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 of 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 three blocks of our rented room 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 French Guiana does 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.

If you would like a notification when I post something new, enter your email, and WordPress will do the rest.

Blood Libel, Gaza, and Abraham Foxman

How the ADL Director Emeritus foments antisemitism

The earliest references to Jews having murdered Christian children appear in Greek sources from the first century. However, the Blood Libel myth metastasized into its ugliest form during the Middle Ages in Europe. The libel usually portrayed Jews using the blood of Christian children in Passover matzoh or crucifying children to re-enact Jesus’s death by torture.

Norwich, England, 1144 was the first documented incident of a blood libel accusation, and it set a pattern for the centuries of slander that followed. The body of 12-year-old William of Norwich was found in the woods. An anti-Semitic monk, Thomas of Monmouth, wrote a screed blaming Jews for his death. He further claimed that every year an international council of Jews chose a country where they would kill a child during Easter because of a Jewish prophecy saying that doing so would ensure the restoration of Jews to the Holy Land. Monmouth’s entirely invented story resulted in massacres of Jewish communities in London and York. During the following centuries, when a murdered European child turned up, Jews became a convenient scapegoat (and murderers went unpunished). Thousands of Jews died because of this pernicious lie.

Even in recent times, the myth has persisted in Syria (2003), Russia (2005), Poland (according to a survey of the belief among Christians done in the 2000s), Saudi Arabia (2012), Lebanon (2014), Jordan (2014), and Italy (2020).

Blood Libel, by definition, is false. No one ever produced evidence that the thousands of lynched and massacred European Jews murdered a Christian child, crucified a Christian child, and used their blood in matzoh. I won’t even go into Jewish dietary regulations because that would afford the accusation too much credit.

On May 21st, 2020, the Israeli newspaper of record, Ha’aretz, published pictures of children killed in yet another Gaza war that traces back to provocations against Palestinians by Israeli police and right-wing extremists in Jerusalem. On May 22nd, the New York Times published these pictures.

Abe Foxman, Director Emeritus of the Anti-Defamation League, wrote on Twitter,

I am cancelling my subscription to NYTimes. I grew up in America on the NYT- I delivered the NYT to my classmates- I learned civics- democracy and all the news”fit to print” for 65 years but no more. Today’s blood libel of Israel and the Jewish people on the front page is enough.

Mr. Foxman, these children were not a falsehood. When Israeli bombs fell on their homes, their suffering and their deaths happened. Before that, they were real human beings, loved by their families, as, I assume, you love your own children and grandchildren.

Billions of people in this world have not learned the history of European anti-Semitism. However, they know their own histories of brutal colonization by European empires, which considered the lives of their peoples and the lives of their children disposable. Some people in these countries will hear you dismiss the deaths of Palestinian children as anti-Semitic slander and will draw certain conclusions. You have made the world less safe for Jews.

Letter to Editor that Rochester Democrat and Chronicle declined to Publish

Rochesterians observe the International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People

by Kathleen Kern
with Rochester Witness for Palestine and Jewish Voice for Peace-Rochester

November 29, 2020 marks the United Nations International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People. As residents of the Rochester area, we know Palestinian-Americans as friends, colleagues, students, doctors, shop owners, and educators. Many of us have worked in Palestine or traveled there on delegations. We have mourned with Palestinians who have lost land, homes, and livelihoods to voracious Israeli settlement expansion. We have witnessed with our own eyes the abusive behavior of Israeli soldiers and settlers towards Palestinians, and the apartheid network of checkpoints, walls, and roads, intended to maintain Israeli hegemony over the region.

With the Biden Administration and the new Congress taking office in January, our country has a fresh opportunity to do justice by the Palestinian people. Doing so promotes the safety and well-being of U.S. citizens. Israel’s subjugation of Palestinians has been used as an excuse for violence by Middle Eastern actors for years, including violence directed at United States citizens. Furthermore, our government sends more than 3.8 billion dollars in aid to Israel every year. Of the 75 largest metropolitan areas in the United States, Rochester ranks third in child poverty, behind Gary, Indiana and Flint, Michigan. Yet Monroe County tax dollars go to pay for Israeli weapon systems that bomb impoverished families in Gaza and military infrastructure that strangles the economy in the West Bank.

Biden and Harris won this election only because a coalition including young people, Black people, Native Americans, and other U.S. citizens yearning for a more just and equitable nation turned out for them. These citizens will no longer accept the Democratic National Committee’s tacit support of the Israeli government’s cruel and racist treatment of Palestinians. We certainly will not and ask that readers hold their elected leaders responsible in the coming year.

We ask that you support Rep. Betty McCollum’s House Bill (formerly H.R. 2407) when it comes up for a vote again in 2021:

“To promote human rights for Palestinian children living under Israeli military occupation and require that United States funds do not support military detention, interrogation, abuse, or ill- treatment of Palestinian children, and for other purposes.”

Because not paying for the abuse of Palestinian children with our tax dollars seems like an excellent way to show solidarity. Please ask Representatives Joe Morelle, Tom Reed, and Chris Jacobs to sign the bill as well. They have yet to support it.

On Gaza, Twitter, and Despair

Note: The following post originally appeared on the Jewish Pluralist website.  I have adapted it slightly to avoid confusion.

I manage the Twitter account for my human rights organization, and lately, I find I have to take a deep breath every time I check it.  Since we have a project in Palestine, our Twitter feed follows other accounts concerned with peace and human rights in Palestine/Israel and now, it’s all about the bombing in Gaza.  We also have a project in Iraqi Kurdistan; the team there is dealing with land confiscation by oil corporations and Syrian refugees.  (Remember them?) In Colombia, corrupt authorities have used riot police to evict a community we accompany.  The Supreme Court of Canada has just ruled that Ontario could open the land of our Anishinaabe partners to industrial logging.  But right now, Gaza trumps all on Twitter.

When a friend who runs The Jewish Pluralist website asked me if I had anything to contribute regarding the war in Gaza, I told her that I just could not find the words to write about the current situation.  Part of that may be due to my having entered another cycle of depression this spring, but I think mostly, having worked in the region since 1995, I just see no light at the end of this tunnel, and no light back from where I started, and how can I write in the dark?

However an e-mail I read from Noa Baum—an Israeli woman who does a poignant and educational one-woman show about Jewish and Palestinian experiences of the 1948 and 1967 wars—got me thinking.  She writes, “As despair sees it, anyone who still hopes, who still believes in the possibility of peace, is at best naïve, or a deluded dreamer…”

She made me realize my despair is formed from different stuff.  It grows from love—love of Palestinians and Israelis I have worked with, celebrated with, grieved with.  People who were dreamers at one time and who have for decades, under craven political leadership, seen their work treated like trash.  My despair is based on the knowledge that I have almost no power to facilitate peace or human rights in the region.  I can only witness, document, and at a micro-level, provide accompaniment for individuals, families, and small communities nonviolently resisting the occupation.  Any real change is in the hands of Palestinians and Israelis working at a grassroots level, and people at the roots have been trampled until they are bloody.

I had chosen not to share graphic images of dead and mutilated childrenGazaGirlTear coming across the Twitter Feed.  But one picture this week dug its claws into me and would not let go, so after some internal debate, I did post it on our account.  It shows a little girl in profile, gray eye open in death, with a tear slipping from its corner. Jehan Alfarra (@palinoia), who tweeted the picture from Gaza wrote, “Shedding her final tear, she leaves us.”

And I think, that tear could drown the world.

But we’re still here.

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