By Lola Arias, from her play The Year I Was Born, recently produced at the Under the Radar Festival, in New York. During the performance, eleven Chilean actors presented autobiographical accounts — using old photos, letters, tapes, and other objects — of their childhood experiences under the dictatorship of General Augusto Pinochet, who deposed President Salvador Allende in 1973 and ruled the country until 1990. Pinochet left office after a 1988 national plebiscite in which citizens voted to return the country to a parliamentary system.
During the coup, my mother and my uncle, members of the Revolutionary Left Movement (MIR), listened to Radio Cooperativa from their house on Galvarino Gallardo. With each piece of news they hugged and cried. Collie, the dog, died of a heart attack from the bomb and gunshot noises.
My father, a secret-police officer, went directly from the headquarters to the Investigations School, where he was an instructor. The students wanted to go out in the streets to defend Allende. My father stood at the door with a Walther machine gun in his hands and said: No one is going to leave. This is not our fight; I’d rather kill you myself than let you go out in the streets.
My father is a salesman and a follower of Pinochet; my mother, a hairdresser and a follower of Allende. My father never left Chile — he always supported the dictatorship. He spent the dictatorship unemployed, sitting on a couch reading. First he lost his job at the Codina company, then at McKay Cookies, Montero Hardware, and finally at the Cardoen weapons company. Of Pinochet’s seventeen years, my father was unemployed for ten, but he never stopped supporting the regime.
At eight o’clock on September 7, 1983, my mother was underground with some MIR comrades in a house in the Las Condes district. I don’t know what they were doing. Perhaps eating or playing cards or simply reading. At that moment eighty members of the Comando Conjunto arrived and surrounded the house. They had installed a .50-caliber machine gun, which shoots 600 bullets per minute, in the back of a Jeep. With no warning, they began shooting. Then a policeman with loudspeakers asked them to leave. My mom came out shooting, knowing that she was going to be killed. They took her to the median of Calle Fuenteovejuna, stripped her, and showed her to the press as a trophy. My uncle went to pick her up, took her to the general cemetery, and buried her alone. The only others present were intelligence agents.
During the blackouts I lived with my grandparents in the Chacabuco shantytown. As soon as the lights went out, there would be confrontations with the military. My grandma used to put a mattress on the wall because she thought that it could protect us from the bullets.
My parents spent the entire dictatorship partying all night long, from curfew to curfew. In order not to get caught they rented an ambulance to go from party to party.
Until very recently I only knew that my dad was a guy with the last name Hernandez. When I was six my aunt told me that my dad was a bus driver and died in a traffic accident near Talca. When I was eight my mom told me that my father had worked in the air force and died of a heart attack. When I was ten I found a picture with “S Hernandez” written on the back, and I thought that was my dad and hid it in my diary. In January 2011, a journalist contacted me and got me my dad’s address. I traveled two hours to get there. He was a rich military man with a huge hacienda, and I thought I would have a great inheritance. When I came back I told my mom I was going to sue for paternity, and she told me that my dad’s real name was Juan Arturo Hernandez Ponce. With the new name, I went to the Museum of Memory, and they told me that he was in jail for the death, in 1973, of two left-wing militants. In his defense, my father said that the detainees had escaped and ignored the call to stop, so he opened fire. According to the Commission on Truth and Reconciliation’s report, the militants were tied to a police Jeep, dragged for about a kilometer, and executed.
Two days before the protests in Plaza O’Higgins, I was watching TV. A woman in the La Bandera township stood up and started talking about poverty and repression. Suddenly, the broadcasts cut to cartoons: the Road Runner, Top Cat, all of the Hanna-Barbera characters. Not shown was that the woman was beaten and held in solitary for five days. It was a common practice for the state-run channel to put the Road Runner on when something happened. Like in ’88 when they delayed announcing the results of the plebiscite. This is our country: beep, beep.
My mom can’t get over what happened. She goes to therapy with a psychiatrist survivor of Villa Grimaldi, and they talk about the past the whole session. I never met my father; I only had a picture of him. Two years ago I went to knock at his door, and we talked for about an hour, and at the end he told me: “I could not be a father to you because Pinochet fucked up my life.” Before leaving I hugged him. His body smelled like tanning lotion. You smell good, I told him, and left.