Search for other papers by , in
Current site
Google Scholar
Act 4 – Welcome to the future
The Santa Lucia / Welen Hill – Colectivo MapsUrbe

Chapter 4 takes place in the Santa Lucía/Welen Hill, whose double name in Spanish and Mapudungun already speaks of the tension embedded in it. Supposedly the place where the capital city was symbolically founded, the hill is the site for the materialisation of many national symbols and landmarks, yet in pre-Hispanic times the hill was an indigenous territorial reference both politically and spiritually. Still today it is one of the key sites for indigenous cultural and political mobilisation within the city. Fitting to both the display and the contestation of national ideologies and processes of racialisation, situated in the heart of Santiago’s city centre, the hill provides an almost 360-degree view of the city from above. In its ambivalence, this site stands as the location for a hybrid, mixed-up (champurria) and contradictory urban indigeneity, one able to ‘stain’, with bodily presence, the simulated ‘whiteness’ of the (post)colonial city. From the heights of the hill, multiple identities and belongings are claimed through fiction, re-enactment and poetry. In the last scene of the play Santiago Waria, the Comandante Boliviano leads utopian re-imaginations of the future, moving from which the chapter discusses the possibility of multiple modernities and broader decolonial and anticolonial stances.


Claudio: I think we have in common not looking for essences, but for tensions and contradictions in ourselves, and I have a reflection on this idea of the Mapuche and the Waria che. Personally, I like to define myself as Mapurbe much more than Waria che, because I feel that the concept of the Waria che is an overlapping of traditional territorial identities – the Lhafkenh che, the Pewen che, the Huilli che – with the urban scenography. It is like taking the traditional logic of territorial identities and bringing it to the city and to our ways of inhabiting it.1 It seems to me that the idea of the Mapurbe by David Aniñir, our poet-philosopher …

Antil: … our very own Plato!

Claudio: I think it really builds on another possibility; not of thinking from a tradition of territorial identities – from the fütalmapu – but of adopting a different code. If we were honest with that former codification, we would say ‘we are Pikun che, but when we say ‘Waria che’ what are we saying? What are we saying when we say ‘Mapurbe’? I believe that there is a dialectical intention: as the city challenges us, we also have the possibility of challenging the city. That’s why I like words like ‘Mapunky’ a lot because it’s not only how Mapuche are overwhelmed by the city, but also how something like punk can be overcome by being Mapuche, almost like a permanent tension within a process of becoming.

Coco: ‘Mapurbe’. I don’t know. The ‘urbe’, the big capital; I don’t know. I would prefer something like a neologism with ‘población’ … something like ‘poblache’ or ‘che pobla’, because even when we hold political demonstrations there in the Plaza de Armas, afterwards we go back to all our ‘territories’ within the city: Puente Alto, Peñalolén, Recoleta. I think it is necessary … I am not in favour of a champurriada identity – being a champurria myself – because a champurriada identity is an identity without substance; it is weak. What we must do is to ‘champurrear’ the Mapuche, to shake him up. When they call me champuerrado – I know that I am champurria, my same last name says it – I repeat my maternal surname, Quilán. I do that. Soto, yes but also Quilán. So ‘champurreado’ is not it for me; one has to ‘champurrear’ the Mapuche.

Antil: I no longer use the term ‘Waria che’ and I like ‘Mapurbe’, but I have a sort of conflict when thinking of Mapuche in the city. I sometimes feel that we should have certain orientations for imagining the future or for thinking collectively. It occurs to me and I wonder how we are going to think about the Mapuche here in the city and what role a Mapuche or a Mapurbe should have? Perhaps this should be discussed in a political project or in a sort of ‘Mapurbe citizenship project’ that has not been thought of so far. In the south, the peñi strongly defend the places of the gen, and here in Santiago, we have not thought of recovering – or creating new – forms in which we could better coexist with other entities. Santiago is turning into a desert. There are fewer and fewer ants and bugs, and I no longer see as many birds as before. While a collective political project should not be something univocal or imposed, certain visions for the future should be considered around this idea of the Mapurbe. […] When I said we should break the cement I mean this: to transform the city or think of another type of city, from a Mapuche positionality.

Nicolás: From where we stand, and from where we are building this, I think there is an element that we all mentioned when we first met, but that we have not addressed in depth. Of course, we are mostly talking about the waria, but we all have a connection, and our old ones, whenever they can, head south. If they have a lof, they go to their lof. If we have a lof, we go to our lof but if we do not, we look for a lof and we do political, cultural or emotional work wherever. The Mapurbe, or at least those of us who are here, constantly look south. So, I think that this is an element that perhaps does not completely define the Mapurbe. It does reveal something of it, though; this constant action of going, looking and heading south.

Antil: Perhaps there is something of nostalgia, a longing to return to the lelfün

Cynthia: Pedro Cayuqueo says the ruka is actually a concept. It can be the place where one wants to be and where one feels comfortable. So, this ‘breaking the cement’ is like going against something, but I believe that there is also the need for adaptation. That is ultimately what has kept the Mapuche people alive. Adaptation is how culture has survived. Rather, what generates discomfort or lack of belonging in the city is the segregation produced by urban planning, and this brings up the feeling of wondering where we are. What are the places or spaces in which we can coexist in certain ways and why do we feel so rooted in certain spaces and not in others? To which spaces do we belong?

Danitza: I remember that a machi advised me to appropriate my own space here in the city with small gestures because that was my Mapuche home, and the discussion of what is or is not Mapuche ended there. She saw me, she read me, and she told me this is what you need.

Dania: It has to do with the value that one gives to places.

Danitza: It has to do with the value of space, of appropriating space and saying, ‘This is Mapuche to me’, period. So, while political roles and visions of the future can be established from within the urban community that is being generated, it is also good to question what it actually is to be Mapuche, because we also have uprooting in our blood.

Rodrigo: I wanted to go back to something the lamgen said about the meaning of the ruka. I define myself as a ‘Mapunky’, in the sense of ‘rukear’ (‘making home’) by appropriating a space. The city itself, although it takes us out of the centre, has ultimately been built based on our inhabiting and building it. That begins with a colonial wound, which comes from an uprooting, but which has eventually made ways of appropriating space possible. It is a filthy space – and I want to be emphatic here – and I love the term ‘Mapunky’ because it is an urban term. It is urban. I look with nostalgia to the south, of course, but I am an urban animal, from the gutter, with its rats, warts and all. This is my mapu, in the sense of ‘rukear’ the mapu with all the contradictions that run through us. The thing is that these contradictions are marked by otherness. All the ways of being Mapuche are marked because we are and always will be an ‘other’, because we never have a place here that is not peripheral. I think that a project of decolonisation should point in that direction. It is not about making the city Mapuche, it is about making that logic of otherness Mapuche.


Marcela: I was thinking about spatiality and how we experience it, that idea of humanist geography of experiencing space from different sensibilities. When one grows up in a city like Santiago, compared to growing up in another city in Chile, one generates that hatred of the city, but also a very strong identification with the periphery, feeling peripheral and originating your own positioning from there. Santiago is, in certain ways, planned for that to happen, so I think how we make a city is still connected to that, and probably the answer has always been from the küme mogen; from empathy, and from how we relate to one another. But I don’t feel there is a rigidly established küme mogen either, because that’s when we fall into essentialism. It’s what we talked about; that we all belong to our own time.

Antil: I work in the Estación Mapocho as a guide, and when there are no people, I read. Something strange started happening to me. I would read something, and then someone would happen to comment on the exact same thing. Once, I was talking with Loreto Millalen about it, and she told me, ‘It’s the lhewfu. It’s the Mapocho’, so I said to her, ‘Why, if the Mapocho is so dirty and everything?’ I asked her that and she said, ‘I don’t know. Have you ever had any relationship with it?’ And I remembered. I had accompanied a friend doing performative work from Providencia to Quinta Normal, close to Cerro Navia. I walked, together with him, alongside the Mapocho. Suddenly this whole idea of the Mapocho as this ugly, dirty river changed. I realised that I had never been aware that maybe the lhewfu that lives there is accompanying me! Now that I am close to it, I am beginning to experience things because it is finally accompanying me; it accompanies us. Since then, I have got a very special affection for it. So, I believe it is important that we consider this when we think about the city because it is not the same as from a political or historical point of view. Perhaps we should think of it with another kind of affection, and that way, being Mapuche takes shape in the very ways we think about the city.

Digging and reaching for the sky, a day spent in Cerro Navia with David Aniñir Guiltraro was a collective exercise of ‘archaeology of the Mapurbe’. The debate went well beyond the frictions between indigeneity and the urban context: the possibility for Mapuche to inhabit the city and still be indigenous as discussed during the 1980s and 1990s; what is or is not ‘Mapuche’; what is or is not part of the indigenous ‘tradition’; and how and where it should be practised. During our collective talk, in the backyard of the ceremonial centre in Cerro Navia, this binarism disappeared, to our relief: the very place in which we were did not allow mechanistic classifications. Clinging on to oppositions between ‘being’ and ‘not being’ was odd enough: the black and brown remains of a former ruka, burnt down and never rebuilt because of lack of funding; the gillatuwe – the field where ceremonies are held – with the rewe in the middle of it, traversed by huge lattice pylons and high-voltage cables, with its quiver-inducing electricity felt and its buzzing sound heard from nearby the rewe. In this scenario, the city is neither a metaphor nor a ‘landscape’, but a strong presence that finds its way across and around any space for tradition, ceremony, indigenous and mestizo bodies.

Moving from this buzz and the invisible vibrations that from there emanate into the metropolitan city, such peripheral spaces were initially supposed to be the sites where our work, and more specifically the play Santiago Waria, reached its conclusions. In a sort of smooth circularity, they constituted both the beginning (where most of us came from) and an ending. Nonetheless, this was not what ultimately happened. Rather, we concluded the performance on the Santa Lucía/Welen Hill on which this chapter is centred, the very place that had kept ‘escaping’ us, avoiding our gaze and eluding our grasp. We were finally able to reach it, once we abandoned both the claim of refunding the city in its indigeneity and any illusion of authenticity. The hill in itself is and can only be champurria, a site for tension and contradiction, as we see in what follows.

The Santiago basin is adorned with promontories known locally as ‘island hills’, natural upheavals that bequeathed ice ages and which for centuries have given meaning to the territory. Among them, the Santa Lucia/Welen Hill is one of the most important. The logko Welen-Wala, who once governed the surrounding areas, assigned sacred properties to the hill. When the Spanish conquered and founded Santiago, they climbed the hill to sanction their colonial power, giving it a religious name and installing there one of the first hermitages of the city. However, the hill was not simply a sacred place: since the arrival of the Spanish to the region, it has been a surveillance point – a natural panopticon – used geostrategically for the conquest.

During the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, the hill did not undergo major modifications. Under Spanish rule, what was a religious and strategic site later became a source of raw material for paving the city’s streets. The century in which not only the hill but also a large part of downtown Santiago was modified was the nineteenth, and the man pushing that transformation was Benjamin Vicuña Mackenna (mentioned in Chapter 1), the politician, intellectual and urban planner who, in his redesign of the city, also conceived the aesthetical and functional transformation of the Santa Lucia Hill.

His political exile in 1852 allowed him to visit the United States and Europe, places that would act as his stylistic and urban reference when he later became mayor of Santiago (1872–75). Ideologically, Vicuña Mackenna perfectly represents nineteenth-century liberalism, with faith in science for progress and civilisation, looking towards the social and material advances of Europe as examples of evolution and modernity. The indigenous and poorer sectors of society represented a drag on the moral and material development of Chile to such an illustrious liberal: these sectors incubated most of the evils that impeded the march towards a civilised society. Mimicking Parisian urbanism and pushing the lower-class and indigenous occupations of urban spaces towards the margins, Vicuña Mackenna undertook the mission of transforming Santiago’s public face. The Santa Lucia Hill was a fundamental site in his project to ‘Haussmanise’ the city. By the second half of the nineteenth century, that rocky, dry and dusty place in the middle of the city was turned into a hillside orchard for the Santiago bourgeoisie’s Sunday walks, with fountains, gardens, gazebos and sculptures imposed on the grey stone of the ancient Welen Hill. In his crusade to save Santiago from barbarism, Vicuña Mackenna imagined and planned a new hill, a new city and even a new Chile. The hill was the spatial and landscape sedimentation of that civilisation project. From the same site from where Valdivia founded and planned Santiago, Vicuña Mackenna devised and refunded the bourgeois city.

The hill is thus full of symbols that renew the old weight of colonialism, contradictorily under both ‘European’ and republican tones. On its slopes, a stone is carved with famous phrases from Pedro de Valdivia to the King of Spain, describing the land he had just ‘discovered’ as beautiful, abundant and empty, his sword and his pen united in their effort to erase the local population. Higher up are the neoclassical pools along with indigenous and exotic trees, and at the top is a viewpoint recalling the architecture of colonial forts and from where one can see a city of glass buildings. Just below, on the paths that lead to the top, is the Caupolicán terrace, named after a sculpture located on a large, tall rock. The sculpture is supposed to be a representation of the Mapuche political and military leader Caupolicán, who fought against the Spanish conquest in the sixteenth century. However, in truth, the figure portrayed is actually inspired by The Last of the Mohicans. The prominent artist Nicanor Plaza (1844–1918) had originally created the sculpture for an international competition in the United States. When he failed, he tried to sell it to the North American diplomats who were interested in a Mapuche figure, but when they found out about Plaza’s inspirations and design, they abandoned the purchase. The sculpture was later acquired by the Chilean government and placed on the top of the Santa Lucía Hill.

Of course, when Nicanor Plaza thought about portraying an indigenous person, despite being born and raised in Chile, instead of being inspired by the Mapuche, he resorted to an illustration from the novel by James Fenimore Cooper. This, far from being a mere curiosity, reveals the depth of the denial of indigeneity: even its representation is shaped by what is considered more acceptable models to the colonial eye. In Plaza’s gesture lie the euphemisms of Chilean elites, the ambiguity of a manipulative visibilisation without recognition, and veiled violence of an oblivious gaze that haunts us and the city to this day. The ‘Caupolicán’ of Nicanor Plaza is still there, looking down at Santiago, as one of the most important representations of the Mapuche in Chile, crowning a highly symbolic space in the city centre, the icon of the modern and civilising impetus, the beautiful Santa Lucía Hill. Here is where the colonial wound remains symbolically open: Chile still cannot really see the ‘other’, it is not yet ready to know its true body, real wounds and heartaches, its roughness, and stubborn brownness (morenidad).

The electric buzz of the cables sounds and resounds in and between indigenous and mestizo bodies inhabiting peripheral spaces. Where places for ceremony and gatherings are built, allowing memories of the past and of other places to be present, and change to be the way tradition is brought to life. Because the colonial wound inscribed in the fake Caupolicán can also be appropriated, as when David, declaiming his poetry on top of the hill at the end of the play Santiago Waria, addresses the statue with a ‘peñi Sioux’. With feathers and loincloth, yes, and a far from realistic representation of a sixteenth-century Mapuche warrior, but still, if that statue dominating Santiago is called Caupolicán, why not? In its own approximation and irresolution, if we want it to be, it can still be a peñi – a Mapuche – inhabiting the city, dominating it from above and appropriating it through its fakeness and lack of authenticity. For a single, ephemeral moment that has already happened. This is it. Welcome to the Welen/Santa Lucía Hill. Welcome to the future.


David was born in 1971 in Cerro Navia, one of the municipalities on the outskirts of Santiago hit hard by the economic and socio-political crisis during the military regime. His mother had migrated from the south, just like many others, and married in Santiago. As the family was struggling during the deep economic crisis in the 1980s, David started working from an early age, only later making space for his visionary, beautiful and unvarnished verses which are powerfully marked by both abandonment and endurance. Cerro Navia is bordered by the Mapocho. There, downstream from the hills where its flow is but a thin stream, is where it darkens and becomes a river, almost leaving the city behind. Later a space where gatherings and even shows were organised, during the 1980s the riverbed was one of the sites for cruel military repression, including one night when a young woman of the MIR (Movimiento de Izquierda Revolucionaria – ‘The Movement of the Revolutionary Left’), in her early twenties, was dragged there and killed with dynamite tied around her body.

David’s poetry, which gradually began to circulate and gain relevance in urban indigenous contexts both in Chile and in Argentina during the early 2000s, could well be defined as ‘avant-garde’, drawing together indigenous roots and belonging to an urban reality of transformation and contamination. ‘Impurity’ and mixture are strong in the very use David makes of language: his Spanish is mixed with Mapuzgun words, urban jargon and some English terms (mostly related to the web and virtual reality). His verses, and especially his concept of Mapurbe (see Introduction), are a key point of reference for young Mapuche generations as, in contributing to making complex experiences and identities visible and somehow ‘authorised’, David’s poetry opened up a space of belonging for those who had been feeling out of place both in the south and in the city.2 Its complexity and richness stand in depicting indigeneity as made of multiple layers, contradictions and juxtapositions, far from static and straightforward. David’s harsh gaze allows one to question and to be questioned about what ‘mapucheness’ should represent, opening up to differences, doubts and creative forms of dwelling (urban) spaces and bodies. The very concept of the ‘Mapurbe’ relates to that: the pain, contradictions and struggles and the constant sensation of not fitting, and yet the need of keeping this tension somehow alive, without resolving it. It also relates to contamination and its generative possibilities: tuning and mixing with other political claims, social realities and visions – from the land occupations in areas such as La Victoria, to the struggle for human rights and against the Pinochet dictatorship, to artistic and aesthetic interventions. Mapurbe – the poem and the concept – calls for an (only apparent) contradiction of treasuring the past while questioning it; the delicate task of looking back with a deeply caring and yet strongly critical gaze, as Roberto put it: ‘defending and wanting to change one’s history at the same time’. This paradoxical stance is one of ‘tenderness’ (ternura): the care for collective and family memories, coexisting with the firm gestures of building, inventing and imagining something else.

While this is much more broadly common in intergenerational relationships, and especially in contexts of diaspora and migration, here this process is entangled with the very concept of indigeneity, and how it has been constructed, appropriated and changed over time. In turn, the presence of self-claiming indigenous bodies within urban spatialities in the context of the Chilean capital brings forwards usually invisibilised processes of racialisation, questioning claims of whiteness, socio-economic inequalities and practices of segregation. The very idea of the city is challenged.

These elaborations thus acquire both a deeply biographical meaning and a political one: personal trajectories and collective identities engage with the urban scenario, drawing paths that rely on the steps taken by past generations while parting from them. This is what the word champurria indicates: reconfiguration and rearrangement, in the valuing of ‘mixing up’ and finding creative ways of binding together paths and belongings; this is also how the route of the play was eventually redesigned in the very last weeks of rehearsal.

The script for Santiago Waria was almost finished. The main sites of the tour had been selected: from the city centre to the upper-class neighbourhoods to the periphery, concluding in one of the most important (and most remote) Mapuche ceremonial centres in Santiago, in the municipality of ‘El Bosque’. Everyone was excited about it, especially because the route of the tour as seen on a map resembled the pata del choique (‘leg of the Rhea’), a prominent figure of Mapuche textile iconography. Nevertheless, the chosen route was long and complicated, and we were trying to solve this issue when one day, the authority of the community in charge of the ceremonial site where the play was due to end called Roberto and told him that one of the elders had died and that they were suspending all activities for several months to mourn. Everyone panicked. A whole afternoon was spent staring at a map of Santiago. Emails and phone calls were made to find an alternative final site that had a similar meaning, but what was this meaning about, anyway?

After several hours searching the ‘periphery’ and for ‘ceremonial centres’ – which sounds quite odd now – suddenly Claudio said that it was not necessary to end the tour in any of those places. Noticing the general astonishment, he explained, ‘We are looking for a ceremonial centre just because it is a nice and smooth ending, but to be honest, it sounds a bit too obvious and even fake to me. Why do we want to end the tour there? What do we want to say with it?’ The following discussion centred on the fact that, while the chosen ceremonial site was, of course, part of the experience of many within the room and a fundamental reference for self and home-making within the city, it did not have the same meaning for everyone. The connections with these kinds of spaces were intimate and personal and they had not been part of the creative process developed within the project. We had actually been focusing on the central sector of the city, its monumentality and landmarks, its upper-class spaces – towards the margins but still not really the periphery – and the Quinta Normal Park. This was the core of the debate, to which the discussion soon shifted: the question of whether or not to include peripheral spaces in the tour. While it was true that, except for that day spent with David in Cerro Navia, peripheries had not really been the focus of the project, how could they be cut out entirely from the play? Almost all of us were born and raised in Santiago’s peripheries, even if some now live closer to the city centre. How could those places not be part of the representation of the stories and history which the piece wanted to tell?

The discussion went on for a long time until Claudio hit the nail on the head by affirming, ‘I do not need to go to the periphery to make this point. I am the periphery. What matters to me and what mattered in this project was to intervene in the city centre, to bring the periphery to it through our bodies, to contaminate it with the stain of our presence. This is what the performance is all about.’

Throughout the entire project, the complex, painful and even violent relationship between the city and the bodies inhabiting it had constantly surfaced through collective reflections, memories, and personal or family histories. In the context of the diaspora, especially for the generations arriving in the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s, but also well into the present day, ‘racialised work’ had marked indigenous emplacement within the metropolitan area, in the reproduction of an urban geography of inequality. This is part of everyday life, through the common experience of being marked as belonging to a certain racial category and, consequently, to certain urban spatialities, while being considered ‘out of place’ in others. Claudio’s claim, and the designing of Santiago Waria, addressed these dynamics at the intersection of the performers’ bodies and the city’s space. The ‘whiteness’ of the Chilean capital is confronted and ‘stained’ with the presence of bodies that refuse to keep silent. In this gesture, processes of racialisation ‘haunting the bodies on stage’ (Kondo 2018, 108) are both made visible and challenged, powerfully addressed in the urban scenario of the Chilean capital. ‘Being the periphery’, and from that position ‘contaminating’ the national imagery embedded in the monumental materiality of the city centre is performatively claimed as a gesture of champurriar, ‘staining whiteness’ through embodied histories and biographies, and thus revealing it as an artificial masquerade under which the skin of the nation was, and always had been, of different colours. This represents the heart of champurria political aesthetics, bringing back to public debate racial issues commonly silenced within Chilean society and questioning the social construction of mestizaje as ‘whitening’.3

The choice of setting for the final scene of the play in the Santa Lucía/Welen Hill thus constitutes a claim for active place-making against urban segregation, engaging in performative practices that enable the project to intervene the landscape of the city – even in ephemeral and imaginative ways – or to rukear, as Rodrigo put it. Besides underlying indigenous participation in the making of the city itself through work, movement and participation, this same stance eventually led to the construction of Santiago Waria, not only as a city tour moving through urban space and connecting with different spatialities, but also emplaced right in the central area of the capital, and concluding in a hypothetical future up on Santa Lucía/Welen Hill. Shaping the play’s political aesthetics in fundamental ways, the designing of this route invoked questions of positioning and belonging deeply connected to the performers’ racialised bodies and their ‘place’ within the urban context.


The relationship with the capital city is ambivalent. Santiago is beloved, hated, claimed and disregarded. As the capital of the Chilean nation and the material representation of the state, it is impossible for it to be thought of as indigenous, and yet still, for brief and ephemeral moments in time, in circumscribed and specific places, perhaps it can be. Nonetheless, most of the time, it feels that an indigenous Santiago is just impossible to even conceive. What seems possible, perhaps, is to make the city more morena – or, better said, to see the city in its own morenidad.

The south, always headed towards and always looked towards, is the place of origins and the territory from which the diaspora was violently diffused. There is a strongly felt need to be there, to go back there, and contribute to the struggle for the Mapuche nation, which is not, and never could be, in Santiago. Santiago was lost with Michimalogko. Santiago can only be imagined differently. Yet sometimes these imaginations feel so real as if they were able to bring the cordillera back to the city, and the city back to the cordillera, not only as a landscape but as a social actor and a defining presence.

These are some of the layers and contradictory drives of being Mapuche in Santiago: living in the capital – occupying its spaces, walking its streets and defying its indifference – while sensing the strong connection with the communities in the south, and loving the entanglement of both. As the peñi Fernando Quilaleo wrote in the early 1990s, every time a ruka is installed, every time a Mapuzugun workshop is held, every time someone holds a gillatun, it is a triumph for the Mapuche movement, even in the south. In other words, when a ruka is consolidated in Santiago, it is a consolidation of a political project and a national political project which has to do with the possibility of still existing, of still being. Here lies yet another layer; how is it possible to exist in the city, inhabiting the city in everyday life? What is the claim? What is the mark on the urban space?

Undoubtedly, the modern metropolis is challenged by Mapuche trajectories, making any Eurocentric dream of the city impossible. Racialised bodies disrupt the monochrome of whiteness, making metropolitan indifference improbable; on the contrary, gazes are directed at them and they are watched, and as a product of that controlling attitude, they appear to generate heterotopia in what was imagined under the precepts of a utopianism without obscenity.

The heterotopic, as those multiform spaces that dissolve monolithic trajectories, appears in the Latin American city as an unavoidable condition. It is the underdevelopment of development generating spatial experiences, dependence as a status within the world system manufacturing urban marginalities that are articulated with the diverse processes of racialisation that have been going on since colonial times on the continent. In short, it is the racialisation of class relations (Margulis 1999), where inequality is articulated with the construction of otherness; it is where indigenous, black and poorer mestizo bodies make up those places that exist because of their being ‘others’ because they are border inhabitants of the metropolis, where difference does not generate passive cosmopolitanism, but rather porous walls, where conflict is always alive.

This contradictory condition of the metropolis was read under the notion of postmodernity in the North American context, and postmodernism as an explanatory conception of reality also had its moment of emergence and dominance in Latin America. In 1992, the Venezuelan Celeste Olalquiaga began her essay Megalópolis. Sensibilidades culturales contemporáneas (‘Megalopolis: Contemporary Cultural Sensibilities’), noting: ‘Postmodernity is still in force. Hundreds of detractors and years of intellectual discussions have not managed to stop its expansion or reduce its impact’. Her concerns revolved around kitsch, the residual, cultural recycling and nostalgic pop aesthetics, which at the time were interpreted under the term of ‘postmodern’. Of course, times change: in the republishing of the aforementioned book in 2014, Olalquiaga nuances, giving value to reflections that for decades have questioned the ‘post-’ taxonomy, among them Habermas in his tensions with Lyotard: ‘we are still, for better or worse, in modernity, as Habermas saw at the time’, with the author expanding: ‘it is not a question of a single modernity’ (Olalquiaga 2014 [1992]: 9).

Decades ago, and in the face of criticism of the concept of postmodernism, voices emerged which, while sustaining the perseverance of modernity, sought to notice its diverse trajectories in order to think about the concrete formations of a global phenomenon. The notion was pluralised to give way to the idea of modernities. This, of course, has led to elaborations on the diverse expressions of the metropolitan, bearing in mind that this urban expression is a sublime manifestation of a long, historical path called modernity. Andrea Huyssen, for example, in Other Cities, Other Worlds argues: ‘as postcolonial and recent modernism studies have shown, colonial cities had their own very specific modernity distinct from the modernity of the western metropolis’ (Huyssen 2008: 14). Huyssen is right to cite postcolonial studies as a reference for thinking about the dissimilar trajectories of modernity and its metropolitan constitution, especially when recognising South Asian authors such as Dipesh Chakrabarty, who urges ‘provincialising Europe’ (Huyssen 2008) as a call to recognise its importance but not its universal status. Huyssen’s urge to recognise other cities, other worlds, is embedded in an intellectual trajectory typical of those who inhabited or inhabit colonial conditions.

From here, it is then possible to sustain ideas such as ‘vernacular modernities’ (Hall 2010) or ‘alternative modernities’ (Escobar 2010) to delve deeper into the differentiated trajectories of ‘the modern’ and thus of ‘the metropolitan’. Of course, as the Peruvian Aníbal Quijano has rightly argued, it is not just a matter of temporal differences, but of hierarchies sustained over time. Modernity does not exist without the colonial fact; they are indissoluble (Quijano 1992). Thus, as the Colombian Eduardo Restrepo argues, the other modernities ‘are not variations or modulations of Euro-modernity, but are genealogically and ontologically other modernities’ (Restrepo 2011: 143), for there is no essential identity of modernity. Discovering our own heritage is part of the task, and we believe that observing indigenous trajectories in metropolitan spaces allows us to approach certain understandings of modernity in Latin America.

These temporal and cultural overlaps have also been analysed through the notion of hybridity. García Canclini has probably made the greatest contribution to the concept of hybridity to understand Latin American modernity in global times, although criticism has not been long in coming. Canclini developed the concept of hybridity to overcome categories such as mestizaje or syncretism, which, according to him, were limited to ‘racial mixtures’ (the biological mestizo) and ‘fusions of traditional symbolic movements’ (the syncretism between indigenous and Catholic religiosity), without taking into account ‘modern forms of hybridisation’ (Garcia Canclini 1990: 15). This contribution was fundamental. However, the difficulty brought about by the notion of hybridity was a reading of juxtaposition as a synthesis of the interaction between the traditional (popular culture) and the modern (globalised consumption), in which trajectories are mixed in order to ‘erase conflicts, oppressions and exclusions’ (Pulido 2011: 108). From the idea of hybridity, it is possible to think of multicultural societies, which have ultimately proposed to deal with diversity in a depoliticised way.

Likewise, reflections on the heterogeneity of Chilean society have always been silently conflictive. Although some authors recognise the mestizo, even the baroque, within Chilean society (Morandé 1984), this behaves again more as a matter of cultural synthesis which, although it recognises the indigenous contribution, ends up blurring their present and active condition. It is recognition as a past trail, as if it was only an undeniable cultural preterit, but one that would vanish in the contemporary society, leaving the current Mapuche generations without the capacity to act as agents. This is why we grow suspicious of the way many Chilean intellectuals have treated the idea of mestizaje. As Rita Segato (2007) reflects, the mestizo can be both a potency and an operation of forgetting, the latter through an acceptance of the indigenous but only as a past trace, as barely a mark without the capacity to act here and now. Mestizo as a synonym for Chileanness, without recognising that there can be processes of mestizaje or practices of baroquism without the indigenous to be fused into national identity. Instead the Mapuche can be thought of in a champurrea way, even in the capital city, strengthening their internal ties, and claiming for themselves the possibility of being a people with aspirations of self-determination.

Far from multiculturalism, we would rather think of contradictory juxtapositions, uncomfortable assemblages, and dialectics without synthesis. It is Bolívar Echeverría’s proposal of the baroque, those rhizomatic courses that filter and strain the homogeneous city, be it the monochromatic liberal or the multicoloured neoliberal one. We seek to go through the ‘nonsynchronous contradictions’ (Bloch 1971), through the complex and contradictory palimpsests of sedimented times, the actuality of the tensions inaugurated since colonial times that are still latent today. These are the elaborations of thinkers such as Silvia Rivera Cusicanqui in Bolivia – with the idea of ‘syntagmatic presents’ and ‘long colonial continuity’ – and Gyan Prakash from India. In particular, Prakash reflects that the cities engendered by the experience of colonisation contain patterns and layers of a scaly structure where the colonial, the capitalist and the communitarian coexist asymmetrically, thus emerging as an ‘Alien City’ (Prakash 2008: 201). The alien, as what lies beyond the world, is a contemporary way of understanding the old mode of construction of inequality/difference generated since colonial times: the indigenous. From this place of historical marginality, contrary to common belief, the mestizo development of the continent and its cities has risen. This is what can be observed today with the Mapuche presence in Santiago, especially when it calls for the champurria; in other words, to be mixed under a permanent back-and-forth, without losing the anticolonial rage, without ceasing to be Mapuche and not as republican mestizaje, but as uncomfortable contamination.

From here, mestizaje constitutes a space of struggle, which is tantamount to placing conflict at the centre of debates on the socialisation of inequalities/differences. It is worth citing ideas such as Gruzinski’s (2000) ‘mestizo thinking’ or Richard White’s (1991) ‘middle ground’. Both emphasise the intermediate rationalities and spaces that emerged during the colonial process, where indigenous peoples managed to devour elements of the coloniser and infiltrate their cultural objects, thereby modifying their original meanings. It is the cannibal impulse which, for some decades now, has ceased to be considered only as an outburst of barbarism, and its potency in the cultural processes of colonised peoples has been understood. We start, as we have already insisted, by observing these activities as latency, as an underground weight that can be apprehended in metropolitan times. The objects of the other are cannibalised, either through their refunctionalisation or their aesthetic saturation, to emerge under contradictory juxtapositions as nonsynchronous tensions. The Mapuche metropolitan inhabitant is the highest expression of that reality today in Santiago.

From those exercises, set in the historical depths of our continent torn by the first colonial moment, ‘baroque modernity’ emerges, making the objectuality and landscape of ‘capitalist modernity’ impure. This always points towards whiteness: an order of things and bodies looking for behaviours, gestures and straight appearances and following the steps of the ‘visible saints’ (monumentalised bodies in the public space?), who mostly represent the supposed biographical trajectories of the ‘white man’: productive and puritan. In the face of whiteness, which for Echeverría (2010) would constitute the ‘spirit of capitalism’ in Latin America, the baroque emerges as its theatricalisation, closing down univocal meanings and opening up the juxtaposed, the conflictive and the contradictory.

The emergence of the baroque here is a gesture of staining the whiteness of the city. We only have to consider that 60 per cent of Santiago’s population feel ‘white’ (Telles, Flores 2013: 442). That idea of whiteness brings the popular world closer to the ruling classes, generating a strange inter-class bond based on skin colour alone. Since we are all Chilean and all ‘white’, someone in La Pintana, Pudahuel or Recoleta can easily think, ‘Well, I have a connection to the guy in Vitacura.’ Yet, they would never think of themselves as belonging to an ‘Andean’ country, let alone an ‘Andean’ people, even though the cordillera is so obviously, impressively and meaningfully there. It is here that this idea of how Santiago can be intervened towards the concept of morenizar (becoming more moreno) or ‘andinizar’ (becoming more ‘Andean’) comes to the forefront. It is here that David addressing the fake Caupolicán as ‘peñi Sioux’ comes into play. Ultimately, what through these gestures is being said to the broader (mestizo) popular world is, ‘We are not them.’ The class fracture is thus defined from a different element, articulating from a fundamental aspect of popular and social struggles: the question of identity. Numbers change and statistics change: if that 60 per cent could be reversed theoretically, as well as imaginatively, then who knows? Perhaps the unreal could still shape reality, regardless of whether those who could suddenly start thinking of themselves as indigenous are actually Mapuche, regardless of their grandmothers or grandfathers, or of how far back they would have to go in order to state their own indigeneity or to see it and feel it, and regardless of how well they would be able to perform ‘tradition’. When one defines oneself as Mapuche, there is a political element that says, ‘I am not them.’ This is what the final part of the play wants to say. The Comandante is caught between these tensions, finding her way by walking through a path that she has to recall, retrace and reinvent. Moving through and across the city, she is shaped by that very movement, and she ‘assembles’ herself while walking, a process in which the audience participates (see Casagrande 2021). Moving from this imagination, maybe it will be possible to create a fracture with the dominant world from an indigenous positionality able to claim both morenidad and champurria, and from the many layers and possibilities of impurity and contamination.

Santa Lucía / Welen Hill


1 ‘Waria che’ is related to a particular way of conceiving one’s relationship with the urban environment: this term reproduces the territorial identities related to the Mapuche territories in the south of the country and its heterogeneous geographical and social features (Pikun che, ‘people of the north’, Lhafkenh che, ‘people of the sea’, Willi che, ‘people of the south’, Pewen che, ‘people of the pewen’). Characteristic of the migrating generations first arriving in the metropolitan region, this term is now somehow at odd with the experiences and belongings of those born and raised in Santiago. Mapurbe is a more recent term for describing this diasporic condition, widely adopted by younger generation. It is worth mentioning that ‘being Mapuche in Santiago’ is already a strong claim against the Chilean capital as a ‘white’ city and the placement of indigenous bodies in certain spaces, with specific features and borders.
2 In Chile, the references one encounters during school years are usually from the Western context. Even Latin American art is often discovered only later on, let alone indigenous art. Mapuche artists and thinkers or historians are almost never part of formal education. Albeit from an underground background, David has been (more so today) one of these figures of reference, and while others before him had called for recognition, representation and the very possibility for indigenous voices to be heard, his importance lies precisely in opening up a space for both recognition and a critical rethinking of indigeneity. While this is not the place to discuss the matter, this also entails a risk of some kind of commodification, as in other counter-cultural artistic expressions (see Richard 1994; Palmer 2011).
3 See the Introduction; Casagrande (in progress).
4 In Santiago and in Chile more broadly, the cordillera has in fact played a strong role as a familiar landscape. Testimonies of exiles during the Pinochet dictatorship account for a sense of disorientation precisely due to the absence of the Andes, and in everyday life the reference to it as a landmark is usual, and yet there is no identification of Chileans as ‘Andeans’.
5 The performance audios can accessed on the website page for this section corresponding to Track 10: https://www.mapsurbe.com/eng-santiago-waria.
6 Floriano opens with a traditional greeting in mapuzugun. Floriano’s account was recorded in an interview held with Olivia during the research process. The event he recalls also appears in the documentary Santiago: pueblo grande de Huincas.
7 Floriano is referring to the epew of the Kai Kai and the Txen Txen, a Mapuche foundational myth which, among other things, recounts the history of how hills and montains originated.
8 David’s performance changed slightly at every representation, always entailing some more improvisational aspects in addition to his poems. Particularly significant, as mentioned earlier in this chapter, was his interaction with the Caupolicán statue on the terrace, with which he never failed to entertain some sort of dialogue.
  • Collapse
  • Expand

All of MUP's digital content including Open Access books and journals is now available on manchesterhive.


Performing the jumbled city

Subversive aesthetics and anticolonial indigeneity in Santiago de Chile


All Time Past Year Past 30 Days
Abstract Views 0 0 0
Full Text Views 628 185 23
PDF Downloads 90 47 9