Chilean Street Art, Valparaiso, and Back to Rochester

Political Street Art and Miscellaneous

After our street art tour in Bogotá with Camilo, I kept my eyes open for street art in other places we visited. Santiago also has a notable street art community and now I kind of wish we had taken a graffiti tour there. The first street art we saw was actually an advertisement for an Amazon Prime program! The yellow owl was across the street from a cafe where we got some lunch. In my blog post on the ESMA Museum of Memory in Buenos Aires, I talked about the meaning of “Presente.” So when I saw the graffiti about Luisa Toledo, I looked her up. The Pinochet regime killed three of her children, and she became involved with liberation struggles against the dictatorship. She also advocated for the Mapuche Indigenous people, who were seeking territorial autonomy. Her family put out the following communique when she died.

The graffiti “RP Global killed the black woman” probably refers to the death of Macarena Valdés, a Mapuche Indigenous woman. The Chilean authorities arrested her for trying to prevent the multinational company, RP Global, from stringing high voltage power cables through her community. The one beside it says “War to the state,” with an anarchist logo beside it. Below, we have poetry. The first, blue against a cream background, reads “Soul trash/We collect your fears/Old loves and bad luck/ Shake it off here.” Not sure of the poet’s last name, but the first is Pippi. The same poet (Pippi Morís?) wrote in white on blue, “Assembly of a whole being/I feel cold, never afraid/My soul is conscious/Vibrating along.

Victor Jara was an internationally famous Chilean folksinger and university professor tortured and killed by Pinochet’s regime. Dragged into an indoor stadium, soldiers smashed his arms and systematically broke his fingers. Then they taunted him to play his guitar. The Spanish under his portrait reads, “With the force of song.” To his right, is a poster showing an indigenous person kicking a soldier, with the phrases, “Soldiers go back to your quarters.” On either side is the quotation, “So that memory does not exist only in September,” recalling the September 11, 1973 coup.

Below that, you’ll see a poster about Indigenous people that has been ripped off the wall. To its right, the poster says, “With death and torture, Democracy is still being built. Sowing terror to defend your interests and continuing to profit from our necessities. To 50 years of the coup. Self-organization,[obscured], and Direct Action. The encircled A and the star represent Anarchists and Communists. I don’t know what the third logo represents. It does not appear to be the flag of Chilean socialists. Because of its proximity to the Indigenous poster, and because of how governments treat Indigenous people in the Americas, I think the two posters may relate to each other. I don’t know what the three-eyed person means in the street art below that, but the words say, “State of Rebellion before the Oppressor State.”

In the last row, we see graffiti dedicated to the struggle of the Mapuche people. “Mapuche” means “people of the land” in their language, and “newen” means “force.” The small posters stuck on the painting of an arch call for justice in the murder of Annibal Villarroel, a working class protestor shot by police lieutenant Joaquin Muñoz Vasquez in 2020. Alex Nuñez was a 39-year-oold repairman who was trying to get home under military curfew. Police chased him and and beat him up. He died later in the hospital from his injuries. Under his image, someone has written, “They fell fighting for [human/civil] rights.” And below that, someone has written, “Arise those who fight (or struggle.”). The writer turned the tail of the q into a cross. On the picture to the right, the graffiti says, “For Communism, for Anarchy, let’s go on the offensive.”

I thought a couple pieces were so striking I wanted to feature them. First up was the adaptation of Pablo Picasso’s Guernica, which was his response to the 1937 bombing of the city of Guernica by fascist Italy and Germany. The artist of this mural used Picasso’s motif to describe the crackdowns on protests against inequality that began in 2019 and continued into 2020, until Covid-19 ended them. One demonstration on October 25, 2019 had more that 1 million people show up.

We stopped in at the Gabriela Mistral Cultural Center , which was closed for the day, and saw this mural. I would have loved to have had a Chilean historian or art expert explain it to me. I did a Google Lens search, and someone said this mural is called “Free Africa.”

I saw a mosaic on the side of the building—obviously installed when the center was built—that I initially thought was a picture of the Catholic Church bringing enlightenment to the savages. However, on closer inspection, I see that it’s a depiction of Gabriela Mistral, who herself received little standard education because she grew up in poverty. She advocated for Indigenous, poor, and working-class children to have the same right to education as other Chileans. Below are a couple of other murals from the center. The quotation above and below the frame in the picture to the right means, roughly, “As the streets expand over everything, the countryside shrinks. If the countryside dies, the city doesn’t eat.”

International Women’s Day Street Art

The evening we landed in Santiago, our driver told us he could take us only within two blocks of our bed and breakfast because of the International Women’s Day March. Dragging our luggage all that way was not fun, but participants in the March sure left a lot of interesting graffiti and posters behind. The top photo is slang that means, roughly. “Legal Abortion. Never with the police. Always with the whores.” The three unobscured graffiti postings below it read, “No is no,” “How many have to die in the name of false love,” and “Believe your daughter.” The posters give statistics:

  • In Chile, women work double the hours of men each day to take care of children and other dependents
  • At a global level, women work more than 76% of the unremunerated jobs.
  • 1 out of 2 women of working age do not participate in the workforce, while 70% of men in the same position do.
  • Women in Chile receive $21.7 less that men do.
  • Did you know that only 7.5 public monuments are about women?
  • 9 out of 10 women have been harassed on public transport.
  • Did you know that only 5.5% of the almost 100 million streets in Chile are named after women?
  • In Latin America, 49% of women have taken a break of 6 months or more from their work.
  • In Chile, 2 out of 5 women cancel trips within the city because the situation is too insecure for them to go there.

The posters in red depict the pictures of young women that the Pinochet junta regime kidnapped and who are still missing. The poster of the little girl in her school uniform jumping the turnstile reads, “Against the disposal and the violence of the colonial, capitalist, patriarchy. We resist for life. We march for transformation.” The final picture, bottom right, says, “I am the artist. NOT the muse.”

Palestinian Solidarity Street Art

As I’ve mentioned in earlier blog postings, we saw evidence of solidarity with Palestinians in all the countries we visited. In South America, only Colombia and French Guiana do not recognize the State of Palestine. In Santiago, however, support for Palestinians seemed omnipresent. I remembered a friend in Bethlehem telling me in the 1990s that there were more Palestinian Christians from Bethlehem in Santiago, Chile than there were Palestinian Christians in Bethlehem. I also remember his taxi driver friend telling me he didn’t want to emigrate, but the Israeli closure of Bethlehem had tanked the economy, and he had family in Santiago who could help him start a new life there. Nearly half a million Palestinians live in Chile today.

From the top left: I took this picture from a car, so it’s not the greatest, but you can see the Palestinian woman wearing a keffiyeh (incidentally, some Palestinian Muslim women do wear keffiyehs—usually as a political statement, but it’s unusual. They prefer more fashionable headscarves. Keffiyehs are for working-class men.) On the top right, the posters say, “Together in the Struggle,” and feature an Indigenous woman, a Black woman and a Palestinian woman. Bottom left is a stencil showing a Palestinian woman holding a baby, with the statement: “Patriarchy equals genocide.” The next poster is a lithography saying, “Free Palestine.” (Below that is a poster saying “Milk is rape.”). Hanging on the same screen are posters saying, “No+Genocide,” with abstract figures in the colors of the Palestinian flag. On the bottom right, the top slogan says, “Palestinian Woman Resist.” (Below, in red, it says “Woman, light your fire” and, in black, “To abort is a right.”)

We have a friend in Rochester from Chile who encouraged us to go to Valparaiso, because she doesn’t like Santiago, and thinks Valparaiso presents a more beautiful side of Chile. Valparaiso is indeed a picturesque city. Valparaiso has Latin America’s oldest stock exchange, the continent’s first volunteer fire department, and Chile’s first public library. El Mercurio de Valparaiso is the world’s oldest Spanish language newspaper still in publication. UNESCO has called Valparaiso a World Heritage Site because of its historic importance as a seaport where ships stopped on their way to and from the Straits of Magellan before the Panama Canal was built.

Below is our lunchtime at a restaurant that our friend from Rochester recommended for the view. A driver in Santiago whom we liked agreed to take us to Valparaiso and then to the airport to catch our overnight flight. So of course, we invited him to eat with us. I ordered the dish our friend had recommended, the seafood soup. Good choice.

We took a walk into the center of the city before we went into its hills. This statue of the Greek god of justice, Themis, appealed to me. I think it was her swagger, with the hand on the hip. The plaque reads, “Themis, goddess of justice, ‘Figure and features of a young woman, a hard and fearsome look. Very vivid shine in her eyes, neither submissive or threatening, but with the dignity of a certain venerable sadness.'”

We then went up to the upper levels of Valparaiso on a funicular. The city has 17. Basically, they operate on the principle of counter weights. As one car goes down, it pulls the other one up. The pictures show the view from the top.

We thought we were seeing more Chilean street art in this hilly neighborhood, but the painter of both pictures has a Colombian Instagram address. I am not sure what the picture on the right signifies. The picture on the left shows Chile being drained of its resources. I am guessing the octopus pig is multinational corporations? Or other nations? The “Liberty of Chile” is one thing octopus pig is stealing.

Back to Reality

The flight from Santiago to Atlanta was very long, and my back was throbbing by the time we landed. You know how I complained in a previous blog post about Chile not having cheap espresso drinks? Well, a cup of IHOP coffee was a sad, sad way to end the trip.

However, we did have a lovely brief visit with Michael’s friend Maidie as we waited for our flight home in Atlanta.

As I write, we are halfway through June. I’ve been job hunting and tending the garden. When I reflect on the trip this spring, I would say my favorite part of the trip was visiting friends. I am glad that Sandra and Tuti feel safe in the countries they once fled, but I also think of all the students, intellectuals, dissidents, and ordinary people who simply wanted a better society and met terrible ends in their nations.

Learning the histories of these countries also left me with the conviction to never take democracy for granted. Some Colombians, Uruguayans, Argentinians and Chileans feel nostalgic for the times of dictatorship and political assassinations. There will always be privileged people who support governments that engage in unimaginable cruelties, as long as this tyranny results in the elites living comfortable lives, and as long as the government’s misinformation brainwashes enough people.

Those who have ears let them hear.

Pope Francis in Palestine and Israel

My piece that appeared on The Jewish Pluralist website this past week:

Pope Francis in Palestine and Israel
Kathleen Kern

“I have a huge crush on the Pope,” I announced to my coworkers in our Hebron apartment* over supper last fall. “I suppose that’s weird, being Mennonite and all, but…”

“No,” my teammate said, “I’m Muslim and I have a crush on the Pope.”

Even my Jewish husband—who was at first skeptical of Pope Francis because of his silence as Archbishop in Argentina during the 1970s-80s when the U.S.-backed junta was torturing and murdering thousands of Argentineans—has admitted he has been a drastic improvement over recent occupants of the Papal See.

For me, the priority Francis places on caring for the marginalized, and the way he seems to have marginalized more popular obsessions of the Catholic church hierarchy tell me that he is serious about following Jesus, and encouraging the wider church to do so. And let’s face it, the guy is a champion when it comes to symbolism: washing the feet of Muslim women prisoners, confiscating the mansion of a rich bishop and turning it into a soup kitchen, choosing not to live himself in the luxurious Papal palace, but in small monastery apartment.

So I expected a certain amount of symbolism when he arrived in BoeCHcQIYAAXNrCIsrael/Palestine this past weekend. And sure enough, that moment happened at the wall that surrounds Bethlehem and which has strangled its economy: the Apartheid/Separation/Security Wall/Fence/Barrier.

Pictures of him laying his hand on the wall and pressing his forehead against it were probably meant to evoke the reverence with which people make contact with the Kotel on the Temple Mount/Haram al Sharif. Someone on my Twitter feed crowed, “This picture is worth a thousand Kerry visits.” But in a picture of the Pope laying his head against the wall I see something else. I see a certain slump in his shoulders. I see depression. I see futility—a “God, you must do something, I can do nothing” attitude.

Perhaps I am projecting. You see, I am married to someone who strongly believes in the two state solution as do his J-Street colleagues, whom I like and admire. And the human rights milieu in which I work contains strong proponents for the one-state solution, whom I like and admire. And I, who have worked in Hebron since 1995 and seen the settler population in East Jerusalem and the West Bank grow from 150,000 to 500, 000 believe this:

Neither solution, as I have studied them, can possibly work, not with the craven Israeli and Palestinian political leadership in power now. Not with Israel holding all the cards and continually confiscating land in the West Bank and building settlements while it claims to want negotiations. Not with the U.S. Congress prepared to give Israel all the aid it wants, no questions asked. I do not see what new or creative ideas Shimon Peres or Mahmoud Abbas, whom the Pope invited to the Vatican while he was in the region, could possibly have to offer to the peace process.

If some solution does come, it will not come from Popes or Presidents, but from people that nobody is watching right now. People who see a chink in the wall of the Occupation that is not widely visible now and a way to bring at least a small part of it down. They in turn will inspire others to bring another part of it down and so on and so on, and finally the politicians will move in, legislate the end and take credit for it.

But I have a feeling that Pope Francis, if no one has assassinated him by then, will know who’s responsible and will give credit where it’s due. (Okay, yeah, I have this worldview thing…)

*I work for a Human Rights organization called Christian Peacemaker Teams. We have projects in Colombia, Iraqi Kurdistan, Palestine and with Indigenous Nations in North America.

Christmas in Bethlehem 2013

Hi kids!

So a lot of things in Bethlehem were the same as other years in Bethlehem.  There were a lot people selling balloons to children.IMG_9540And lots of Santa Clauses and people dressed like Santa Claus everywhere.



When we went to look at the big Creche in Manger Square we saw that a lot of parents wanted to take pictures of their children with Baby Jesus in the Creche.


So I had Kathy and Christopher take pictures of me in the Creche, too!

IMG_9563IMG_9566-001IMG_9567But for most Palestinian Christians like Christians all over the world Christmas is about remembering the birth of Jesus and spending time with your family, so they go to their churches for special services and then do a LOT of visiting.  Sometimes like twelve visits a day!  Christopher and Kathy and I went to the Christmas Lutheran Church.  Kathy and I really like the services there, which are in German, English and Arabic.  This year, they moved to a bigger room in the Fellowship Hall,  but dozens of people still ended up having to stand.  They did the sending words in a bunch of different languages.IMG_9574-001Then we all sang “Silent Night” in our own languages and lit candles.  I took a picture of Christopher and Kathy after the service.IMG_9577
Christopher went out to dinner with some people who are working for the Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel, but Kathy was tired, so she walked back to the house of her friends, Issa and Diana, where she usually stays over Christmas.  The square looked different after dark!

IMG_9579When we got back, some of Issa and Diana’s friends were making some yummy Indian food!  We were really hungry and Kathy hadn’t had Indian food for a long time!

IMG_9586Well, we’re back in Hebron now.  It’s the third day of Christmas.  Where are my three french hens?

Love, Markie


Pictures–Pretty! Apartheid Wall–Yucky!

by Markie

Hi Kids!

Before we left Bethlehem a couple days ago, we visited the wall that Israel built around Bethlehem. Israel said it was going to build it for security between Israel and Palestine, but the wall isn’t built along the border of Israel and the West Bank.  It goes inside the West Bank and has confiscated thousands and thousands of acres of Palestinian land.  It surrounds Bethlehem on three sides.

Ever since the Wall went up people from all over the world have been painting pictures on it and writing angry or sad or hopeful or happy messages on it.  Kathy and I took some pictures.  Can you find me in them?


Some artist called Banksy who’s supposed to be a big deal did this.


People who get really angry at the wall throw burning things at it. I got kind of dirty posing on it.

IMG_9387 IMG_9388 IMG_9391 IMG_9392 IMG_9393 IMG_9394 IMG_9395 IMG_9396 IMG_9397 IMG_9398 IMG_9399 IMG_9400 IMG_9401 IMG_9402 IMG_9403 IMG_9404 IMG_9405 IMG_9406 IMG_9407 IMG_9408


Some mystery CPTer wrote this on the wall and no one knows who! My teammate Cory and I went looking for clues!

IMG_9409We came to a neighborhood that was almost completely surrounded by the wall.  A woman whose home had been surrounded by the wall came up to us and asked us to look at her shop.  She had designed some really interesting things.  One was an olivewood nativity scene with a wall separating the wisemen and shepherds from baby Jesus, Joseph and Mary (you could take it out.)IMG_9412



IMG_9414When we got home, I was really dirty! So Kathy gave me a bath. Now I am all sparkley clean!  Hurray!IMG_9417