Thank you! Your submission has been received!
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.

New Growth: Latin American artists in Vancouver

Carmen Rodríguez

Download Transcript

<center>NEW GROWTH

On March 8, 2021, the Vancouver Latin American Cultural Centre (VLACC) inducted me as its inaugural Honorary Elder. Since its inception in 2012, I had been collaborating with VLACC in myriad ways: working with the organizers in the development of the society’s vision and mission, helping with programming, reaching out to artists and cultural workers…  But I don’t think that’s why I was entrusted with such distinction and responsibility. My suspicion is that it was because those at VLACC’s helm knew that I’m made of stories.

1973. The morning of September 11, I wake up to the roar of helicopters hovering over the city. I turn on the radio just in time to catch President Salvador Allende’s final address to the country: “…I have faith in Chile and its destiny. Others will overcome this dark, bitter moment… Sooner rather than later, great avenues will open and free Chileans will advance again towards the creation of a better society for all.” A few hours later, the presidential palace is bombed. Allende is dead. The military coup that the CIA has funded and helped to orchestrate is here. The horror has just begun.

<center>Killing machines hammer their way along the asphalt

<center>trees  ears  homes  tremble

<center>guns slay   bayonets jab

<center>mutilated corpses drift down the river

<center>I bleed aborted dreams  death rattle in chorus

1974. On August 7, my family and I arrive in Vancouver. In the months ahead, thousands of other Chileans will join us. We’re welcomed by the Canadians who fought tooth and nail to ensure that Ottawa would take us in. Along with our torn roots, battered bones and wounded souls, we have brought our words, our music, our food, our art—our ways of seeing and knowing; our ways of being and acting in the world.

1975. We hold our first peña. Our newly formed music and dance ensembles are ready, we have made heaps of empanadas and are eager to welcome Canadians into the Russian Hall. Hundreds come. We sing, dance, eat, drink, tell, recite, explain. This is our way of supporting the Resistance Movement to the Pinochet dictatorship. Also, as the first Latin American community to have come to Canada en masse, we have taken it upon ourselves to inform Canadians of what’s happening in the rest of our continent, and to introduce them to our myriad cultural and artistic expressions. Over the years, other Latin Americans escape military coups, violence and civil wars in their countries. We welcome them like long lost cousins.

<center>Restless  thirsty

<center>rickety   tearful

<center>we occupy this house

<center>conceive fresh futures</center>

1980. A group of Chileans and Canadians establishes La Quena Coffee House, the first Latin American “cultural centre” in Vancouver. For twenty-two years, La Quena serves as a hub where food, stories and ideas are shared. It also becomes an important venue for the development and display of our myriad cultural expressions.

. A collective of Latin American and Canadian women begins to publish Revista Aquelarre Magazine, a bilingual, feminist-socialist quarterly that serves as a forum for Latin American women in their native countries, Canada and around the world. In the course of ten years we put out twenty-three issues covering the arts and socio-political and cultural matters.

<center>They used to call us witches. What do they call us now?

<center>Arpilleristas, weavers, union leaders, women in exile,

<center>political prisoners, mothers of the disappeared, artists…

1992. My first book is released. Until a couple of years ago, I had not considered publishing, but writing has become my new form of activism. To write is to protest. To write is to remember. To write is to bear witness. I have stories to tell—not just my own, but also those of a whole community. In the following decades I publish three more books, as other Latin American artists also continue to forge spaces in the Vancouver arts scene. To say that it has not been easy would be an understatement. How do you break stereotypes? How do you make your voice heard? How do you overcome discrimination? How do you stay true to your values and beliefs?

. A group of Latin American cultural promoters sets up a non-profit society: the Vancouver Latin American Cultural Centre (VLACC). The organization’s end goal is to establish a physical space for the development and presentation of our community’s artistic endeavours. In the initial stages, they invite artists, cultural workers and supporters to join in and collaborate. Together, we hammer out a mission, start to offer programs in a variety of disciplines, reach out to municipal, provincial and federal funding bodies… After ten years of hard work, we’re still fundraising and making plans for the establishment of a physical place on whose door we can hang a proud sign that reads: Vancouver Latin American Cultural Centre. In the meantime, we continue to support artists, forge alliances and offer programming that, as per our mission, explores and shares a deeper understanding of Latin American arts and culture. I continue to tell stories.

On October 15, 2023, at Vancouver’s Orpheum Theatre, VLACC presented
Remembering the Future: A Journey of Hope and Solidarity Through the Music, Poetry and Art of Chile and Latin America. The event commemorated the fiftieth anniversary of the military coup in Chile and celebrated the arrival of Chileans and Latin Americans in Canada. I narrated our stories and recited our poetry, while Sumalao, a musical ensemble directed by composer and multi-instrumentalist Hugo Guzmán, offered the music. Simultaneously, pertinent artwork was projected onto a backdrop screen. It was an epic event, not because of its magnitude, but because of its significance. We, Latin Americans, have had a cultural presence in this country and in this city for nearly fifty years now. We planted our orphaned roots and have grown our art, a heart, a tongue, a home, hogar anew on this fertile land:


<center>unceded  stolen  unreserved</center>


<center>of the</center>




<center>We’re Vancouver’s new growth.</center>

Carmen Rodríguez

Carmen Rodríguez is a Chilean-Canadian bilingual writer and the award-winning author of Guerra Prolongada/Protracted War (poetry); and a body to remember with/De cuerpo entero (short stories); and Retribution/Chiles døtre and Atacama (novels). Rodríguez also has an extensive career as an educator and journalist. As an educator, she has taught theories and practices in education, languages, literature and creative writing, and worked in adult literacy and popular education with Indigenous Peoples and other marginalized communities in the Americas. As a journalist, she was Vancouver Correspondent for Radio Canada International for twenty-two years and one of the founders of Revista Aquelarre Magazine.