A Language of Women A selection of pieces of literature by Chilean women writers.
From “Chilean Women and the Tapestries of Solidarity”
They speak with a language that comes close to the extremes of life and death. Here we have a language of women who often have difficulties in speaking or writing “properly,” or in speaking before groups. Here we have women who have created a new language, one that can be understood by everyone and which creates bridges. Over these bridges, in one direction, comes support from those who have not been directly affected by the situation in Chile, and also from those who have. In the other direction comes, from the once defeated, their version andtheir vision, their side of the story is an irrefutable way. How, otherwise, can a woman from a poor neighborhood at the other end of the world, someone who has seen the abduction of her husband or the death of her son, leave an indelible testimony of her pain? How else can she tell us about her life from then on?
Thousands of anonymous women have done it with their tapestries.
As in all languages, this one too has evolved, as have the arpillera makers. If in the beginning they were persons searching in despair, through their own work they now better understand their condition, the reasons for it. It is no longer a question of fate; their understanding has become political, as have their organizations and their actions. They do not ask any more, they demand; they no longer hide, they strike, they protest, and they express it through their tapestries. These are the same women who go on hunger strikes, who chain themselves to doors of the Supreme Court demanding justice, who pilgrimage to the execution sites, who march in the streets with loud voices. Then they go back to their workshops and tell us of their chaining, their hunger, their anger, their victories. They write still another page of their testimony.
These handicrafts stand for no less. The arpilleras have succeeded in telling and transforming, two basic qualities of any language. They are giving us a vision of reality which otherwise would have been lost, and at the same time they are transforming that same reality they are portraying. From this point of view, the arpilleras represent non-violent, revolutionary language. They mark the nature of the Chilean resistance. These women have not been using the knife, they have not needed or wanted to kill. They have created their own effective words to describe the actions of others and their own.
“Chilean Women and the Tapestries of Solidarity,” a newspaper article by Marcelo Chalin, a Chilean architect doing graduate work in sociology at York University in Toronto, Canada. The article appeared in the campus newspaper of York’s Atkinson College in September 1983.
From “Scraps of Life: Chilean Arpilleras”. Pages 51-52.
Technical assistance for making arpilleras was provided by volunteers trained in the plastic arts, women like Valentina Bonne, a painter. According to the accounts of the women, they were told first to make scenes of their daily life, the things they saw and to express what they felt. They began by cutting out little figures, but they were flat lifeless and without movement. Their first houses were all similar and made of gray cloth. The women themselves say they never thought anyone was going to buy what they were making; that they were ugly and that nobody would be interested in the lives of poor people.
After this stage, however, the women learned to observe more carefully, and it was as though in trying to see their own modest surroundings with more clarity, they were led to a clearer vision of what was happening in the country. “I walked around like and idiot,” one woman told me. “I looked closely at everything. I believe I learned how to see.”
An artist writes of the beginning of arpillera making:
After the military coup I was out of a job like so many others. In a short time the Pro-Paz committee asked me to develop some craft work projects with women. The first group assigned to me were women of families of the detained-disappeared: mothers, wives, sisters. At the end of my interview with them, it was clear to me that in their state of anxiety they would not be able to concentrate on anything but their own pain. I could hardly believe what I had heard, sons, husbands, brothers, snatched with bows and threats to their families, pregnant women carried off, couples including their small children, all disappeared for weeks and even months, with nobody knowing anything about them, not seen about newborns or the older children and even less about the adults.
Everything I had been thinking about doing with these women was useless, since the future work we would undertake together ought to serve as a catharsis. Every woman began to translate her story into images and the images into embroidery, but the embroidery was very slow and their nerves weren’t up to that. Without knowing how to continue I walked, looked, and thought, and finally my attention was attracted by a Panamanian mola, a type of indigenous tapestry. I remembered also a foreign fashion very much in vogue at that time: “patchwork.” Very happy with my solution the very next day we began collecting pieces of fabric, new and used, thread and yarn, and with all the material together we very quickly assembled our themes and the tapestries. The histories remained like a true testimony in one or various pieces of fabric. It was dramatic to see how the women wept as they sewed their stories, but it was also very enriching to see how in some way the work also afforded happiness, provided relief.
The words of three arpilleristas: Two stories and a poem
Santiago, January 14, 1985
My story is very simple and more than that sad. I belong to the Association of the Families of Detained-Disappeared and am arpillerista at the same time. When I make the arpilleras I am thinking not only of my own problem, but of all the families without distinction because of political beliefs. This work is done under the wing of the Vicarate, that also buys the work from us, that helps us survive. The work began ten years ago, with the disappearance of thousands of Chileans beginning from the 11th of September, 1973. The suffering and anguish for my daughter, daughter-in-law, and little grandchildren and myself is very great, but still I don’t lose hope of seeing my son alive again. By A mother.
I WOULD LIKE YOU TO KNOW MY SON
THAT YOUR NAME RUNS
THROUGH THE BEADS OF MY ROSARY
To think that they made you disappear
Just after you reached your 22nd year
If you know son
How I search for you from dawn to dusk,
I know that your ideal was just
For your people, now their rights
Are trampled on.
No longer are you with your people
But I will take your place
Because I am sure one day
Our people will be freed.
I wanted to kill myself if my son didn’t come back within six months. But later my companions told me to resign myself, that we all had the same pain, that they were suffering the same.
So my fight began, I said to myself I had to survive this blow because I have to know where my son is and I have to see that man fall who is in the government.
The other women of the Association of the Detained-Disappeared welcomed me very warmly and I began to gain strength and courage and began to take legal steps possible after the detention of my son.
A lawyer made the appeal for the protection of civil rights that I personally carried to the Supreme Court. I began to make the rounds of all the hospitals, the morgue, the Psychiatric Hospital, the International Red Cross, the different detention centers, I covered all the jails of the zone.
At this time the Association of the Detained-Disappeared had a van for the use of us family members who were searching for a detained one. Through the Vicarate of Solidarity we could talk with other political prisoners and ask them if they had seen my son, we took photos for them to see when we made our inquiries.
That’s how I knew my son was detained in Villa Grimaldi. Six people swore before a minister of the court that they had seen him there, that he was all right, that he hadn’t been tortured, but one night they had him say good-bye to his friends because he was being released, and since then nothing more has been known of him up to this date.
From “Scraps of Life: Chilean Arpilleras” by poet and human rights activist, Marjorie Agos’n, a professor of Latin American Literature at Wellesley College.(Red Sea Press, 1987).