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Chilean Winter



Asamblea

High school student protest groups meet biweekly in asambleas to discuss strategy and plan which university protest events they’ll be attending.

Cacerolazo

This traditional form of protest, in which Chileans gather in a public square to bang pots with wooden spoons, originated during Salvador Allende’s presidency when industrial products were scarce. The name comes from cacerola, the Spanish word for “saucepan.”

Carabineros

The Chilean national police force. Carabineros stand guard during most demonstrations and marches.

Desalojo

Police forces often attempt to take down tomas by surprise through desalojos, or evictions. The police storm campus in the middle of the night to arrest students who are sleeping at school.

El Pueblo

Chile has a deep sense of community. Students commonly refer to their classmates as brothers or sisters and to their fellow Chileans as the people of el pueblo, or “the village.”

Encapuchados

These kinds of protesters, especially younger students, come to marches for the fun of roughhousing. The name, which means “hooded ones,” comes from how they cover their faces with bandanas. Encapuchados often taunt or throw rocks at the police.

Filo

This slang term commonly used by student protesters has multiple meanings, including: “Whatever.” “Who cares?” and “It’s all good.”

Marcha

At their largest, marches involve hundreds of thousands of Chilean students, parents and workers. Protesters brandish signs, play drums and chant during the festive, hours-long parades.

Municipio

Dictator Augusto Pinochet, who led Chile from 1973 to 1990, placed control of the education system in the hands of municipios, or local districts, instead of the central state. Pinochet’s reform made schooling expensive, complicating life for those seeking a quality education.

Paro

When the majority of a university’s students vote to protest by halting classes, the campus is said to be on strike, or en paro. Paros have lasted days, weeks and months.

Toma

Perhaps the movement’s most iconic display of discontent, a toma involves disgruntled students taking over their campuses, piling desks and chairs up high against the front gates. Classes can’t take place during a toma because students live and sleep in the school buildings.

VelatÓn

This candlelit evening procession is a somber version of daytime marches. Students have hosted velatones to mourn the “death of education.” At least one student protester’s death has been commemorated with a velatón. The word comes from the Spanish word vela, meaning “candle.”

VotaciÓn

When a campus is en toma, student leaders call a vote every few days to ensure that the student body still supports the takeover. If students vote to discontinue the toma, it ends.


Suzy Strutner

Tiny hands putting protests in larger perspectives


By Suzy Strutner


I went to Chile with a purpose: to understand why the students there protest their education system. Before leaving, I spent months interviewing professors in offices and sitting at long tables with government researchers and making calls on Skype from my bedroom in Westwood to high school administrators in Santiago.

But none of those official sources gave me answers that put the protests in perspective as much as some questions did – questions from a class of Chilean first-graders.

Even though it was daytime, the rain made Santiago a singular shade of gray. Jenna and I walked quickly past abandoned car dealerships and Internet cafes with barred windows. Icy wind whistled through empty alleys. We had heard there was a school around there, but I was ready to quit looking and bolt back to the Metro stop.

Then we found it, a little elementary school behind an iron gate. A teacher named Linda welcomed us inside. As she led us through the playground full of puddles, she told us how the students we saw weren’t supposed to be at this school. Chile’s earthquake in 2010 destroyed their regular school grounds. Their poor district lacks the income from taxes to rebuild, so the students come here for class after the campus’ other students leave for the day.

I had forgotten how tiny those elementary school chairs are. We sat in the back of the classroom, watching the little girl with curly pigtails pull a pencil out of her Disney princess backpack. A boy in a fluffy parka fidgeted and scratched his nose, squinting to make out the numbers on the board. Linda walked her students through a word problem about Miguel taking apples from a basket. Simple subtraction. In California, I learned subtraction at the same age, in the same way.

When I was in first grade, I wanted to write stories in magazines someday. I still do. And I probably will, probably because I went to a good college.

But this wasn’t my first-grade classroom.

I wriggled out of my chair and took a spot at the front of the class. As a reward for counting Miguel’s apples, the kids got to ask me questions about California.

The boy in the parka raised his hand.

“Have you seen a real skateboard before?”

Three more hands.

“Does your car have suicide doors?”

Seven hands.

“Are you … a millionaire?”

Their little palms rubbed together as I answered in imperfect Spanish that yes, I owned a skateboard. They smiled awestruck smiles. They flailed their arms in the air and yelped at their teacher, desperate for more information. I didn’t know what to say when we left, so I told them I’d see them in California.

But I don’t know whether they will ever make it to California, or even to the skate parks in Santiago’s upscale neighborhoods.

As Jenna and I walked back to the Metro stop, I was still giggling. But inside, I was hurting.

I could spend months interviewing professors and sitting at long tables and making calls on Skype, looking for answers about the future of Chile’s education system and not finding many.

I met dozens of people in Chile who told me the first nearly two years of protests for more accessible higher education have not resulted in many concrete changes in the system. Even if laws are introduced that make way for kids from non-elite schools to attend college, it would take years for the effects to trickle down to Linda’s students. It is possible that the kids I met that rainy afternoon in August may never get answers to their questions about life beyond Santiago’s poorest neighborhoods.

Their lack of answers is a bigger problem than mine.

Email Strutner at [email protected]


This traditional form of protest, in which Chileans gather in a public square to bang pots with wooden spoons, originated during Salvador Allende’s presidency when industrial products were scarce. The name comes from cacerola, the Spanish word for “saucepan.”
The Chilean national police force. Carabineros stand guard during most demonstrations and marches.
These kinds of protesters, especially younger students, come to marches for the fun of roughhousing. The name, which means “hooded ones,” comes from how they cover their faces with bandanas. Encapuchados often taunt or throw rocks at the police.
Perhaps the movement’s most iconic display of discontent, a toma involves disgruntled students taking over their campuses, piling desks and chairs up high against the front gates. Classes can’t take place during a toma because students live and sleep in the school buildings.
Definition of Toma