rural towns. (In a previous discussion, they were advocates of birth control—“If we didn’t use it, think how many kids we would have had!” said Clorinda.) Clorinda is one of ten siblings, which is not rare for her generation—one of my students’ grandmothers gave birth to sixteen children, as I learned from the student’s first composition.

My project has changed significantly since my last post, due to research I’ve gathered and the amazing discussions I’ve had with the students at Liceo Guacolda. I’ve decided to stay there for the rest of the ISP period, and make my project less of a comparative study and more of a qualitative analysis.

I’ve learned a lot of really interesting things in the past week, but I think I’m going to wait to post in depth about my project until it’s done—but what I will say is that the students really seem to be enjoying the workshop, and every day they talk for more and more time. The two writing assignments that they’ve handed in are not only insightful, but incredibly personal—talking about things such as their grandmothers’ frustration with the role they had to fill as housewives to their mothers’ battles with depression (two entries) which is an amazing amount of trust to be given, considering I’ve known these students not even a week. I am eager to read what they write about themselves…

The ISP period has been a lot more work than I anticipated, and I feel bad because I haven’t been able to spend as much time with my family as I wanted to. I am literally spending 4 hours a day commuting (two hours to Liceo Guacolda, two hours back) as well as usually spending about 5 hours a day (if not more) working on the project itself—leading in-class dialogues; reading compositions; interviewing teachers, students, and others; transcribing class sessions, compositions, and interviews; planning for the next day…so I get home at the end of the day, completely spent, eat dinner, work more, and then sleep.

But, as exhausted as I am, I feel that, for the first time since I’ve been here, that I am challenging myself academically; that I am taking charge of my education; that I am doing something active with my time in Chile. I am initiating things, not just observing or taking part in scheduled activities. And I am positive that I am learning more these days—both in terms of Spanish language and Chilean/Mapuche history—than I would be learning inside a classroom anywhere, be it here in Chile or back at Hampshire.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

"The Imperialist Complex"

I am suffering right now from a bad case of what I have come to know as “the Imperialist Complex.” It’s not the first time this has happened to me—the thought first came up when I was sixteen or so. I’ve talked about it the back of Nicaraguan trucks, at restaurants in Holyoke, and in a ruka in Temuco not too long ago. But my ISP begins tomorrow, and it’s hitting me harder than ever before. I don’t know if I even have the right to do this—go into a random Chilean school of almost completely Mapuche students, and bring in western ideas of women’s rights and gender equality, essentially telling them that the American Way is better than what they’ve been doing for hundreds of years. It doesn’t matter if I do believe that the American Way is better than what they’ve been doing for hundreds of years—who am I, as some white girl from Westchester County, New York, USA to come in to their school and talk to them about how women should get out of the kitchen and go to school?

Over 25% of Mapuche women don’t complete primary school (roughly grades K-8 in the States.) That number rises to over 40% when only looking at Mapuche women who live in rural areas. About 4% of all Mapuche women finish university or tecnico, (where they would receive the equivalent of an Associate’s Degree.) When you add the rural factor, that number drops to less than 1%. (Rapiman, F. ¿Donde está la Mujer Mapuche en las estadísticas chilenas? Local Development and Gender, 2008.) Is it just my ethnocentrism, or is this completely unfair? Is it strange of me to think that everyone, regardless of race, gender, or location, deserves at least a primary school education? (Not to mention one of quality, or equity…)

For my ISP, I’ll be visiting two schools in the Temuco area: Liceo Pablo Neruda, a municipal school in the city of Temuco, which has an almost 100% Mapuche population (many of the students from rural areas outside of Temuco go to this high school), and Liceo Guacolda de Chol Chol, a municipal technical school that focuses on Mapuche culture, and is one of the best high schools in the Araucania region. The population there is about 90% Mapuche.

It’s 1:58 PM the day before my project begins, and my advisor still has not contacted the first teacher I’ll be working with to tell him I’ll be taking over his or her class for 45 minutes tomorrow and every day for the rest of the week (I was told not to contact the schools myself; to leave that to my advisor—who, as a Chilean, has a better grasp of the Spanish language and Chilean school system than I do.) My advisor’s name is Wladimir, and although he is nice, intelligent, interested in my project, and very well-connected in terms of schools and women’s rights organizations (as well as an anthropologist who focuses on gender…perfect for interviewing) he has kind of dropped the ball on this very, very, important aspect of the project. He’s had my proposal now for two weeks, and has known what schools I need to be at for that long, but we weren’t able to meet until yesterday (due to location) and he didn’t call before then (even though I asked him to, multiple times, in e-mails and phone meetings.) I called him this morning, reminded him how imperative it was for me to get to the schools tomorrow, and he said that he was going to call the school and tell them that I’d be there tomorrow—not ask, just let them know that this gringa girl was going to be taking over one of their history classes for the week. This isn’t something I’m okay with—I feel rude and imposing, and wish I had time to talk to the teachers before I stormed into their classrooms. I also recognize how being white and American affects the situation—I’m just another imperialist, and a disrespectful one at that! Charging in unannounced to bring my western ideas of women’s equality to an indigenous community that is trying to preserve its culture. How American of me.

But, don’t they deserve to know? There are girls who don’t go to university just because they don’t think they can. There are girls who don’t speak up in class because it’s simply not expected of them. There are girls who don’t realize that there is opportunity outside of the kitchen; that it’s okay to put off having kids until they’re older so they can live for themselves first.

And it’s not like I’m going to be telling them straight-up that “girls can” or anything—I’m asking them to examine the roles of Mapuche women in past, current, and future generations, and draw their own conclusions about the future. But, the fact that we’ll be having this conversation still says something, and I’m sure that my bias will show through.

I can’t do much about this; it’s inherent in pretty much all the work I’ve been doing, and all the work I’m planning on doing in the future. But I can’t help but feel like it shouldn’t be me leading these projects—that it should be someone from inside the community instead. I guess the question is: if no one from the inside is able to encourage these changes, is it okay for an outsider to do so?

Friday, November 13, 2009


I'm off to start the final leg of my program here in Chile--I'll be in Temuco for a bit over two weeks completing my project and traveling. I'll be living with a new family with Kim for the first eight days or so, and alone with the family for the rest of the time. I'll have pretty limited internet access, but will try to post when I can.

This week has been full of research. I've been looking up articles on traditional Mapuche education, the role of the Mapuche woman, women in Chile, etc. The two things that stuck out to me the most were a) traditional Mapuche education was discussion-based, and relied heavily on student-teacher and student-student dialogue, and b) 10.5% of Mapuche women are illiterate (as opposed to 6.9% of Mapuche men.)

I'm sad to leave Santiago, but I'm excited to go back to Temuco and breathe the fresh air...

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Independent Study Project

The most exciting thing that happened to me over the past two weeks in Buenos Aires, more exciting even than taking tango lessons, more exciting even than escaping to Uruguay for the day, was that my Independent Study Project (ISP) was approved! I'll be going back to Temuco on Friday, and will be there for a little over two weeks.

ISP PROPOSAL: In Their Words: The Mapuche Woman in the Past, Present, and Future

Description of the Problem
In light of the strong antifeminist sentiment in the community of Chapod, I plan on examining and investigating the attitudes of high school students toward Mapuche women. I plan on going to two different schools: one high school in the rural area of Temuco, and a technical high school in urban Temuco that focuses on Mapuche culture. In these schools, I will be assigning creative writing assignments and guiding discussions to examine the students’ attitudes toward women and gender roles in different generations. My lesson plan is as follows:

Day 1:

Observations in class
Discussion: What are some stereotypes of being a Mapuche man/woman?
HW: Write a portrait of your grandmother, or a woman of the same generation,—either through a specific story or a “life history” project. This can be in prose or poetry form.

Day 2:

3-4 students share their work (at least one male and one female)
Discussion: How have things changed in Mapuche society since the time of our grandmothers? For people in general? For women?
Observations in class
HW: Write a portrait of your mother, or a woman of the same generation—either through a specific story or a “life history” project. This can be in prose or poetry form.

Day 3:

3-4 students share their work (at least one male and one female)
Discussion: (still working on these questions)
Observations in class
HW: Write a portrait of yourself—either through a specific story or a “life history” project. This can be in prose or poetry form.

Day 4:

3-4 students share their work (at least one male and one female)
Discussion: What does it mean to be a Mapuche man/woman today?
Observations in class
HW: Write a portrait of your future daughter(s) (or your daughter(s), if you have a daughter or daughters now)—either through a specific story or a “life history” project. This can be in prose or poetry form.

Day 5:

3-4 students share their work (at least one male and one female)
Discussion: What changes do we want to see in the future in terms of Mapuche gender realities? What changes do we think will realistically occur?
Observations in class

Additionally, I would also like to investigate how the educational system in these regions reinforces gender binaries, and how boys and girls act differently in the classroom. I plan on conducting interviews with students, teachers, and other school officials, as well as observing in the classrooms every day. I will also be researching traditional Mapuche education, which is very family-based, and seeing how these standards are present in the education of Mapuche youth today.

1) The students from the rural school will have more traditional thoughts on gender and more rigid gender biases than the students from the urban school.
2) Boys and girls will write differently about the women in their lives—and boys will write about women in more stereotypical gender roles than girls.

1) What is the importance of gender in Mapuche culture today?
2) What are gender stereotypes in Mapuche society? Where do they come from?
3) How do students see the situation of the present-day Mapuche woman?
4) How have stereotypes and roles of women changed in the recent history of Mapuche society? What are hopes for change in the future? Are these hopes realistic?
5) What is the difference between the ways male and female students write about women?


1) To introduce the students to creative writing as an art form and as a way of examining their own history and their current lives.
2) To see what students know and think about the realities of gender binaries/stereotypes in the past and present.
3) To help students begin to think about the changes in these roles that will occur in the future, and that they begin to think about their importance in making these changes possible.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Marching with Las Madres de la Plaza de Mayo

For the past 1,662 Thursdays, a group of women has marched at the Plaza de Mayo, in the center of Buenos Aires, asking for answers. These women are the mothers of men and women who “disappeared” during Argentina’s military dictatorship thirty-two years ago. They began asking what happened to their children—30,000 of their sons and daughters—but never received exact answers.

Now, they march for a different cause: to keep their children’s dreams of equality alive. They formed an organization called Las Madres de la Plaza de Mayo, which is one of the most respected human rights organizations in Latin America, and internationally. They fight for better quality in schools, scholarships, better infrastructure for low-income housing, and equal rights for everyone in Argentina, regardless of socioeconomic status. They started their own university, Universidad Popular de las Madres de la Plaza de Mayo—where anyone who wants can study, and if they can’t pay the Madres will figure it out for them. They have three majors: law, social work, and history.

We walked with the Madres last week in March 1,661, and it was more of a slow promenade around the plaza than a march—but it was still an incredibly powerful experience. But, for me, the most powerful thing was seeing these women who have marched every Thursday for over thirty years, women who have become icons of remembrance and social change. These are women I read about in Spanish class in Massachusetts, and being there to march with them was definitely a once-in-a-lifetime experience that I feel very lucky to have had.

The organization is still headed by the original mothers, who are now in their eighties and nineties. We were lucky enough to be able to meet with Madre Juanita Pergement, one of the founders of the organization, who is still fighting for her son, thirty-two years after his disappearance. She is ninety-five years old.

I have a very strong fear (maybe rational, maybe not) that, once the original mothers are no longer here to march with their white panuelos and portraits of their children, the organization will lose power, lose passion, and, eventually, it too will disappear. The generation to care and take over was the generation wiped out, the generation we’re supposed to be remembering.

Argentine culture seems to be much less politically charged than Chilean culture—people don’t discuss politics much in general. I was there for two weeks studying the effects of the dictatorship on the educational system, but no one once mentioned the name of the dictator. No one mentioned what happened, other than in the context of our educational focus and the desaparecidos.

I’m afraid that all the never again talk will go away when the Madres do. I’m afraid that all the work they have done for equality will have less of a force behind it without the living symbols that have made it possible. I hope I’m wrong.