Ferris Bueller goes to a Chilean prison
The redheaded stranger himself, Willie Nelson, once said, “On the road again, just can’t wait to get on the road again.” So true Willie, so simple and true. Hello, blogosphere! This is my first post coming to you all the way from Valparaíso, Chile, or as locals call it, Valpo. I chose to study abroad because I knew if I didn’t go for it I would always regret it. I wanted to be completely immersed in a Spanish speaking country and I wanted to live with a host family. I chose to study abroad to meet some of our neighbors in Chile, and hopefully to learn something about myself. Also the empanadas.
So with Emma’s story still ringing through my mind and a couple groovy friends, I went exploring.
Before I came to Valparaíso, I didn’t think that I would be spending so much time in jail. I’m a good kid, a rule follower. It all began with an ominous story from my beautiful host mother, Emma, who listens to Pink Floyd and The Doors dang near every day. Emma told me that in the late 70’s every morning the prisoners gathered in the yard to sing. From our house, just a few streets away Emma and her young son Carlos listened to the voice of the prisoners every morning. Emma’s story shook me to my core. Also, from my window, I can see the archaic stone walls of the prison. I couldn’t stop thinking about little Carlos. Did he understand that the voices were coming from inside a prison or was it just music to him? Long story short, the prison closed and has recently been converted into a public park and art exhibition space. So with Emma’s story still ringing through my mind and a couple groovy friends, I went exploring.
The ex-cárcel (“ex-prison”) was built long before Pinochet took power during the infamous coup of 1973. However, during his military regime, the prison was used to house political prisoners and saw constant violations of our human rights. The place is haunted. Though today the yard is full of school kids, young lovers, and sleeping dogs, its impossible to disregard it’s past. The ex-cárcel is a good example of how to commemorate and move on simultaneously. All of the original structures remain unchanged, eerily plain and hopeless. At the same time, these buildings house art exhibitions that change every month and give local artists priceless exposure. Today all of the art was based on the climate crisis. Not to get too preachy, but as I walked around the park I began to think of how my school back home went about teaching American history, especially our horrific treatment of Native Americans. I never remember the topic being brushed over, maybe we learned a few names and “battles”, but I never remember looking in depth at both sides of history. Supposedly the German school system teaches the Holocaust to their students at a young age. I can’t imagine anything like the ex-cárcel existing back home.
Chile is an island. The country’s northern border falls somewhere in the Atacama Desert, the driest desert in the world. The eastern border falls in the epic snow-capped Andes Mountains, the longest mountain chain in the world and the highest outside of Asia. To the south is Patagonia, a natural wonderland unlike anywhere else. To the west is our old friend the Pacific Ocean. Chile is home to poor folks and rich folks, mountains and ocean, penguins and flamingos. There are countless beaches a few hours away from world-class ski resorts. Chile, as of being here barely a week, appears to be a country full of beautiful contradiction. That is why I chose to come here. Also the empanadas.
Jacob Levy is a Spanish major at the University of Iowa. Jacob will be spending his semester in Chile on the CIEE Valparaíso Liberal Arts Program.
Student blog entries posted to this International Accents page may not reflect the opinions and recommendations of UI Study Abroad and International Programs. The blog is intended to give students a forum for free expression of thoughts and experiences abroad in a respectful space.