Our First Blog Post

We’ve been here two weeks and are just getting started on this blog. Getting set up in our apartment, in this city, finding our way around, buying food, struggling with Spanish, and meeting, meeting, meeting with our friends and comrades and colleagues. It’s been a lot!

But we’re here! Valparaíso is a world heritage city—designated for its colorful houses packed together on something like 43 hills (cerros), its ubiquitous wall art, and historic port. The city is very complicated, the politics are more complicated. (We’ll be writing about this in coming posts.) The city is also economically poor. Houses are literally falling down. Eight people died the week we arrived when their house simply collapsed on them. Unmaintained houses perched on hills and painted colorful colors are not actually so beautiful. As you go farther up the hills, there are informal settlements without official city services. Children living there attend the city schools. The “micro” bus we take down from Cerro Florida, where we live, “la O,” costs about $.50. It’s a wild, crazy, fast, twisty ride through the cerro where you hold on for dear life in a small, old, and usually packed bus. (If you don’t hold on, you might slide out of your seat.) There are small stores selling food products in the cerros but most resources like the central market, supermarkets, pharmacies, department stores, a variety of shops, and government offices are all in el Plan, the flat downtown along the sea. The cerros are predominantly low-income, working-class people with a few high-rise, middle-class condos (like the one we are in) –torres—sprinkled in, and some bigger, single-family, middle-class homes and bed and breakfasts for tourists. Gentrification is definitely a thing with a couple cerros catering to tourists and occasional wall art against displacement (more on this in a coming post).

We have a nice, comfortable apartment with plenty of space, light, and views of the sea. We are very grateful for that. It is so much more than most people have in this city, but middle class means something very different here. There is no central heat, hot water is spotty, plumbing can be bad, and buildings may be cheaply constructed. Viña del Mar next door to Valpo is where the wealthier live as well as where the rich from Santiago have their summer places. We haven’t been there yet. We’re not sure there are many people like that in Valparaíso.

We have learned that the schools are really strapped for resources, and families face many problems, which come into the school of course. Under the dictatorship, many teachers were fired. There is not enough money for schools coming from the federal government, and there are so many competing needs in the city—housing, wages, infrastructure, education, health. At a high school, students recently waged a protest for funds for a school celebration. They also wanted more toilet paper and soap in the bathrooms. But there also isn’t money for books and teacher salaries. And more. So our friends in the municipal education office, while supporting the spirit of the protest, encouraged the students to make a deeper political analysis and to organize with teachers and administrators to demand funds for education from the national government. (We’ll be writing soon about the control of funds from the national government and how that impacts what’s possible at the local level—this is something we are trying to understand better.) 

As for what we’ll be doing…first, just learning. Second, Valparaíso has a pilot project to create a new system of student evaluation that resists standardization and high stakes testing (the SIMCE). Alto al SIMCE is doing a qualitative study of the Project, and we hope to be helpful with that in some way. Pauline will also be working with Universidad de Playa Ancha (UPLA), doing some seminars, mentoring some doctoral students, and working with faculty on a new doctoral program. Rico will be working with teachers in the schools. But we are just getting started on all that.

Right now, we are trying to understand better the history, the politics, the possibilities, and daily life here in this complicated and seemingly contradictory city. Oh yes, and how to find herbal tea and make the Uber app work on Pauline’s phone, since she needs it to travel safely at night. There are many puzzles and no clarity right now. But our heads are filled with good questions, and we will pose some on the blog.

The tenacity of “la O” and the determination of people to build impossible houses on impossible hills—and cover them with amazing art—speaks to the persistent spirit of Valparaiso, and the people of Chile, who have weathered an unspeakably brutal dictatorship and grinding neoliberalism only to rise up again in their schools and streets, try to reinvent public education, and paint whimsical murals everywhere.

¡Hasta luego!

Pauline and Rico

3 thoughts on “Our First Blog Post

  1. I like to learn about Chile and Valpo from your blog. What you tell is so much similar what we meet in many places in Brazil. The situation here is too bad … as our president celebrates Pinochet and our economic minister is a Chicago boy. Well, I will try to learn how Chileans are resisting to all this bad governments.

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  2. Hi Pauline and Rico! It’s so cool to learn of your adventures in Chile. Visiting and learning more about it is on my bucket list since my father is originally from Santiago but was a political refugee in Mexico in the 1970s and he never went back. I’ll be sure to follow your blog and learn about Chile along with you.

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