Interview with Carmen Aguirre, Chilean Resistance Fighter

According to the publisher Douglas & McIntyre, Something Fierce: Memoirs of a Revolutionary Daughter is the first account ever published about life in the Chilean resistance. It was reportedly Bob Everton, Carmen Aguirre’s stepfather, who encouraged her to tell her story, but the process apparently took eight painful years. I had the privilege to ask the author a few questions about her book and experiences.

For a full review of Something Fierce click here.

HL: I would like to know about your writing process in SomethingFierce: Memoirs of a Revolutionary Daughter. Which aspect was harder to write than expected and why?

CA: It was hard to write about my resistance activities without giving away too much information that may put me or my family in danger. I never mention the name of the resistance movement I belonged to, nor do I mention what the "goods" or "items" were that I was carrying. I don't mention the name of the leader that Alejandro sees in Santiago in 1988, nor do I give away too much about the actual political platform of the movement. It was difficult to gauge how much was too much, and how much was too little, in terms of giving the reader enough information. 
HL: Something Fierce: Memoirs of A Revolutionary Daughter opens in June 1979 with you, your sister and your mother flying to Lima, Peru. Your leftist family had fled Chile five years earlier after the coup. Your stepfather, Bob, a Canadian internationalist, later joined you. At the time, you were 11 years old. Did your mother ever explain to you and your sister what she and Bob would be doing in South America?

CA: My mother and Bob were not able to share too much with us due to security concerns. I was raised in a socialist family and was well-versed in our political beliefs. I did not know exactly how our beliefs were being put into practice by my mother and Bob when I was child living in Bolivia and Argentina. 

HL: While your mother and stepfather were involved in the Chilean resistance, the top secret Operation Condor had been set up. In other words, there were people working for Operation Condor whose job it was to track down people like Bob and your mother. As a pre-teen living in La Paz were you constantly aware of the lurking danger? Were there types of people at school or in the street whom you consciously avoided?

CA: Of course I was aware of the danger. I had to be, so as not to give away what we were really doing in La Paz. I avoided military men, soldiers, people who looked wealthy, people who asked too many questions, such as taxi drivers, bus drivers, teachers, store clerks, etc., and anybody who might seem like they worked for the secret police. 

HL: In spite of the danger, it seems that you enjoyed your early adolescence in La Paz. What aspects did you enjoy the most?

CA: Everybody lived in danger in La Paz under the rightwing dictatorships at the time. I loved my adolescence there because I love the Bolivian spirit, the immediate intimacy with the people you meet, the definition of love and friendship, which is very different than in North America.

HL: You and your family seemed to house a fair number of women working in the Chilean resistance movement. To your knowledge, what was the percentage of men versus women?

CA: I don't know the percentage, but I would venture to say that it was half and half. 

HL: Every time I read about the man in brown polyester pinstripe suit I get chills up my spine. How did you immediately know that he was a Chilean secret service agent?
CA: He looked Chilean, and he was using what we called "check" skills. 
HL: Your resistance work cost you dearly in terms of the fear, terror and paranoia you experienced. In the 1990s when you meet up with Alejandro again, it sounds as though you thought all your efforts were for naught—the resistance movement failed to depose Pinochet. How do you feel about your resistance work now?

CA: I feel proud of the resistance movement today. The new generation in Chile today is clamouring for constitutional changes to the education system, a referendum, and participatory democracy. I believe that their parents (my generation) have served as an example for them. No struggle is fought in a vacuum; what we did in the 80s had an impact on what is happening today. 

HL: Thank you so much for taking the time to speak with me. I wish you all the best with your book.

This review was cross-posted at Rover Arts

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