Carmen Rodriguez – We are a continent

1973. Rumours of a military coup have been spreading for weeks, but the bombing of the presidential palace, Salvador Allende’s murder and the violent overthrow of his socialist government catch the majority of Chileans off guard. The horror that begins the spring morning of September 11 goes beyond anyone’s imagination.

machines hammer their way along the asphalt
trees hands ears homes tremble
daughters of mine
forced against the wall arms up
bayonets on their backs
I bleed ephemeral images death rattle in chorus
my weapon is dead the future does not exist

When I write this poem, I’m immersed in distress and can’t imagine that a future will grow from the remnants of a ravaged life.

1974. After fleeing Chile and spending eight months in California, my family and I are granted visas to enter Canada. A friend has given us a 1960 baby-blue Chevrolet and on August 7, after three days on the road, we cross the border. In the months ahead thousands of other Chileans will join us.

We plant the orphaned life
of our exile
in generous
Indigenous soil

a heart
a tongue      a home
hogar                          anew
on the stolen land of the
Musqueam Squamish Tsleil-Waututh

1975. On a crisp autumn evening we, the exiled Chilean community, hold our first peña. Our newly formed music and dance ensembles are ready, we have made heaps of empanadas and are eager to welcome Canadians into the Russian Hall. Hundreds come. We sing, dance, eat, drink, explain. This is our way of supporting the Resistance Movement to the Pinochet dictatorship. Also, as the first Latin American community to come to Canada en masse, we have taken it upon ourselves to inform Canadians of what’s happening in the rest of our continent, and to introduce them to our myriad cultural and artistic expressions. Along the years, other Latin Americans escape military coups, violence and civil wars in their countries. We welcome them like long lost cousins.

restless thirsty
rickety tearful
we occupy this house
conceive fresh futures

1980. We work with a group of Canadian comrades to establish La Quena Coffee House – the first Latin American “cultural centre” in Vancouver, which for twenty-two years offers a vibrant venue for the development and display of our arts and cultures.

1989. A collective of Latin American and Canadian women begins to publish Revista Aquelarre Magazine, a bilingual, feminist-socialist quarterly – a forum about Latin American women in their native countries, Canada and around the world. In the course of ten years we put out twenty-three issues covering the arts and socio-political and cultural matters.

They used to call us witches. What do they call us now?
Arpilleristas, weavers, union leaders, women in exile,
political prisoners, mothers of the disappeared, artists…”

1989. A lukewarm democracy replaces the Pinochet dictatorship. The socialist Chile for which we have fought so fiercely has eluded us once again.

1992. My first book is released. Up to a few years ago I have not considered publishing what I write. But I’ve come to realize that I have stories to tell; not just my own, but also those of a whole community of exiles who have been in this country for nearly two decades. We deserve to be heard. We deserve to be read.

2022. In the last thirty years my work has been featured in many literary journals and anthologies and I have published five books. None of this would’ve been possible without my family and community. When I say “community” I mean my comrades in the struggle against fascism in Chile and everywhere; las brujas de Aquelarre; Canadian writers of all ancestries who have fought for the rights of those of us writing in the margins; my fellow Latin American writers and artists in Canada; Canadians in positions of influence who opened spaces for us when others didn’t even know we existed; and, of course, all Latin Americans and Canadians who support our work.

We are not islands. We are a continent.*

*After John Donne.

© Carmen Rodríguez, 2022