'Chileans Reluctant To Accept Mapuche Roots'

Written by Sasha Magill  - Thursday, 22 July 2010

Chilean writer Jaime Valdivieso carries out new study of Chilean identity

(Ed. Note: In his new book “Identity, Latin America and the Bicentenary,” Jaime Valdivieso argues that Chileans are reluctant to embrace their indigenous Mapuche heritage. For Valdivieso, this has had a detrimental effect on Chilean culture and has led to a country lacking in “spiritual and intellectual depth.”)

Jaime Valdivieso's new book looks at why Chileans are reluctant to embrace their Mapuche heritage. Photo by Eva Salinas, Santiago Times

ritual and intellectual depth.”)


Photo by Eva Salinas, Santiago Times

The Santiago Times: What inspired you to research the Mapuche People? 
Jaime Valdivieso: The fact that I was born into Chile’s upper class was extremely influential. I have lived alongside many individuals with racist and fascist tendencies that chose to pigeonhole the Mapuche people. Rather than as our equals, they regarded them as inferior beings with tendencies toward violence and drunken behavior. However, when I came into contact with the Mapuche, I found them to be an ethnic group with an extraordinary culture and in many ways a more humane form of behavior than those of predominantly Spanish descent.

ST: You stress that your aim is to reveal the indigenous heritage of the country, which all Chileans carry in their “blood” and “spirit.” Is it correct to argue that the entire population is of indigenous descent?
JV: Chile is predominantly a country of mestizo (mixed race) people. It is rare to find individuals of pure European descent; some 90 percent of Chileans have some indigenous heritage. Traditionally, however, Chile´s upper classes have been proud of their reputation as the “English of Latin America.” They did not want to accept that they had Indian ancestors and were keen to differentiate themselves from indigenous groups such as the Mapuche. 

ST: How do you think Chileans´ refusal to accept their mestizo nature has affected Chilean identity?
JV: The problem with Chile is its distinct lack of identity. As Mexican philosopher Luís Villoro has stressed, identity is absolutely crucial to an individual´s security and self-assurance. Unlike the Argentines, who are ready to accept their mestizo character (many have Jewish/Italian/Spanish heritage), Chileans are reluctant to accept their Indian descent. They are in constant denial. In my view, the people of this country have been living a lie for generations. And this has had a direct impact on the character of the Chilean people. Unlike the open, outspoken Argentine people, Chileans have a tendency toward self-repression.

ST: How have the Mapuche been treated in the past?
JV: For centuries, the Mapuche were deemed inferior beings and largely ignored, which led to feelings of low self-esteem and lack of self-respect on the part of these people. Indeed, many were forced to change their last names in order to avoid subjugation and discrimination.

ST: Do you think attitudes are changing?
JV: Moves such as the United Nations’ declaration on The Rights of Indigenous Peoples (in September 2007) have helped to champion the cause of groups such as the Mapuche’s. It has also helped raise the confidence of indigenous people, as they are made aware that they deserve basic human rights. However, in my view clear, discrimination still remains.

ST: What action do you think the government and public institutions need to make?
JV: It is crucial that schools and universities work to fight prejudice. This largely stems from ignorance. Young people need to be made aware that there is no clear dividing line between the Mapuche and the rest of the population. As I have stressed, Chile is a mestizo country and the vast majority of Chileans have some Indian heritage.

The Mapuche also need to be given a space of their own, just as the Catalan and Basque people are given in Spain. The Mapuche want autonomy and the opportunity to group together to preserve their culture, language and traditions. They have not been granted their wish, leading them to resort to violence, which has caused severe problems for the state.

By Sasha Magill ( \n editor@santiagotimes.cl

Source: The Santiago Times




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