Love at First Sight: Returning to Santiago, Chile

By Drashti Brahmbhatt, SIP Chile 2018 (Brown ‘19)

Twice have I foregone warm Providence summers for the cold, rainy winters of the Southern Cone. I remember visiting Santiago, Chile for three days while I was studying abroad in Buenos Aires, Argentina in the fall of 2017 with the CASA semester program. During one of our free blocks, a few friends and I paid a visit to the Museo de la Memoria y Los Derechos Humanos (MMDH). I was in awe by the museum’s ability to portray such difficult moments of Chilean history in an innovative and powerful manner. Moreover, after my brief visit to Chile filled with deliciously fried sopaipillas, unforgettable panoramic views of the city and a boat tour in the colorful Valparaiso, I was set on returning.

View of Santiago

I fulfilled my promise by returning to Santiago through CASA’s Summer Internship Program (SIP) for June and July of 2018. It was the first time in SIP history that a few Brown University students were also given the opportunity to pursue internships in the bustling city. I decided to intern in the research and investigation department of the MMDH in order to gain material for my upcoming honors thesis and to contribute to discussions on indigenous rights in Chile. The MMDH was created in 2010 to commemorate the victims of the brutal dictatorship led by Augusto Pinochet from 1973 to 1990. I was particularly interested in the double impact on indigenous populations or pueblos originarios during this time period. Thus, I spent five days a week in the archive section with other interns reading various sources and collecting information on the discriminatory effect of the dictatorship specifically on indigenous groups. I found that the museum has a lively network of activists, researchers and community organizers that I got to meet at after-work events and discussions open to the greater Santiago community. I walked away not only with strong analytical skills but a deeper appreciation for museums. They play a vital role in preserving memory and stimulating reflective discussion on the legacy of tragic events on contemporary politics.

Museum of Memory and Human Rights

My wonderful experience in Santiago was not only contained to the realm of my internship, however. I was able to form strong, compassionate relationships throughout Santiago’s diverse barrios. For example, I shared an apartment with a Chilean girl in the epicenter of downtown Santa Lucia, where I witnessed numerous student protests against sexual abuse in the education system. The vibrant culture of protest and opinions provided me with a gateway to meet other passionate youth in the city. I also remember exploring the hip Bellavista neighborhood filled with tourists and nightlife with other SIP friends and trying new South American dishes in Providencia’s lively food scene. What I valued most, perhaps, was accumulating various perspectives on cultural and political issues by traversing through Santiago’s unique neighborhoods. Discussing indigenous rights with Mapuche activists in La Pintana or with my progressive thinking gym instructors in downtown or even with elite youth in Vitacura all provided me with different outlooks on historical and contemporary issues faced by Chile’s large and determined indigenous groups.

The people who guided me in this process of integrating in Santiago and exposing myself to the city’s politics were the DRCLAS staff. I am so grateful to have met such strong and compassionate individuals such as Pilo, Francisco and Amanda all of whom have added only positive things to my experience. The DRCLAS staff organizes important, interactive and insightful activities every week for the Harvard and Brown students that not only show us new parts of the city but also help cultivate a stronger connection to the country’s cultural, social and political segments.

In the future, I hope that more Brown University students are able to benefit from this wonderful opportunity and take part in the SIP program. I would skip any warm summer all over again to return to the Southern Cone and continue learning from, listening to and visiting the places and people that hold a special place in my heart.