Earlier this semester I wrote this: http://tinyurl.com/lfa2pgn.
Below is my response to my own work:
It’s been over two months since I wrote that piece on my initial interpretations of democracy in Chile. Over the more than seventy days following the post, I’ve continued to explore, laugh, learn, sing, dance, drink (usually as a precedent to the two prior), share, and feel more connected than ever to the people who’ve opened their doors to me and have shared with me their city and their country for the semester. And through this continually developing perspective I’ve also gained retrospective. I see now that a growing understanding of a foreign culture winds through a maze of discovery; it doesn’t saunter down a highway of clarity.
A lot of what I offered in my first analysis or, better yet, my first glimpse into Chilean cultural politics I would agree with today. I still agree that the uniqueness of Chile when compared to all of its other South American – which, since moving down here I’ve learned, is really just a delineation conceived by the U.S. and Canada; anecdotally, all Chileans learn that there are only 6 continents in the world, and that any division between North and South America is fictitious – neighbors is undoubtedly a result of its shallower colonialist roots. I still agree that there is a focalized and powerful energy surrounding public protest and dissent: I spent five months seeing marches and rallies every week. And I still agree that there is a booming GDP in this country; in fact, according to the IDH (Índice del Desarrollo Humano), Chile is currently the most developed country in Latin America.
But, of course, there were some things I missed, some things I was wrong about. Most notably of these oversights, Chile’s democratic focus.
The thesis of my Políticas y Programas Contra la Pobreza en América Latina class this semester was that poverty is dynamic. A simple main idea perhaps, but profound as well: there are thousands of ways to measure poverty, and no one system is right.
The World Bank, we learned, measures poverty in accordance with nutrition, housing, and education. The objective of 21st century democratic, free market countries is to bolster national economic growth and to equalize and standardize governmental experience of the citizenry. And part of this ameliorating process is the elimination of poverty.
So why criticize Chile and its unyieldingly determined student body? Because they’re not doing enough? Chilean students have chosen one point from their list national qualms – overpriced and undervalued education – and have focused their collective energy to squash it. This is much more than I can say about my American friends and me, who love to criticize and scrutinize (typically more astutely than my Chilean peers, I’ll admit) our government from point A to point Z, but never actually turn our criticism into action.
For example, I feel perfectly comfortable critiquing the shadiness of the Obama administration’s Espionage Act abuses from behind the screen of my laptop – but in doing so am I really making any difference? Perhaps I’m influencing my peers to further question their national government’s ethics, but I doubt anyone is standing in front of the White House, rallying with my words.
I’m generalizing and I’m moving quickly, I know. There are plenty of active Americans and plenty of well-established non-profits and NGOs focused on particular shortcomings of American life. But there is also a widespread majority of well-informed American college students (myself absolutely included) who choose to discuss, debate, and formulate expansive criticisms of our contemporary culture without ever taking their words to the chopping block. That’s just the way it is. We bash a system of increased student loan debt and an impractical need to receive a college degree, but we never take the onus to change it ourselves.
So yes, I still think Chile has more than a handful of cultural policies that require attention and change, but I’m no longer upset with Chilean students for overlooking them in their pursuit for education reform. Instead, I’m proud of the Chilean student body for organizing and demonstrating its issues with unequal public high school education, with inflexible university financial demands, and with unjustified 3rd party gain off of public institutions. I have never participated in a student march in the states, and my debt rate off of student loans from my bank is sure to be over four times that of any Chilean I’ve met by the time I graduate – why am I not more actively engaged with my injustices?
Activism, in any fashion, and if peaceful, should not be resented. It should be applauded and emulated, appreciated for the essential progress it makes. Chile is resolving one of its many problems, and it will face the next one once it has closed the chapter on this one. I can see now that it’s all part of a longer, poignantly effective process.