"Where Are They?" Arpilleristas and Disappeared Family Members
By April and May of 1978, Chile’s streets were flooded with pictures of disappeared family members. Additionally, hunger strikes and silent protest demonstrations called attention to the large number of disappeared persons with the phrase, "Where are they?" Abducted, tortured, and killed by members of the Pinochet regime, the disappeared tended to be men, but many women disappeared as well.Shortly after the military coup of 1973 the military forces of General Augusto Pinochet, including the carabineros (the national police), placed curfew restrictions, monitored daily lives, conducted home invasions, and denounced any form of political protest. These forms of political protest included a special type of patchwork tapestry called arpilleras.
With the sudden political turmoil, many women took their sorrow and grief to patch-making. Arpilleras which translates to “burlap” in English, were tapestries that served to depict the atrocities and struggles that happened under the Chilean dictatorship. Arpilleras were mostly made by working class women as arpilleras were one, if not the only, source of income for families. Because arpilleras were prohibited, they could not be sold locally, so instead they were sold abroad to human rights and solidarity organizations. In this way, arpilleras served as messages that communicated to the world what was happening in Chile.Finally, while production and recognition of these patchworks surged under the dictatorship, some argue the roots of the art form began before the dictatorship. For example, during the 1950’s and 60’s the famous Chilean folk musician, Violeta Parra designed embroidered burlap tapestries, which depicted political and musical themes.
The following interview clips follow the life stories of three family members of the disappeared who participated in the dictatorship-era arpillera movement. Their testimonies reveal the strength and resilience displayed by those impacted most directly by the violence of Pinochet's regime.
Victoria Diaz was born in 1948 in Santiago, Chile. From a politically active family, her father was detained for being a Communist leader just 20 days after marrying her mother. Despite these early challenges, her parents worked hard to provide her with an education. Diaz eventually lost her father as he became a victim of General Augusto Pinochet's military forces. Today, she continues to use her story and the networks she gained when she made arpilleras to remember those affected by the dictatorship.
Emilia Vasquez Requelme
Emelia Vasquez Requelme was born in Parral, Chile in 1936. Requelme lost her oldest son to General Augusto's Pinochet government in 1973 and has been searching for him ever since. She began making arpilleras through the Vicariate of Solidarity as a way to denounce what was happening and as a means of income for daily expenses.
Laura Herrera was born in the countryside of Chile on 1950 in Colchagua, Chile. Herrera lost her first child in a car accident after her family was forced to move to Santiago from the countryside. Shortly after the military coup of 1973, Herrera's property and livestock finances were taken from her and her family. Herrera's husband was frequently abducted from his home which caused her to raise a family mostly on her own in a very impoverished environment. Through her story, Herrera continues to fight for her right for justice with the help of her surrounding communities.