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  • Writer's pictureThoughtsandThings

The Mapuche Conflict In The Araucanía: 3 Things To Keep Front Of Mind

By now, I'm sure most of you (who live in Chile) have heard about the conflict in the Aracuanía as it's dominated national discourse for the past few weeks. Although there have been protests in Chile in support of the Mapuche community, protesting is actually not an option for foreigners in Chile. Immigration Attorney, Nury Van de Grift Álvarez-Aragón points out that according to laws from during and before the Pinochet dictatorship, foreigners do not have the right to protest, and punishment ranges from detention to expulsion. So... what can Expats do if we don't have the right to protest? I'm still figuring this out myself, but I've got a few ideas of things Expats can do right now, without the right to protest.

1. Racist Rhetoric: Be Aware ... Be Very Aware

Hundreds of years ago the concept of race was created as a way to enforce and maintain a racial hierarchy that still exists today. Ibram X. Kendi, a historian, and scholar explains in his book,

How to Be an Anti-Racist, that in the creation of race, the races were assigned “core characteristics” that suspiciously associated the Homo Sapiens Europaeus (White) with all positive characteristics, and the other three (Asian, Native and African) with entirely negative characteristics. Kendi explains that this was done by Carl Linneaus, who color-coded the races and attached each race to one of the four regions of the world while also assigning their core characteristics. This was known as the Linnaeus taxonomy and as Kendi accurately puts it “became the blueprint that nearly every enlightened race maker followed and that race makers still follow today. And, of course, these were not simply neutral categories, because races were never meant to be neutral categories. Racist power created them for a purpose." Kendi then goes on to explain the intended purpose which was to justify the slave trade as well as the genocide of indigenous people. To further illustrate this, Kendi notes how in 1510, Spanish lawyer Alonso de Zuazo "contrasted the beastly race of Blacks as “strong for work, the opposite of the natives, so weak who can work only in undemanding tasks.” Both racist constructions normalized and rationalized the increased importing of the supposedly “strong” enslaved Africans and the ongoing genocide of the supposedly “weak” Indians in the Americas."

It’s no coincidence that the same harmful stereotypes created all those years ago still haunt the Mapuche people today. A study on Mapuche Meta-Stereotypes found that "through a content analysis of surveys, it was revealed that Mapuches were perceived by 10 meta-stereotypic attributes: inferior, ignorant, lazy, incompetent, primitive, conflictive, dirty, poor, stupid, and drunk." Okay... so now that we understand how far this harmful narrative goes back, and that it still exists - what are some examples of racist beliefs? It may be using the Mapuche community as a Scapegoat. It may be very harsh assumptions about Mapuche people without actually knowing anyone Mapuche. Or maybe it's criminalizing all Mapuches for the actions of one or a few people who happen to be Mapuche. The danger of accepting racist attitudes without question is that we internalize these racist attitudes and make them our own. Just beginning to notice some of the racist stereotypes, attitudes, and dialogue that exists in the media as well as within ourselves can help jumpstart the much needed unlearning process.

2. Patience: A 500-year Old Conflict Cannot Be Understood Overnight

When the 500-year land dispute conflict jumped into the spotlight again, it was instantly on my radar to write about. Initially, I made the mistake of researching the issue with the intent to form an opinion instead of to learn and understand. It's taken me a few weeks just to start scratching the surface and that's okay. I mean, we're talking about 500 years of history, you can't just catch up on that overnight. Instead of jumping to conclusions, I'm taking a step back and patiently going through the contextual information, which there is plenty of...

I think you catch my gist and this is only part of the past five-hundred years. In summary, my point is that there is too much information to quickly throw around strong, generalizing opinions. To be clear, this isn't about being silent against racist attitudes and beliefs, but more about being patient while going through the hundreds of years of contextual history. Without this, it's difficult if not impossible to understand what has led to this present moment.

3. Colonialism: How It Impacts Our Understanding Of The Past And The Present

It wasn't until my Senior year in college, that I began to learn the very horrifying parts of United States history in an academic setting. Before that, all of my understanding of history came from primary and high school. It's all too common that history is told by the group that "won". This is no different in Chile, as it is in the United States and many other parts of the World. My point is that our learning about the past cannot end with formal education as we only learn one version of history, and so therefore this isn't exactly an accurate telling of history at all. Think of the National History you were taught in school, and then think about how the Native groups were described, included, and represented in that telling of history. Most likely, the curriculum in some way erased or diminished the Native group's experience from history.

This is something that Elisa Loncón, a Mapuche activist and professor at the University of Santiago states to Foreign Policy by explaining that "Colonial symbols are a key part of Chilean identity, but of the one that is associated with and carries the power. These are symbols that have been transmitted through the teaching of history—the curriculum that was left by the colonizers and later adopted by the Chilean oligarchy. This contrasts with the parallel history and memory that the Indigenous people are familiar with, the ones who know that these are not our fathers, especially the ones who carried out genocides.”

As Loncón says, Colonial symbols are a key part of Chilean identity but these same symbols that are integral to Chilean identity, are symbols of pain and trauma to the Indigenous people. An example of this is that in Santiago, many of the Spanish colonizers have been glorified as statues or their name lives on through metro stations & main streets - clearly stating their importance to Chilean history. Pedro de Valdivia metro station/University/street is something Chileans, or foreigners such as myself before didn't give a second thought. On the flip side, this same metro station/University/street named after a colonizer responsible for the destruction of Santiago holds a lot of pain and trauma to the Indigenous people. The takeaway is that similar to unlearning racist propaganda, there also needs to be a process of learning the side of history that hasn't been told in order to get the full picture of the past and the present.

Concluding Thoughts

To be honest, I was hesitant about publishing this post because I have so much to learn, and also unlearn. So, if this post feels incomplete (similar to the privilege post), well you are on to something my friend! Because it is. Think of this post as a Prelude instead of a Summary. Thankfully, there is no law that forbids our unlearning and learning when it comes to the Mapuche conflict, Racism, Colonialism, and our role in all of it. What are you waiting for?! Go forth and get your unlearn or learn on.

P.S. I want to hear from you! What are your opinions on the Mapuche conflict in the Araucanía? What are some ways in that you practice activism without protesting in Chile?



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