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Monday, September 9th, 2013

Writes Camila Fiori

Born from questions rooted in my earliest memories, this is part of a multi-layered journey that’s been simmering for some time, not quite able to break its silence.

Mum, Chile, (dis)connection
If I had to distil the source to one word: Mum. The irony being that only now, after losing her, am I taking this on.

Having always felt so connected to Chile, and as a kid, simultaneously fascinated and fearful about my parents’ life there and the fragments of brutality I picked up on, I’d begun to talk to Mum in more detail, always relying on the idea that we’d ‘talk more later.’ But two years ago, still young and fully active, her sudden and unexpected death has compelled me to explore the rippling repercussions of Chile’s past with a commitment I’d not previously felt able to. Despite having touched on it creatively, I’d only dipped my toes in – up to that south-of-groin spot where it still feels relatively ‘safe.’

Last autumn, I began to realise that was no-longer an option. The growing need to (re)connect with a culture and history that were so much a part of who she was, fuelled the creative drive to re-visit my ideas for a story I’d held the seeds of but left dormant for some time.

September 11th 2013, 40th anniversary
Realising 2013 would mark 40 years since the coup added an urgency that’s been butterflying gut-to-gullet-breath-to-breast ever since – one I’d often try to swallow, and at times, bit-by-bit, have begun to unfurl.

The ‘core’
2013 is in a sense its ‘birth year,’ and while the story has been changing in the process of development, the core remains. Although non-autobiographical, it’s intrinsically linked to my own fragmented relationship with Chile, to long-swallowed silences and the need to break that cycle. Maternal connection/loss have also been at its heart since the beginning – something I’d always been preoccupied with and explored more subtly in other works but which is now a reality.

In this story, Lara and Manuela, both unexpectedly pregnant, face the decision of whether they are able to take on mother-hood. Being myself between the ages of the two characters, at a time when friends are ‘sprouting sprogs’ (Lara’s words!) and having to makes choices I can’t yet conceive with my current life-style, the question of my own potential maternity hit me within moments of standing by my mother when she died.

The critical difference between the choice these two characters face is the nature in which they conceived. I’m particularly interested in the role of women in situations of political and social repression, often used as pawns, punished by way of their (our) sex, and also overwhelmingly, the passion, determination and perseverance that characterises women despite the difficulties faced.

The ‘piece’
After several months of researching, I’ve begun developing a series of connected projects, including this play I’m in the process of writing and devising. On one hand I’ve been refining the narrative and unfolding of events in the play, and on the other, writing separate scenes, fragments, notations for action, image and sound which don’t follow a linear structure but are interconnected vignettes.

Developing the fifteen-minute work-in-progress for the CASA Scratch, I’m exploring some of these to create a piece that crosses both Lara’s world (London 2013) and Manuela’s (Santiago circa 1973-6), capturing key links between them without trying to give a synopsis of the whole play, or taking a direct extract. So in a sense the ‘piece’, though stemming from the same source, and essentially of the same fabric, is not ‘the play’.

Social and economic struggle in contemporary Britain.
The increased cost of London-life forces Lara to leave her home. As the primary protagonist, it is her reality that introduces us to the very different world Manuela lives in. Without explicitly or directly making references or trying to draw parallels between the social and economic struggles of Chile then and Britain now (for both are so different), the fact that post-coup Chile was used as a testing ground for the neoliberal policies that were central to the Regan-Thatcher counter-revolution driving today’s post-financial crisis ‘austericide’ has also been a key influence.

(Dis)placement, ‘home’, exile/migration.
Despite the sounds, songs and stories of Chile being so integral to my identity and early childhood, I always felt a sense of ‘illegitimacy’ in talking about Chile’s past, not least because I’m not genetically Chilean. An ‘outsider’ amongst the minority that I’m not really part of but am inseperable from. Understanding but not speaking Spanish reinforces the disconnection – Brazilian-Portuguese being my second language, Italian my third, but Spanish the first I heard in a home where five flew around under one roof. Only recently I realised that I could in fact speak, beginning – tentatively – to sound this ‘silent tongue.’

The feeling of being the ‘gringa’ also comes from going to school in Brazil (Portuguese-speaking Brazilian-looking ‘gringa’) and the ‘but-your-not-actually-from-here-though’ girl (with pristine English accent) in England. (As it goes I am, partly, but even in a multi-racial State-primary, living abroad a few months each year is an anomaly to kids.)

This ‘illegitimacy’ is expressed in the story by Lara, who, though of Chilean genetic heritage, had no connection with the culture, or her mother, since birth.

Coming from a long trail of exile and migration on both sides and over several generations, displacement/belonging are deeply-rooted themes in my work. Increasing hostility towards migrants in Britain only fuels this.

My parents arrived from Chile, via Brazil, to London in 1974. They had moved there as young teenagers – Dad in exile from post-coup Brazil and Mum having already lived in three different continents. Later, they met, and after their families left, Santiago remained their ‘home.’

‘Movimiento del pueblo’, political involvement
Mum spent all her time in the settlement – ‘campamento’ – where she worked, driven by an immense passion for the people, for indigenous and social equality. She became very involved in a movement that grew to be the primary target for the right. So after the coup, they had to leave. Arriving here, they worked with the Chile Solidarity campaign and several volunteers and Unions, helping release political prisoners and bring them to refuge. Several months ago, I began meeting with one of the friends they met in this way, to fill in some of the gaps, gradually connecting with others, and organising several commemorative events.

Silence as an option and not a condition
For years there was the unspoken knowledge that Mum’s past in Chile could not be made public, not in detail. Phone-taps and being followed were no strangers to her long after she left and moved to London, and she was neither Chilean nor a prominent figure in the resistance movement.

This piece is part of an on-going exploration into the place and sound of silence: that which is left unsaid, through selection, censorship or fragmented memory, the dialogue between the spoken and unspoken, the paradox of potential power they both carry. In many parts of the world that have endured violent regimes, particularly in Latin America, there has been an unacknowledged culture of ‘forgetting.’ This is poisonous. Not speaking of, somehow containing the torment of the past, can become a way of defining ‘democracy’, moving on, maintaining peace. But the wounds, though covered over, cannot be healed, fostering the potential for re-occurrence and enabling denial. I hope to question this shroud of silence, particularly given what’s happening in the world right now.

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