This week, almost seven months after I first arrived in Santiago to conduct long-term fieldwork, the Chilean summer has finally come to an end. The morning air is cool and the leaves have turned yellow, but even more notably, the city has regained that certain buzz that comes after a long holiday. This year, that buzz is carried in part by a number of challenges, two of which could not have been predicted at the beginning of the year.
Just a few days ago, the city of Valparaíso was devastated by a massive wildfire, killing more than 10, injuring several more and leaving hundreds homeless. A gem on the Pacific coast, historically one of the country’s most important towns and loved by Chileans and foreigners alike for its rich cultural heritage, its colorful houses and inescapable and massively impressive street art, Valparaíso is a darling to many. Following the fire,campaigns and privately organized collections of food, clothes and other items to aid those affected sprung up within hours.
The same was the case when earlier this month a number of earthquakes struck off the coast of northern Chile. The most impactful of these reached 8,2 on the Richter scale, causing at least five deaths and prompting massive evacuations as a response to the risk of a tsunami. Both these instances of recent disaster have been met with relative calm and an impressively swift response of focused effort by people more than eager to help.
At the same time, newly inaugurated (for the second time) president Michelle Bachelet is facing a public hopeful but skeptic that she can bring about the changes so many hope for. In Santiago’s central Parque Forestal, Chile’s long tradition of public protest is being kept alive by people who come together by the thousands to demand free education, the legalization of marihuana, justice for those who suffered under Agosto Pinochet’s dictatorship in the 1970s and 80s, better protection of the environment and of the rights of Chile’s indigenous Mapuche population, just to name a few of the most pertinent causes represented on the streets of the city.
It seems that wherever I look, people are taking action in Santiago, doing what they can to take care of themselves and each other. Within the Palestinian diasporic community, which is at the center of my research here, many have initiated aid campaigns as individuals or as organizations for those affected by the disasters in Valparaíso as well as in the north,and the social media have overflowed with calls for action and information on how and where to help.
At the same time, the Palestinian cause never leaves the picture. Yesterday I met with a small group of those engaged in the community at Santiago’s Club Palestino to sort and arrange piles upon piles of medicine and hospital supplies collected as part of a campaign and soon to be shipped to Gaza. Just next week, the same young people who have been filling my newsfeed on Facebook with calls for aid to Valparaíso and the north will carry out the first Israeli Apartheid Week in Chile, planned to take place all over Santiago and feature a range of activities.
Without a doubt, the buzz is bound to continue for a while to come.