Miércoles, 13 de septiembre, 2023

By Javiera Gárate Ávila

The house I grew up in was full of wooden sculptures that my maternal grandfather, Fernando Ávila, crafted. He, along with his father, my great-grandfather Roberto, and his brother were arrested after the coup d’état on 11 September 1973 and taken to the “Casa de Techo Rojo” military compound on Chena hill in the Santiago metropolitan area. That’s where they saw each other for the last time because my great-grandfather was one of the 11 railway workers killed by the military. My grandfather, whom I call “tata”, and my uncle managed to escape the shooting. My grandfather passed through several detention centres, including the National Stadium. He suffered cruelty and torture in those terrible places, but he also learned to craft pieces of woodwork that remind me today of how strong he was.

I’m 22 years old and I grew up with a mother whose childhood was stolen. When she was very young, she had to visit the jail to see her dad on festive occasions, witness break-ins at their house and watch my grandmother suffer. Then my family had to go into exile – though they always planned to return to Chile to contribute to society, as my “tata” always taught us. They settled in France, where they had to rebuild their lives. In the 90s, a large part of the family returned to the country, including my grandparents, my mother and my older sister who was born there.

Ever since I was a child I’ve known about what happened on 11 September and participated in the commemorative events. I remember it seemed a little strange to me that the executed railway workers were honoured on the same date as my birthday. That day we would get up early to go to the memorial. I would bring a red flower for my great-grandfather. Then we would go home and celebrate my birthday. My mom loved having big birthday celebrations, perhaps because the family hadn’t always been able to enjoy such occasions.

All I want is for us to move forward as a society and for what my relatives experienced to never happen again

Fifty years after the coup d’état, I commemorate my great-grandfather Roberto, whom I never meet because he was killed for his ideas. He was an evangelical pastor and a communist who fought joyfully for a more just society. People were very fond of him and there’s even a street in the neighborhood named after him.

I have fond memories of my “tata”, who was a civil society leader. I learned a lot from him. He always told us that he had friends with different political opinions and taught us to encourage this. In fact, when he talked about the military, he told us that a person is not just their uniform or political belief; everyone has their own story. He also left us a manuscript of his memoirs that he couldn’t finish because he died of cancer. I’d like to finish that book for him. It would also be nice to have a square in the neighborhood named after him and a museum to remember the victims of Chena hill.

In this anniversary year, I also think about young people like me. It’s a shame that many don’t know what happened or aren’t interested. That make me feel tired frustrated. All I want is for us to move forward as a society and for what my relatives experienced to never happen again.

I also think about the new generations. I have nephews and I’d like to tell them to be brave and to not forget what happened 50 years ago because it’s our history, it’s what we had to go through. I tell them to hold their heads up high because of our family name and what our loved ones lived through.