Mel in Chile: The South Part 3

Last time you heard from me, I finished writing about my homestay with a Mapuche family in a small valley called Valle Elikura.

We left Valle Elikura early Monday morning. We spent the next part of the trip in Dichato, a small town in the southern coast of Chile. We also took two classes in Universidad de Concepción about the economic, political and social influence of the forestry industry.

Before I start talking about the activities during the final days of our trip, I would like to share how I felt after Valle Elikura.

I think it’s safe to say when we travel and spend time with other people who are culturally or ethnically different than our own group, we tend to hope our time with them will attend to some questions, or curiosities. Likewise, I hoped that my time in the homestay in the Valle Elikura would answer many questions I had thought of in preparation for the trip. How did they feel about being surrounded by the forestales (general term for forestry companies)? Is there a space for the community and the forestales to discuss terms of mutual agreement for future plans? How had the concept of “ser Mapuche” (literally meaning “to be Mapuche) evolved through history? In which ways did this identity adapt to the political context of each time period? What are the major discontents of the Mapuche community in Valle Elikura with the Chilean state?

I refer specifically to the community in Valle Elikura because I wanted stay away from the fallacy of assuming that the Mapuche are a homogenous group. I did assume that everyone in Valle Elikura would share the same identity, have similar political views, and generally organize around the same “vision” for the community. I quickly found out my notion was embarrassingly wrong. To begin with, most of the families in Valle Elikura have one Chilean parent. My host father was a priest in an Evangelical church while the director of our homestay expressed great discontent with the infiltration of Western, monolithic religions in the Mapuche community. As I became aware of these dichotomies, I raised questions that tried to go deeper into learning more about the people living in Valle Elikura.

The more I tried to “learn” during the five days of my homestay, the more I felt I didn’t understand. It’s as if I walked into a cave. In the beginning, I had a torch with a small fire. I could see clearly as far as the light from the fire would allow me. But, as the fire grew and the light became bigger, I realized the immensity of the cave.

At the end of our second day, I wrote ten pages front and back of reflection in my journal. My mind never stopped thinking.

I never got to the bottom to any of my questions. It is impossible.

In this post, I wanted to share a bit of my personal reflection of the trip.

It was a milestone experience. I didn’t answer questions. It was the first time I put incredibly effort into resolving my inquiries and realized I could not do it. I could not reduce thousands of years of history and social processes and point to one fragment to say “this is the answer.” This may sound like an amazing and valuable epiphany, and it is. But when I was just understanding the complexity, I was very discouraged that I would never “fully” understand.

In my own opinion, I say I have a passion for the pursuit of knowledge. When I realized this pursuit would raise more questions than it answered, I became very cynical. I thought, “If I will never fully understand these concepts, then I should stop wasting my time trying.”

I am thankful I took some time to track where I learned to relate obtaining answers with successful pursuit of knowledge. I need not look any further than my current curriculum as a university student. My classes thus far have taught me to look for answers. They have taught me that assets should always equal liabilities. They taught me to model consumer behavior according to models and mathematical equations. I think somewhere in my 14 years of schooling, I learned to appreciate and value linear ways of thinking. The problem is at the top and through several processes of analyses and deconstruction, I arrived at the bottom; “the answer”.

The experience in the south broke that nonsensical concept.


On the way to Dichato from Valle Elikura

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