Act 3 – Racialised trajectories
Providencia – Colectivo MapsUrbe
in Performing the jumbled city

Chapter 3 focuses on the upper-class sector of Providencia, one of the places where indigenous women have worked when migrating to the capital city, typically employed as housemaids, recently included among those that have been defined as ‘racialised jobs’. Moving from the family experiences of many of the authors of the book, this chapter addresses upper-class neighbourhoods from the indigenous perspective: as places of servitude where colonial power relationships are endlessly reproduced, but also of work, agency and endurance; pain and loss, but also affect. The silent memories of many Mapuche women working in the area are addressed through intimate narratives and the ‘post-memories’ of current younger generations, caught in the ambivalence of these foreign yet familiar spatialities. Drawing on these trajectories and on the spaces inhabited by live-in maids, the chapter analyses domestic labour as a form of social, spatial, and existential ‘reduction’. The chapter finally addresses the contemporary debate about indigenous feminism, its challenges and friction, as well as the need to rethink gender relations in the Mapuche socio-political context. In conclusion, Scene 3 of Santiago Waria enacts a performative memorial to the trajectories of indigenous women in upper-class areas of the city. The Interlude ‘Toward the hill with two names’, guides the reader toward the book’s final chapter and destination, going through protests in the city in the 1990s, migrants’ letters and Mapuche pop music.


Claudio: What struck me the most was how that woman, who was surely the owner of one of the houses there on that street in Providencia, told us, ‘Look, she belongs to our family. Our nanny is Mapuche; she is super Mapuche, but she doesn’t identify as such! I don’t know why she doesn’t’. It’s crazy because in one’s ear those phrases generate a lot of discomfort, while on her tongue, on her lips, in her own ear, they do not generate any discomfort.1

Dania: It’s everyday talk.

Claudio: It’s even ‘good’. ‘She is my friend’ and ‘I always tell her to talk about being a Mapuche, to talk more about their culture. Now she’s opening up a bit more after 5 years, Sari’ but when we asked her, ‘What’s her surname?’, then came the son, the nephew – I have no idea who, the film student – who told us …

Marcela: He found what we were doing very cool …

Claudio: The guy also said her name is Sari, but he had no idea whatsoever what Sari’s last name was. It doesn’t matter what Sari is called, because ‘she’s my very best friend. I love her a lot’.

Dania: But I don’t know her last name. I don’t know what she’s called.

Claudio: It doesn’t matter. The only important thing is that she is ‘their’ nanny.

Roberto: Sure. I have a dog; I have a cat and I have a nanny.

Marcela: In the newspaper ads, it used to read ‘We are looking for a Mapuche nanny or a Peruvian nanny’ … At least before, it did. I am not sure if it still does now.

Dania: Still!

Roberto: I remember once, when I was studying here in Providencia, a schoolmate told me that his mother always argued with the rest of her sisters about who were better, the Mapuche nannies or the Peruvian nannies.2 They preferred Mapuche nannies because they were honest; Peruvian nannies might steal while the Mapuche nannies did not, though they cooked very differently. This sounds very much like a racial classification, within an already racialised profession …

Claudio: I mean, that’s what the other lady told Olivia: that the Mapuche nannies were faithful.

Roberto: Did she use that word …?

Olivia: [nodding] ‘Because you could read their eyes’, she told me. ‘On the other hand, Brazilian Indians, they never look you in the eyes. They are hidden, ambiguous. This is why we preferred black women as servants.’

Marcela: And then she compared them to Haitians here.

Olivia: Yes. I then realised that she was making a comparison between before and now, because she asked me what years we were taking into consideration.

Roberto: Of course, from the questions she was asking you, the lady was quite smart, regardless of her colonial and bourgeois way of looking at the world.

Olivia: Yes. She didn’t have any sense of guilt, as I feel that the other woman had. The other woman was very defensive, while the older woman, who I think must be in her eighties or so, had an attitude of ‘these are the facts, this is how the world works and that’s it’.

Dania: Yes, the second woman started defending herself, saying, ‘Hey, we’re not the bad guys’, before we even explained what we were doing.

Antil: Sure. I guess she thought we wanted to publicly expose someone.3

Claudio: That must be what she thought! True. She even left and then came back. The children said, ‘Come on. Enough is enough.’

Marcela: She wanted to come back.

Olivia: She wanted to ask us that question about Sari not talking about her culture. It was a question: ‘Explain to me why.’

Claudio: I do not think it was just a question. I mean, it was posed as a question, but one that was also a way of saying, ‘You are wrong!’, or as if to say ‘Hey, but your people are hiding, right?’. We go and mark the space, saying Mapuche women lived and worked here, creating memory, situating it and politicising that space, and she says, ‘Hey, but your own people are hiding. I myself have had to tell Sari to speak, and it has taken five years for her to finally say something about her own culture!’, as if the reason why her memory is not there was her own fault.

Marcela: She is the one that does not want to talk.

Claudio: Because I’ve always told her to talk. It happens a lot – that is, every time one touches these issues; I mean, there are a lot of layers – but it ends up being the Mapuche’s fault again. So, behind her words, I don’t think there was an exercise of doubt. Maybe I’m very negative and I look negatively at her, but I don’t think she was so naive. I think that she was saying, ‘Everything you are doing is fine, but actually, the Mapuche are the ones who deny themselves.’ It was interesting when Olivia then asked her back, ‘Why do you think this is happening?’ and the woman said that the reason is … [looking towards Olivia]

Olivia: I think she thinks it’s not important.

Claudio: That she thinks that it is not important, and that very phrase is startling: she gets into Sari’s head!

Olivia: She could have said, ‘Maybe she does this with us but with her family it is different.’ I don’t know. She could have asked herself instead of assuming she is able to read Sari’s mind. She takes for granted that she knows what someone else does or does not value.

Claudio: The frontier was also apparent. In other words, it was clear that we were … Well, also because … Let’s put it like this: we came to review the stories of our grandmothers, of our mothers, and then immediately, there is a frontier; a border, like a wall. On the other hand … there are borders, limits, dominations, but there are also porous borders … In other words, it was clear that the woman actually loved Sari. It is a schizophrenic kind of affection because it is an affection that emerges from domination; it is strange to love that way, but I suppose that it is her way of loving. There is real and true affection, but at the same time, we do not know the history of Sari. Many lamgenes deeply loved some – though, not all – of their employers, and they learned a lot from them. There are hierarchy and domination, but there is also dignity and there are porosities. Now, the complex thing is that when one considers this, it is as if all power relationships can be like that and then domination does not matter so much, because if there are porosities …

Roberto: As if they could forgive themselves …

Claudio: Yes! Like they can be excused somehow. But that is the contradiction of life, I guess. It is not resolved as pure domination or pure misery; it’s not that binary.

Santiago is not just one city: there are at least two countries within the same metropolis. The richest, wealthiest 10 per cent in the country have average incomes that exceed those of Norway, while the poorest 10 per cent have incomes similar to those of the Ivory Coast. Two countries, separated by just a few kilometres but completely disconnected, having in common only the hundreds and thousands of workers who cross the entire region to carry out their daily tasks for the care and comfort of Santiago’s upper classes. In Chile, just like in other contexts in Latin America, there is a specific taxonomy to name these high-income sectors of society: they are called cuicos. Of course, the cuicos are not only recognizable by their accumulated capital. They behave in a certain way and have an identifiable cultural ethos. Even more importantly, they have a body with a recognizable phenotype: they are white, blonde, tall and thin. They are the embodiment of colonial beauty. The cuicos inhabit a specific body and a specific city: the privileged spaces of colonial continuity.

Thousands of Mapuche women have been walking through these privileged urban areas for decades. The production and reproduction of immediate life – the neuralgic point of the capitalist system for feminist criticism – has for centuries been in the hands of the racialised women of the continent. Impoverished mestizas, indigenous and black women – more recently migrants from Peru, Venezuela and Haiti – have been those who, with their work, have reproduced the most elementary social capillarity of the well-to-do sectors of society. Their ‘domestic work’ maintained the comfort of the national elites. It can be argued that during the twentieth century, the ‘cuica city’ was socially reproduced by the workforce of Mapuche women, yet is it possible to retrace their histories in this sector of the metropolis?

In the ‘cuica city’, there are no public traces of the presence of Mapuche women. Nothing indicates their stories forged into this space, despite many of them living in the very houses where they worked as live-in maids. They were the nannies, or nanas as they are called in Chile, who cared for the children of the elites, cleaned their houses every day, cooked, washed, and even educated and advised in difficult times. Still, nothing acknowledges their presence. Their stories in elite spaces are blurred, invisible to the public memory of the ‘cuica city’.

The Mapuche women who came to work in Santiago as ‘domestic workers’ were migrants who were forced to leave their land as a result of territorial dispossession. Impoverished after the colonisation by the state and Chilean and European settlers, many Mapuche women left their land on indigenous reservations in the south to enter other ‘reductions’ as live-in maids.4 Their jobs were bound to the permanence of the logic of servitude: they were the first to get up and the last to go to bed; they did not have work schedules, as living where they worked their entire lives was regulated by their tasks to be carried out. They had to be on permanent alert; if the patrona suddenly decided to drink hot milk at midnight they had to be there, serving and attending, and then again in the morning, they had to have breakfast ready before the whole family got up. Their lives were spent working for the social reproduction of the upper classes. This is historical in Latin America; the bodies of racialised women have been assigned to this role for centuries. They have always been pictured as being in servitude, and that is why we speak of colonial continuities; we can’t truly think of postcolonialism, since the colonial never left.5

Nonetheless, in the face of this harsh reality, domestic workers mobilised. During the second half of the twentieth century, unions and federations emerged, with many Mapuche women unionised. Contrary to the essentialist readings of Mapuche history and indigenous peoples in general, Mapuche women were not just confined to the main, traditional forms of community organisations and extended family networks, as labour unions were also spaces where the struggles against the consequences of territorial dispossession were articulated, counteracting racialised labour and the continuity of colonial servitude. Within these spaces for articulation, the unions of ‘domestic workers’ in Santiago created a magazine called Revista Surge, in 1959. It published information about the organisation and the steps it was taking in its struggles, and at the end of each issue, the names of new members were published alongside their addresses. Many of them were Mapuche women, as noted by their surnames. Most probably, they were live-in maids; what they gave as their home addresses were in the ‘cuica city’, and more specifically in Providencia, presumably the house of their masters.6

To locate those addresses in that area of the city speaks of how upper-class neighbourhoods, far from being foreign spatialities, were and still are a part of the daily lives and family geographies of the Mapuche diaspora. Many children spent their early years in the houses where their mothers worked, sharing the maid’s room with them. Some have early memories or imaginaries of these houses and neighbourhoods, constructed during the years in which their mothers and grandmothers were working in ‘Manuel Montt’ or ‘Pedro de Valdivia’.7

This is why a neighbourhood in Providencia was chosen as the site for the performative intervention which seeks to address the underground memories of Mapuche women working there during the 1950s and 1960s and acknowledging this invisible historical dimension in the zones of urban privilege. This performance, and particularly the episode recounted in the preceding dialogue, later became the material for the creation of the installation ‘…es como de la familia’ (…As If She Were Family), and was the starting point for the scene of the play set in the Providencia site. This was our attempt to minimally recompose the erased memories of Mapuche history, appropriating the squared apron – the housemaid’s uniform – as an object central to the Mapuche experience of the city.


The art installation built around our performative intervention in Providencia was constituted as a homage and token of memory dwelling in the ambivalence of upper-class spatialities – both the workplace and home at the same time – riddled with racial prejudice, discrimination and subtle or more open violence; yet at the same time characterised by affect and empowerment. This paradox and tension were precisely what the action, and later the installation, wanted to address. The performance was realised by improvising in a preselected space playing with the materials we had with us – three aprons, chalk sticks and a map with the addresses. The apron was hung on a crook, neither folded nor worn, and ready to begin the working day, clean and ironed, as if waiting, or maybe resting. It was also empty of a body wearing it, representing some kind of absence: the absence of these women from their families, and of their memories from the places they worked and lived. The hung apron makes absence and that expectation present, interrogating the silence surrounding these stories through the writing in chalk.

The writing of the women’s names was a small and yet solemn gesture. The materiality of chalk required a firm hand on the ground and a gentler hand on other surfaces such as metal or wood fences. Writing these Mapuche women’s names was a powerful act of memory. It felt like engraving their histories on surfaces that did not bear any explicit memory of their walking through the area, even though they were made up of those memories: the streets under their feet when they went buying for the family they worked for; the park where they went with the children whom they cared for; the houses they cleaned and tidied and lived in. However, the gesture was also ephemeral. Chalk does not remain on any surface for long. It is not difficult to erase if you want to – as happened in front of us on one occasion – and even if no one bothers to actively erase it, it goes away with light rain, or just by stepping over it a few times. Nonetheless, it was still a powerful gesture, and part of its power lies precisely in its impermanence. We have no way of knowing what happened when someone left one of the houses and found the name; it might have been the name of their own nanny, many years ago, or the name of a stranger, as many of the houses had evidently changed owner and even use.9 As Roberto said during our discussion, it felt somehow spectral, like coming back to haunt a part of the city where the Mapuche presence is usually both a given and yet invisible at the same time. The very structure of Chilean society and the weight of a colonial ‘past’ assign indigeneity to certain places and roles, characterising the history of indigenous people and their relationship with the nation more broadly.10

As such, the experiences of thousands of Mapuche women in Santiago de Chile have been marked by the continuity of relations of servitude. An eloquent expression of a dense past that does not cease to haunt the bodies of racialised women, the colonial wound is still throbbing on the flesh of the descendants of the colonised. During the twentieth century, domestic work – especially under the ‘live-in’ arrangement so common for young Mapuche maids – was the materialisation of relationships still shaped by earlier colonial rule: inferiorisation, exploitation of labour and minimum conditions for the social reproduction of life. This last element is part of a larger phenomenon that has afflicted indigenous peoples for centuries. Particularly in the Mapuche case, the imposition of obstacles to the possibility of socio-political continuity was part of the Chilean and Argentinian states’ colonisation policies during the second half of the nineteenth century: to impose ‘reduction’ in all and every aspect of life, the most evident being the territorial reduction in indigenous reservations. Through military forces, the Mapuche were dispossessed of large portions of land, constraining a society that had previously lived collectively on 10 million hectares to endure its socio-political reproduction on only 500 thousand hectares (Correa, Molina and Yáñez 2005).

‘Reduction’ became a central element of Mapuche life, soon permeating every aspect of everyday reality. For example, their language was reduced to minimal use, to the point of being employed only in the safest intimacy; to avoid stigma and discrimination, silence became a way of survival (Alvarado Lincopi 2016). Many other cultural tasks were reduced to their minimal expressions: medicine, political structures, rituals, traditional commerce and exchange, material culture. All aspects of sociality were reduced, classified as inferior and expected to soon disappear completely. At the beginning of the twentieth century, the renowned ethnologist Tomás Guevara published his landmark book Las últimas familias y costumbres araucanas (‘The last Araucanian families and customs’, 1912), warning about what was an incontestable assumption in the brightest years of the chimaeras of progress: the Indians will disappear, and before definitive annihilation, as an agonising preamble, their lives were of material and symbolic reductions.

Reduction was thus a step preceding collective death. The Indian was an inhabitant of the frontier between life and death, and that was the reservation for colonial minds. Racialised bodies had to endure their lives under the reductional experience and, after migrating from deprived fields to cities in processes of modernisation, they were not awaited by the wide avenues of free and democratic circulation throughout the metropolis: once again, what prevailed was reduction. In particular, there were the hundreds of Mapuche women who, upon arriving in the capital, submitted themselves to labour relations characterised by servitude. For them, reduction was a permanent fact, reproduced under the formula of work as a ‘live-in maid’ (trabajo puertas adentro).

To show how this worked even in material terms, perhaps the best illustration is the maid’s room or ‘service room’ within upper-class houses. Owing to both its architectural design and the experiences lived there, this space is central for understanding the various forms of the Mapuche’s reductional experience in the twentieth century. First of all, its peripheral condition from the most habitable areas of the house is already eloquent: always in the corners, in the back of the yard or at the very end of a corridor. This position connotes a space with a sense of bordering, division and limit, as almost the last place in the house. Sometimes, these rooms do not even receive direct sunlight, and dampness is likely another of their characteristics. Their sizes are minimal and thus cannot be compared with any other room in the house; the minimum required for survival, barely a space to sleep and keep a few items, and with only a simple, rudimentary lavatory.

Domestic living reduced to its smallest expression of a bed, closet and toilet; what else could a maid need to live? Deeply embedded in the violent dimension of domestic service, this spatiality compels us to argue that rather, it is a spatiality of servitude: that person whose work provides the conditions for the reproduction of life for an entire family is not allowed to reproduce her own unless it is within its minimum expression. This domestic/reduction experience was common among Mapuche women working as live-in maids. The migratory process and the Mapuche diaspora, products of colonial dispossession, generated a mass of women who, upon arriving in Santiago, were forced to turn to work as domestics servants, enduring their own uprooting and living their own reductional experience there.

All of the above constitutes the ‘house as territory’ (Sañudo 2013): relationships are asymmetrically forged, and ways of inhabiting the house are shaped by power dynamics.11 Mapuche maids experience in their work and living place the same reduction that was a substantial part of indigenous history during the twentieth century. Yet when we refer to power, we are not talking of absolute domination and overwhelming asymmetries without any possible form of agency. On the contrary, highlighting tension as a central element implies that no one possesses absolute power, and competing forces manage to resist, negotiate or accommodate themselves in certain given conditions. Of course, not all the agents involved have the same technologies and socio-cultural means, and thus thinking about hierarchies is still fundamental. That is precisely where our concern for the experience of the reductional lies. Even so, reduction is not inviolable and intact, and this is what we turn to now: the various ways of dealing with those asymmetries, relationships and practices that can eat away minimally at reductional solidity, without thereby completely eliminating hierarchies and power relationships.

Mapuche have lived crossing borders for decades, centuries even, where hierarchies coexisted with the subjectivation processes of those same colonial structures. In that transition, biographies of violence and dignity have taken shape. Mapuche maids, through domestic service work, managed to change their roles within indigenous society. The possibility of feeding a family and supporting their parents still living in the communities – once their working trajectory was affirmed – changed the position of many women, causing through their enhancement a somehow contradictory fracture within the reductional system. The contradiction lies in that what allowed them to find a more central role within Mapuche society and opened the way for thousands of women to be supporters of their own families, is what has been forged in the collective memory of the diaspora as experiences of pain. The logics of servitude, these women’s silent passage through one of the harshest forms of indigenous reduction and exploitation of the twentieth century, was also and at the same time what made it possible for current generations to advance their lives. In other words, the same experience is read under two seemingly antagonistic positions: domestic work is interpreted both as a painful experience entangled with racialised violence and as an achievement that, thanks to the efforts of these women, managed to dignify Mapuche lives in the colonial context.

The tension in this is the ‘double conscience’ of many colonised people: a memory that lurches between pain and dignity, between interpreting the past under the weight of misery and interpreting that same past through micropolitical heroics. The everyday experience becomes a vital space of memory where readings ranging from anticolonial rage to survival trajectories are built. These trajectories of survival are probably the most silent resistance; as non-rhetorical political action, they are the incubation of a historical project in small, everyday, loving gestures. That thousands of women endured racialised jobs was, as contradictory as it may seem, what allowed the most minute material conditions to be consolidated so that current generations can now raise their voices for their future and redeem their own past. It is what Stuart Hall (2010) defines as ‘suture point’: those ties between processes of subjection and subjectivation that unfold in concrete experiences. The current Mapuche generations make these sutures their own, drawing on both strands to project their processes of identification; a knot of experience that is also a frontier, an intermediate space that can be inhabited, and from where new repertoires for action for an urban Mapuche society have been created. The most eloquent manifestation of this is the idea of Mapurbe, previously mentioned and discussed further in the next chapter, which emerges precisely from the border, and from this border condition various experiences permeate.

In the context of this ‘live-in’ working, a grey area and border reading also entail the gestation of affectionate relationships between the workers/maids and their employer/masters (patrones). As we have seen, a common phrase among families of privileged sectors when referring to domestic workers is ‘but it is as if she were family’. With this, elites seek to build a narrative of affective closeness to their employees and thereby overshadow a reality plagued by hierarchies and inferiority. That speech may well have degrees of verisimilitude, especially because affection is part of any kind of relationship; even when conflictive, it is not always anger, hatred or contempt. Friendship and affection were also forged in ‘indoor reductions’. This reality invites us once again to look at the grey areas, the border where subjections and subjectivations are tied together, that limit that is transformed into a habitable space, making the experience of pain and dignity of the women employed in private homes something belonging to the borderline. Of course, the idea of ‘as if family’ nonetheless unsuccessfully hides its own secret. The ‘nanny’ is never really part of the family, always only ‘as if’ she were. In that ‘as if’ hides the colonial wound; the true limit is marked, hierarchies are built. Nonetheless, in that ‘as if’, again, there are also real affections, making any analytical reduction inaccurate. The grey areas and border thinking creep in and become necessary, without forgetting hierarchies, servitude and exploitation.

In short, between reductions and borders, like a large part of the colonised indigenous population, the Mapuche women migrating to the city had to build a life or part of their lives ‘indoors’; lives reduced under the condition of servitude that forced them to work strenuous hours, from sunrise to sunset, or whenever the masters demanded it, in minimal living spaces such as the ‘service rooms’, but also experiencing the contradiction when affection emerged, which felt ‘as if’ it was real. The contradiction deepens when current generations see both violence and dignity in this labour, the border knotting of subjugations and subjectifications of urban Mapuche history.


As revealed in the first part of this chapter, the apron as an object can be thought of as a material link between personal histories of loss and displacement and the political history of Chile. Still very much part of their memories and family histories, it shaped the childhood of many Mapuche children, passing through different generations. Even if it is not worn any more, the maid’s apron can still be the layer covering one’s body.12 It marks one’s biography and even genealogy, as shown in Chapter 1 where the tuwün was situated in the ambivalent spatialities of upper-class neighbourhoods, and as recounted in a maid’s child’s letter in the play section at the end of that chapter. In a context in which silences have long prevailed over the open display of memories and identities, remembrances have passed from one generation to another through everyday gestures and the shared intimacy of family life (Alvarado Lincopi 2016). Wearing the typical squared apron was one of these gestures: children’s eyes have seen it hanging clean and ironed, ready for the next working day or for the Mondays in which the mother had to leave for the house of her masters.

The silent but stubborn memories of previous generations walking the Chilean capital are somehow enmeshed in that squared and thick fabric, and the apron still shapes the trajectories of current urban Mapuche youths and how they inhabit and look at the city and its spaces. The passing of these memories through generations is also part of the feminist movement emerging in the Mapuche society over the last few years, especially in the exchange between urban and rural contexts, today in a complex ongoing process of definition.

In 2018, as MapsUrbe was taking place, what is called ‘the fourth wave’ of feminism made an explosive entrance onto the public arena in Chile, meeting halfway with what was being discussed within the group in its strong relation to female experiences of migration, the city, and racialised work, as detailed in this chapter. What was happening on a broader (national and international) level found expression in the stories and reflections shared within the group. This opened up space for an intimate look at women’s histories and bodies as the sites where ruptures of displacement and inequalities, but also endurance, found expression in the scratched hands used to work in kitchens and laundries, in the marks of fatigue and late-night work, in the feet walking the capital from one side to the other, in the scars and wounds produced within families, and in the sadness and rebellion from lack of love. The silences have characterised these women’s experiences, or in the words they have found to transmit their memories – and often their own hitherto hidden language – to their offspring.

These stories and the spirited discussion of the whys and how of a ‘Mapuche feminism’ characterised many exchanges during the project, emerging especially when we worked in spaces provided by Mapuche organisations such as the ceremonial centre in Cerro Navia and the Kvme Felen health and cultural centre in the Quinta Normal neighbourhood. The Kvme Felen is run by three women, two of them exiled during the Pinochet dictatorship, and organises workshops, laboratories and gatherings, besides providing basic intercultural health services with a nurse (Elizabeth, one of the women in charge) and consultancy with a machi who travels to Santiago once a month. The centre also organises the local celebration of annual Mapuche festivities, such as the renewing of the year in late June (Wiñol Tripanu). During the project, Elizabeth and Mónica Pilquil have been of fundamental support, not only introducing Olivia and Claudio and thus allowing their collaboration but also making the space in the centre available. On the day of the workshop, we were also joined by Daniela Millaleo, a Mapuche artist and singer, who generously shared her own thoughts and stories with us. Warmed by soup and treated to sopaipillas with the spicy pebre of Monica’s amazing cooking, we found ourselves caught up in discussions about gender relations and, once again, the challenges and opportunities of claiming ‘Mapuche feminism’.

To declare oneself Mapuche and a feminist is not that straightforward (if declaring oneself a feminist ever was). It is often said that feminism is not Mapuche, and that going back to the past is the solution because patriarchy was brought by Western colonisation. Yet, while colonisation and the destruction of community ties may well be linked to the establishment of a certain kind of patriarchal dynamics, Mapuche society also built – in the seventeenth, eighteenth, and nineteenth centuries – internal patriarchal structures not necessarily related to those of the white Western world. In the Chilean context, indigenous women have been burdened with multiple levels of discrimination and violence: as women, as indigenous and as poor. The oppression shaping their bodies and lives is marked by both colonial and indigenous patriarchal systems. Like many other indigenous societies in Latin America, these systems intersect, giving rise to what is called by indigenous feminists ‘entronque patriarcal’ (‘patriarchal juncture’; Paredes 2014; see also Crenshaw 1991; Vera 2014). Indigenous women suffer from brutal violence in different intertwined layers: in their workplace, on the streets and other public spaces, in their relationship with their partner and within their family. Resulting in a tight bind, various forms of violence converge and reproduce over their bodies: the racial discrimination within broader Chilean society; the police repression within indigenous communities, during protests and demonstrations; judicial violence as political prisoners and through accusations of criminal offences, especially and more recently in cases involving young activists and machi; and domestic violence, a recurring and silenced experience (see Painemal, Álvarez 2015).13 Mapuche women are thus the bearers of the scars and weight of dispossession and a ‘devastated genealogy’, for even within indigenous communities, what Elisa García Mingo defines a ‘terrifying silence’ has prevailed for a long time (2017: 56).14 Anthropologists, scholars and experts have been complicit in this silence by not asking about violence in an attempt to ‘stick to the ethnographic normal’, focusing on, and investigating, traditional cosmologies instead of confronting the ‘grey zones of conflict within indigenous society’ and recognising how the very ‘tradition’ that is being investigated is what often ends up legitimising – or is used to legitimise – domestic and gender violence (Calfío 2009: 448). This trend is slowly changing, but Mapuche women are mostly absent in the public political arena as well, caught in representations that see them rather as folkloristic figures, literally embodying indigenous tradition and cosmovision and rarely being fully recognised as political subjects in their own right (García Mingo 2017: 18–27, see also Richards 2003, 2007; Pinchulef 2014).15

At the same time, different strategies of endurance such as silence, as addressed in previous sections of this chapter, nonetheless account for modalities of agency that exceed liberatory projects (Mahmood 2005: x). Through a deep and theoretically honest exploration of a key question for many feminist theorists – the ways in which historical and cultural specificities shape both the analysis and politics of any feminist project, Saba Mahmood leads us to rethinking the very notion of agency, one that questions the binarism subordination/subversion and repression/resistance. From the author’s perspective, informed by Butler’s work, the ability to effect change in the world and in oneself is historically and culturally specific: agentival capacity is entailed not only in those acts that resist norms but also ‘in the multiple ways in which one inhabits norms’ (2005: 14–15, our emphasis). Similarly to what has already been addressed in Chapters 1 and 2, it is the multiplicity of ways of inhabiting, of dwelling into things, matters, spaces, conflictual situations or uncomfortable places, that allows other lifeworlds and selves to emerge. It is from these urgencies that the Comandante Boliviano, protagonist of Santiago Waria, was constructed as a character.

The Comandante Boliviano was originally part of Simona Mayo’s artwork for the exhibition. When the project started, the iconic image chosen to represent the MapsUrbe project played with the classic picture of the ‘cacique Lloncon’ of the end of the nineteenth century. The reworking of this iconography entailed putting one of the figures most commonly used to depict indigeneity in Chile in the context of the city, dressing him with a black leather jacket and colouring the picture. The same image was later used for the exhibition poster. Yet when it came to the play, the poster’s figure turned into the Comandante Boliviano: she took Lloncon’s place like she takes the baton passed to her by David in the final scene. A champurria woman with a male name, she is a character in which the borders between gender identities end up being blurred and thus questioned. In her silence and her words, only uttered on the top of the Santa Lucía/Welen Hill, the stories of many women that migrated from the south and reached the capital emerge: their strength and vulnerability, their pain and freedom, the violence they suffered within Chilean society and in their own families, their creativity, and the tenderness they were able to transmit to their children and grandchildren. Her clothes – put on as overlays between each scene and somehow through the very act of moving throughout the city – testify to the complexity and multiplicity of dwelling in the city space, shaping bodies as belonging to both the past and the present, while reaching for the future at the same time.

Simona, the performer representing the Comandante, both enacts and embodies that character bearing a name her grandfather chose for her and constructed by drawing on her own family and personal biography. Yet at the same time, the Comandante condenses many more stories and trajectories, as well as imaginations and fiction: standing on the top of the hill in the centre of the waria, in the creative carving and shifting of spaces, the Comandante is a poietic gesture of appropriation: a powerful, if ephemeral, crafting of the future.

Metro Inés de Suárez

Toward the hill with two names


1 This dialogue took place after a performative intervention in Providencia, which resulted in the art installation ‘… es como de la familia’. An acquaintance of Roberto had provided a space for us in her house after the action, where we would have some tea and food. Roberto has gone to the house to prepare the setting, so the rest of us were explaining to him the incident with two ladies that took place after he had left. This chapter builds on discussion also published in Casagrande (2021).
2 In his early years, Roberto went to school in Providencia because his whole family was living in an outbuilding next to the house where Roberto’s mother worked as a maid.
3 The reference is to the practice of socially exposing someone who is unlikely to be judged for their crimes through formal justice, as was the case for those responsible for human rights violations during the dictatorship in Chile. These practices are denominated funas, and have become common also with more recent issues of violence and abuse against women.
4 The Spanish word for reservation is reducciones, literally meaning ‘reduction’ and referring to the concrete diminishing of the space inhabited by indigenous communities.
5 See González Casanova (2006), Rivera Cusicanqui (2010), Antileo Baeza et al. (2015).
6 The geography of privilege has changed during the last decades in the metropolitan region, with a historical movement of the elites from the city centre in radial directions towards the east, to the foothills, generating what is called the ‘high rent cone of Santiago’. Less affluent and lower-class zones are located in peripheral areas towards the west and southern parts of the city (Dannemann, Sotomayor-Gómez, Samaniego 2018, 6–8; see also Agostini, Hojman, Románx, Román 2016).
7 The profession of housemaid has been recently defined a ‘racialised job’ (see Antileo Baeza 2015; Antileo Baeza and Alvarado Lincopi 2018; Alvarado Lincopi 2021a) meaning that a certain kind of person, with a certain kind of body, physical features and often also origin and class, was and is considered suited to it.
8 According to the definition given in the dictionary of the Central Quechua Language Academy, ‘china’ in Quechua means ‘a female servant’, but also ‘both a female animal, and a hole or concave shape apt for receiving a projecting, rising or convex object’. The word is also used generically in southern cone Spanish to denote a female in a submissive, subservient or sexual role. In Chile, the nicknames ‘chino’ for men and ‘china’ for women are commonly given to people with indigenous traits, particularly the almond-shaped eyes. While ostensibly employed as an affective nickname – such as within families, for example, it still has a racial connotation, and is often used in a racist way, as Marie Juliette’s narrative makes clear. See Academia Mayor de la Lengua Quechua (2005: 60).
9 The most striking were an art gallery, two care homes for elderly people, and a car dealership. The area where most former presidents of Chile lived, defined during the dictatorship as being clearly a territory of the far right, this historically upper-class neighbourhood has been changing during the last decades due to the movement of the richest sector of the country towards the north-eastern sector of the Chilean capital (Lo Barnachea, La Dehesa).
10 As stated by Peter Wade in his analysis of domestic labour in Latin America, not only are gender, class and ethnic racial hierarchies articulated in the experiences of domestic service, but this articulation is embedded within racial hierarchies and in the very idea of nation (Wade 2013: 190–196).
11 While here we are examining the domestic sphere, the notion of spatiality cannot be reduced, in the case of Mapuche women working as housemaids, to the domestic space alone. They were indeed inhabiting public space as well, even if it was from a subordinate and invisibilised position. For some reflections on the experiences of these women and public space, see Alvarado Lincopi’s essay, this volume.
12 The concepts of Marianne Hirsch’s ‘postmemory’ (2008) or Toni Morrison’s ‘rememory’ (1987) are helpful for understanding this dynamic, in which following generations bear the weight of the memories of those who lived before them.
13 Many Mapuche scholars have worked on gender and gender relationships from an indigenous perspective and experience: Margarita Calfío, Diva Millapán, Millaray Painemal, Andrea Pinchulef, as well as the US-based anthropologist Patricia Richards, discussing and highlighting different visions and positionalities: strategically adopting a stance for indigenous ‘tradition’; signifying traditional aspects within the present context; strongly criticising discourses of a lost and ‘golden’ past, and demanding a deep internal and historical self-critique within Mapuche society (García Mingo 2017: 33–36).
14 The reference is to the machi Pinda concept of ‘genealogía devastada’, quoted in García Mingo (2017: 40).
15 As a positive sign of change, the first President of the Constitutional Assembly working on the new Constitution was a Mapuche woman, Elisa Loncon, concluding her mandate in January 2022. See Afterword, this volume.
16 The performance audios can be accessed on the website page for this section corresponding to Track 7:
17 The performance audios can be accessed on the website page for this section corresponding to Track 8:
18 This scene refers to the historical facts of the occupation of the San Francisco church in downtown Santiago as part of Mapuche protests at the beginning of the 1990s. Martín Llancaman wrote it and proposed it to the group, and it was later realised by himself together with Nicolás Cayuqueo Ríos.
19 The ‘Are you speaking English?’ taunt refers to the supposed incomprehensibility of Mapuche speaking a peculiar kind of Spanish, common in the rural areas of the indigenous territory.
20 This is a reference to the fact that since the end of the 1990s, a significant number of Mapuche activists have been killed by the police (in at least two cases, shot in the back) or jailed for their protests.

Performing the jumbled city

Subversive aesthetics and anticolonial indigeneity in Santiago de Chile


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