The Mapuche I know

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I have had the privilege of meeting many Mapuches. Some in rural communities and others in urban zones; some who are vocal about being Mapuche and others who keep their voices low about it. My role as a foreign journalist living in Chile has allowed me endless opportunities to share with them in many circumstances. For this reason, the recent attacks allegedly by Mapuches in southern Chile have left me shocked, along with many other people, because those actions are far-out from what it means to be Mapuche. I was also surprised by the warmonger response from the government and their announcement of a "frontal attack on terrorism." If there are "about 122 terrorists" as Interior Minister Chadwick asserts, let's not forget that there are more than a million people who recognize themselves as Mapuche in Chile.
My experience with them does not reflect anything that resembles a group of terrorists. Not at all. I have seen hard-working families that get up with the sun to harvest wheat; a barefoot child slide down a hill on a piece of cardboard, unconscious of the poverty from which his family suffers; the reflection of the moon in the placid lake as a fisherman lays down his net with the hope of it being a productive night; the shy look of the young woman from Santiago, with indigenous roots, who attends her first We Tripantu festival to celebrate the Mapuche new year; the eucalyptus trees planted over the cementary; the violent arrest of a man at a protest outside of Chile’s National Television (TVN) broadcast station without doing anything to provoke it.
I have also felt the heavy hand of a police officer grabbing me by the elbow and demanding my credentials as I photographed a protest from a public sidewalk; generosity while sharing the yerba mate tea with a group of Mapuches and non-Mapuches in park in Santiago; the smell of tear gas in the middle of a musical performance outside of the Bellas Artes Museum. I have heard the song of a nine-year-old boy with lyrics that recall the death of Matías Catrileo; the broom sweeping at 7 a.m. in a country home; the bells of the choike (bird-like dance) in traditional Mapuche ceremonies; the cry of an elderly man who was moved upon receiving news of recovering legal rights to the cemetery where his beloved wife rests in peace.
A group of armed police officers will not bring peace to southern Chile. On one end, there must be a political solution that lays the foundation for social and economic justice, taking into consideration the historical debt that the Chilean state has with the Mapuche.  A solution that does not involve hand-outs, but one that opens spaces of democratic participation and economic opportunities that benefit the members of the indigenous communities, who are among the poorest of the poor.
There is an enormous burden on the shoulders of each citizen, Mapuche and non-Mapuche, in the advancement toward creating a more just country. The responsibility must be shared. Surely, there can exist laws that oblige us to treat people of different ethnicities in a dignified manner. However, Chile will continue to fall behind in cultural development if non-Mapuches, Chileans, opt to not mix with the Mapuches or at least learn about their culture.
Chile has the capacity to advance much more quickly, if its people decide to take the initiative. If we don't make an effort to extend a helping hand or break bread with people of different cultures, let's call it what it is: we would be acting racist. So, I propose the following challenge to all non-Mapuche residing in Chile. If you are up for it, choose three of these suggestions to implement in the upcoming months along with your other goals for 2013.
1. Attend a Mapuche theatrical event as a family; 2. Invite a Mapuche you know to have dinner in your home; 3. Attend a seminar or debate regarding an issue relating to the present conflict; 4. Take a trip during the upcoming summer vacation that includes an ethno-tourism activity; 5. Purchase ethnic textiles or crafts to gift to family or friends; 6. Sign up for Mapudungun (the Mapuche language) classes; 7. Purchase an album by Beatriz Pichi Malen on ITunes; 8. Go with friends to see the documentaries “La Voz Mapuche”, “Territorio de Fronteras” or “Newen Mapu Che”; 9. Read authors such as Jorge Pinto, Fernando Pairican, José Mariman, Pedro Cayuqueo, Jaqueline Caniguan, José Millalen, or Graciela Huinao.
All of this is also part of Chile, your country. Beautiful, rich and diverse. Do not only enjoy the economic opportunities it offers, or only its natural beauty. Chile is much more than just economic stability. It is much more than pretty post cards. Perhaps, this is the time to face these cultural differences, learn from them, value what they represent and enjoy a coexistence that is just and democratic for all.
The author, Brittany Peterson, is associate and multimedia editor of Patagon Journal 



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