Piropos: ‘Tis the Season to Cat Call

As one of my students put it, it’s spring and the women have started peeling off their clothes as the weather has increased.  There are certain things that draw more male attention here in Chile, and one of them, unsurprisingly, is skin.

That settles it then—let the season for piropos begin!

Piropos; piropear: cat calls or pick up lines; to cat call.

Typical Piropos:

Piropos wordle

Guapa, hermosa, preciosa, maravillosa, linda, bonita: These are all words that are used to say beautiful or pretty.  They can be used in many variations to modify the meaning.  For example, adding superlative with –ísima.  Here are some other uses:

  • ¡Guapísima!
  • Ay, !qué hermosa! (How beautiful!)
  • Qué lindos ojos tiene.  (What  pretty eyes you have.)
  • ¡Super preciosa! ¡La cosa más maravillosa que he visto en mi vida! (Super beautiful!  The most marvelous thing I’ve seen in my life!

Rica: This stands alone to me… probably because it means “sexy,” but it also means that something is delicious.  You might notice people comparing you with cakes or other tasty things to eat:

  • Rica la torta.  (The cake’s delicious.  They say this about you, just to be clear.)
  • ¡Qué bombón!

Another typical piropo is the “Hello” adorned with compliments and dripping with suggestiveness:

    • Buenos días, señorita.  (Good morning, miss.  But trust me, there’s a big difference between how a polite concierge may say this and… well, not so polite people.)
    • Hola, mi amorcito.  (Hello, my love.)
    • Hola, mi reina.  (Hello, my queen.)

Sound effects are an essential part of piropos.  This can range anywhere from:

  • Whistling to
  • Incredibly loud kiss noises to
  • Honking (sometimes with excitable car horns) to
  • Making words sound longer.  You can do this by simply yelling “ooooh” at the end of a word (for example: ¡Ricaooooo!) or by adding “eh” (“Super linda, eh.”)

Finally, remember that piropos can also be pick up lines.

  • Tantas curvas y yo sin frenos (“So many curves, and I’m without breaks.”)

If you’re interested in hearing more Chilean pick up lines… that are totally inappropriate… check out the video Mejores Piropos Chilenos.

Oppression or Appreciation?

There are many reasons piropos might make you uncomfortable or unsafe.  Something about someone older than my father breathing “riiica” into my ear as he passes me on the street simply gives me the heebie jeebies.

Still, many people argue that there is no harm in piropos, that it is a form of showing appreciation for women.

Well, it depends on your definition of women.  If you define a woman as a body and not as an individual, I suppose this is a way to show appreciation.  More specifically, you’re expressing a sexually charged judgment of her body.

I recently went to our church for a father-daughter dinner, which I knew would give me more perspective on gender here in Chile.  Sure enough, during a competition of several father-daughter pairs to see who knew each other the best, I heard the message that women are valued for their bodies and beauty while men are seen more as individuals.

The first question was for the fathers:

What part of her body does your daughter think is most beautiful?

The second question was for the daughters:

What does your father think is his greatest virtue?

I know this doesn’t sound like such a big deal, but it is in these subtleties that we learn how to understand ourselves as gendered beings.  For example, I learned that Chilean men are all expected to be hardworking and easily angered (trabajador y enojón).

And taking it back to piropos, I’ve noticed that the second attention-grabber to get the piropos going is exactly what two out of the three daughters said was their most beautiful part: HAIR.

If I wear my hair down I get many more piropos than if my hair is up and I walk down the same road at the same time of the day in the same outfit.

Chime in!

What do you think of cat calls?  I would love to hear others’ stories and opinions.


Pickpocketing: The Reverse Secret Santa

Continuing with things that remind me of Columbus, we’re going to talk about pickpocketing.

La ocasión hace el ladrón 

We all know that “opportunity makes the thief.”  Right, so that person who just stole from you wouldn’t have done so if you hadn’t presented the opportunity.

The Metro de Santiago has recently launched a campaign to stop pickpocketing: No Te Andes Regalando.  Check out some of the campaign boards:

These announcements and billboards feature various personal items, such as wallets, purses, and cellphones, tied up in ribbon.  And the message is that you shouldn’t just go about giving away your belongings as if they were gifts (regalar means “to give a gift”).

Let me get this straight…

Carrying my phone in my pocket is the same as wrapping it up and putting it under a thief’s Christmas tree?

Ok, so maybe this campaign doesn’t aim to stop pickpocketing, but at least to stop people from being careless and getting robbed.  Careless people are at fault for getting robbed, right?

As part of the campaign, comedy group Woki Toki has released a video (see below) that pokes fun at a man doing careless things, such as walking around with his backpack open or with his cell phone in his hand.  One man gives him advice and then calls him clueless and stupid (pavarotti y ahuevonado).

Amidst all this, he asserts, “Let’s be clear; the thief is always at fault, but even so, we can the job more difficult for them.”

This is true.  Of course, even though every house is guarded with wrought iron fences, barbed wire, shards of broken glass, and prison-like bars on their windows, breaking and entering is all too common in Chile.


Because the thief can also create the opportunity.

To apply this to pickpocketing, thieves are known to slash purses open with knives or razors and remove their contents before the owners notice.  They sometimes clog up bus exits so that if you want to get off the bus, you are squeezed between two or three of them single-file.  Then they can quickly and efficiently remove dozens of wallets or coin purses.  And people feel completely helpless against this.

So what does this have to do with Columbus?

Chile’s conceptualization of theft insists that your own strength and force or perceived weakness in others justifies wrongdoing.  In other words, might makes right.

This was Columbus’s opinion of natives in the Americas, whom he perceived as kind and therefore weak.  (The Oatmeal had a clever way of describing this in their Columbus Day comic.)

The Metro de Santiago campaign implies that your vulnerability actually means you are giving yourself willingly to those that would take advantage of you.  And you’re gift-wrapped.

I know it sounds crazy, but that’s the way it is with rape cul—I mean, Chile’s culture of robbery.

Our Shared Heritage: Columbus

I want to talk about Columbus today.

I want to talk about shared heritage.

It helps me understand some of the strange ways that Chileans and Americans (Usonians?) think.  More importantly, if we don’t understand and claim the unpleasant past, we will never confront the unpleasant present or prevent a disastrous future.  (Cliche, I know.)

During this weekend, Columbus is acknowledged all over the Americas.  From the United States to the Bahamas, from Honduras to Chile, people are talking about when this Spanish-funded Italian explorer showed up on the shores of the “New World.”

Many Latin American countries, including Chile, call this day la Día de la Raza and celebrate the Hispanic race.

This sentiment is echoed by the Spanish celebration of Columbus Day, which has been called Día de la Raza, Día de la Hispanidad, and now simply “National Day.”

All over the Americas, there has been a growing backlash, especially in support of indigenous communities, who frequently reclaim the day to celebrate their cultures.

But what does this day mean?

In all of the Americas, the arrival of Columbus meant the beginning of widespread exploitation, displacement, and genocide of the indigenous peoples.  In most cases, this went beyond the people to the rape of the land, its flora, fauna, and resources.

This is colonialism.  This is imperialism.  This is the legacy of the white supremacist capitalist patriarchy, which we’ve inherited as inhabitants of the New World.

This is the violence that lies just above the supernatural in Latin American literature, where magical realism found a home amidst this traumatized mestizo culture.

This is rape culture.  This is laissez-faire culture.  This is the culture of condemning poverty mentality, of excessive waste and wealth, of victim blaming and in-God’s-naming.

It’s our history.  It’s our heritage.  All of us.  And it will not disappear simply by no longer celebrating it.  Unfortunately.

A Day of Reflection and Evaluation

In an interview with Observatorio Ciudadano’s co-director, José Aylwin, the lawyer and indigenous rights activist asserted:

This should be a day in which Chile reflects on its past, its ethnic diversity, about the assimilation and negation with which that diversity has been treated, in order to be able to project toward the future not as a nation-state…but rather as an intercultural state….

The idea of creating an “intercultural state” is a complex one that has not worked in the United States while cultural hierarchy and dominance still rests with mainstream WASP culture.

If we want to recognize unity and diversity, we need to understand that our heritage as individuals includes not only our physical bloodline, but also the intricate historical bloodlines that have created the society within which we live today.

Inheritance isn’t always a good thing.  Sometimes we inherit debt or ignominy.  As Usonians, we all bear the shame of slavery, genocide, and oppression.  My heritage is one in which my compatriots were systematically subjected to horrific and inhuman treatment.  In my present, my compatriots still suffer the brutalities of such a violent history.

We all do.  For some, that means the brutality of rape.  For others, the brutality of living in a food desert.  For the one percent, it may mean the brutality of losing one of the most redeeming characteristics of humanity: empathy.  For all of us, it undermines our chances to live healthy and happy lives.

Let me make myself clear here: I am not saying that we are all the same, that we are all Americans and should simply accept each other.  We are different; we’re perceived and treated differently, and we live different experiences according to innumerable factors.  The “brutality” of losing empathy is not the same as the daily brutality of racism.

SoulCityGraphics.com … Where’s W.E.B. Dubois?

am saying that we have one heritage.  That we are trying to live and operate in one shared society.

I am saying that until white kids start hearing about native history and Black history as our history, we’re not going to understand or value our compatriots.

Until Chileans stop talking exclusively about how the Mapuche never gave in to the conquistador’s gun and start talking about how indigenous peoples are still being forced to give in to the economic monsters of big business and mining that infringe on more and more native lands, we’re not going to live in peace and equality.

Until we understand the oppressive system that we’ve inherited, until we take responsibility and recognize that it’s part of each of us, we’re not going to be able to do anything to change it.  We want to live up to the standards of liberty and equality, but we want to do so applying the same system that slave owners and perpetrators of genocides saw fit.

So in honor of Columbus Day, I am going to be observing a “heritage week,” a week in which I look to the past to reflect on all of the legacies we’ve inherited—the good and the bad—and evaluate how we need to address the present remnants of those legacies in order to move forward into a more equitable society.

What do you think we should do about Columbus Day or Día de la Raza?  How should we observe it?  Should we acknowledge it at all?

For other Columbus legacies, check out my post on pickpocketing.

Welcome to the AA meeting: Assimilating Activists…

I hit a wall.  An obstruction.  Like writer’s block, but a… thinker’s block, maybe.  An activist’s block?  Can that be a thing?

So here’s basically the conversation I’ve had with myself this week:

Me 1: I can’t find my critical thinking!

Me 2: When was the last time you used it?

Me 1: I don’t know… just, do you know where it is?

Me 2: It’s probably right where you left it.

What, what, what are you doing?!

I don’t know if I’m simply too flustered, too embarrassed by the catcalls, too wrapped up in trámites, too focused on wanting to fit in, or too desperate to get my feet on the ground and start a new life with my partner… Whatever it is, I can’t manage a scrap of clarity to figure out how to live congruently with my ideology.

It’s not as if I’m doing nothing.  I am.  I’m living.  I’m doing.  I’m acting.

In fact, I’m teaching English to students who can afford to pay thirty dollars an hour for a private class.  But most of my energy goes into trying desperately to avoid sticking out, to assimilate.

And that’s it; that’s why I’m in a fog.  I have lost track of how to identify myself, how to understand where I am located within these new social fields.

You cannot live as an activist while you are trying to assimilate to the mainstream in an oppressive society.

You got resocialized … like a n00b.

So, yeah.  It turns out that trying to assimilate interferes with your ability to think and act critically.  (Especially if you’re assimilating into an upper-middle class.)  You get lost in the soup of resocialization.  Or maybe it’s just that I’ve been living with my in-laws.

Resocialization at its best… Credit: http://www.pvtmurphy.com

As an immigrant, I’ve been thrown into this process, which involves both losing much of my previously formed identity and forming a different one that is more congruent with my new society and environment.

My first time around, I was a visitor playing the “act like a Chilean” game.  It’s part of the college, study abroad experience.  I didn’t want to adopt my host culture entirely, but rather to learn to navigate it adequately enough to pass.  Just like I was doing at an elite university back home.

I’m living here now.  And assimilation expects that immigrants adopt the norms, values, and roles of the host culture.


I know I don’t!  What was I planning to do, assimilate and pretend I’m not a white gringa?

The problem is that if I actively choose to assimilate, I actively take part in existing power struggles.  I, personally, would be assimilating into a place of privilege—the realm of being unquestioned and not questioning.

Everybody to Starbucks!

What is it that makes me regularly work at Starbucks in Chile while in the US I never set foot in the place?  Part of it is being unquestioned.  I’m not questioned if I enter the store just to use the bathroom and leave without so much as looking at the menu… basically whatever I choose to do, I won’t be questioned, because we have ownership of this space.

Furthermore, because of this white gringa immunity I’ve got going for me, I risk very little with nonconformity except the discomfort of standing out.  People assume the best of me.  And I have more freedom—I can “choose” to assimilate or not.  I will probably be successful either way.

To be an agent of change, I need to be willing to act in opposition to whatever system perpetuates oppression, whether it is in my native country or in a foreign country; whether the patterns of oppression are familiar, or whether they look slightly different; whether I benefit from the dynamics at work, or whether they limit my prospects.

What are you waiting for?  DO SOMETHING!

GO GRINGO, GO!!In this context—in a different country, society, culture, with close to no pre-established group ties—I really don’t have the right to speak for anyone here, nor do I know where to start.

The last thing anyone needs is for me to storm in on my gringo-righteous horse and fix the s!@# out of this country.

But maybe I’m actually in the best position possible for me now.  There is work to be done where I am.

It starts, as always, with listening and learning.  I want to seek a community of critical thinkers, a group of people who knows Chile and its needs better than I do, and listen to what they have to say.  And learn.  And listen some more.

Next semester I will probably be working with a population closer to my ideal—or at least with students that aren’t more or less guaranteed to learn English regardless of what I do.

In the meantime, I am in a place to speak to my students about the experiences in my country and to be honest about who I am.

I’ve heard and seen enough to engage in thought-provoking discussions about these two countries.  Our inequalities run parallel—we have the same heritage of colonialism and imperialism. (Oh, heyyy, Columbus blog post!)

I’ve lived with Chile’s working class and its upper-middle class, studied in the private Pontificia Universidad Católica and in the public Universidad de Chile, and worked in the extremes of Santiago’s neighborhoods, from El Castillo in La Pintana to the Cerro Apoquindo Community in Las Condes.  And now, I’ve found and married a straddler like me.

Everywhere, I’ve seen the same patterns of oppression that exist in my country, sometimes more pronounced, sometimes less.

These conversations have already started with some of my students.  The next step is figuring out how to react to discussions about nannies.  ’Cause I’m like…

Anyhow, I guess what I’ve figured out is that I shouldn’t be so quick to hop into the Chilean melting pot or charquicán or whatever they have here.  I guess I’ve figured out that during the process of redefinition while you move from one country to another, it’s easy to lose track of where you left yourself.

While I try to find myself, feel free to give suggestions for the nanny conversations.  Because I’m really at a loss there…

Hand to Hand and the Smell of Poverty

For those of you that don’t know, I’ve been devoting much of my time here in Chile to an internship with Mano a Mano, a research initiative in HIV/AIDS prevention.  I’ve done a lot of entering data, collecting questionnaires, and learning about how to implement a program while researching it simultaneously.  The greatest challenge for me so far has been developing my final project and research proposal, which I’m hoping might turn into a thesis.  It involves looking for a relationship between social capital and self-efficacy with regards to HIV prevention.  Anyhow, more on that later, I’m sure.  Here are some of my thoughts from one of my first experiences in the comunas in which we work.

September 2, 2009

Thornbushes and paths that lead to an open field border the narrow dirt road at the edge of the neighborhood.  Rodrigo parks the car on the side of the road, trying to avoid the huge puddles that haven’t drained from the rain yesterday.  We climb out of the car and walk toward one of the small houses, boxed in with a makeshift wooden fence that stretches almost to the tin roof and whose poorly fit boards create countless holes.  The roof also has seemingly random belongings strewn about it, like most of the street and properties—clothing, tarps, scrap wood… and dogs are everywhere.  We ask if the young man we’re looking for is home, and someone goes to wake him.  His mother is outside, sitting near a broken couch and making lunch over a small fire.  She picks up a hatchet to cut up more of the scrap wood spread out over the ground.  As she adds it to the fire, smoke billows up around the black pot and kettle, pouring out in the same bleak, subdued color as today’s overcast skies.  The Cordillera is invisible today.  A man standing nearby (I assume he was her husband) asks her what she’s doing.

Fanning away the smoke with a piece of cloth, she responds, “No sé si el humo les molesta.”  (I don’t know if the smoke is bothering them.)  She looks to us with a kind face of inquiry.  When we indicate that it is fine, she responds with a smile, “Olor a pobres, na’ ma’.”  (It’s just the smell of the poor.)

Strange.  I would never think of the smell of smoke as a smell associated with poverty.  A moment before, the smell combined with the Chilean winter air and overcast skies was taking me back to calm November days in Vermont—days when only stubborn brown oak leaves still cling to autumn and the air smells of wood stoves and my hair is wrapped with the breath of earth and coming winter.  But here, gas stoves are used to heat the house and cook your food indoors.  Unless you have no means to cook inside your house.

This comment sticks with me, and I stand, waiting, watching a hand-sized puppy nip around the woman’s heel, and mulling over those words.  She delivered it with good humor, but beneath lay the shame of poverty, the stigma and isolation that separates greater Santiago from this infamous part of La Pintana, el Castillo.  Her husband leaves with a wheelbarrow and walks down the street into the field.

The young man we’ve come to speak with comes out, wiping sleep from his eyes. Rodrigo pulls out the questionnaire that the man had filled out, and, thumbing through the many pages with little yellow sticky notes (each marking an incomplete question), he tells the man that he might want to put a jacket on.  Rodrigo introduces me and explains that I am a US intern who will be listening in to the interview, as long as he doesn’t mind.  The man greets me with the typical Chilean kiss and says that it doesn’t bother him.  Rodrigo had said that I would leave during questions that were more private, but at no point during the interview does he ask me to leave.  I stand by and listen to most of the interview attentively, as the 28-year old talks about his 3 children from 3 different mothers, how the mothers won’t let them see him because of his heavy drug use, and what he thinks of gender roles in Chile.  At the parts I would expect to make him uncomfortable, like detailed questions about his sex life for the last three months, I try to step aside a little and look around at the dogs, the women walking by with bags of bread or young children, the house at the end of the street playing loud reggaeton, cumbia, and other Latin American music.  The man’s mother, with whom he, his partner, and four other adults live, is eating a hard-boiled egg while the puppy eats the shell at her feet.  Rodrigo keeps his voice quiet but his tone friendly, trying to put the participant at ease while still keeping the conversation private.

Upon finishing the questionnaire, Rodgrigo wishes the man good health and safety, and with a shake of the hand and a kiss on the cheek, the two of us are back in the car, driving to another house to complete more questionnaires.  He asks me what I thought of the experience, and I have too much going through my head to know for sure.  I talk about the concept of privacy and how I was surprised that this man allowed a young woman to listen to what many would consider a very private interview.  I feel like an American would have asked to be left alone at some point.  Rodrigo points out that the man might have felt uncomfortable and not mentioned it because of my position as an intern or scholar.  I nod in agreement, but I can’t help but wonder how my presence might have caused the man to answer differently; he still said he was drugged every day on weed, cocaine, pasta base, or alcohol; he talked about his medical history and whether he’d been tested for HIV/AIDS, what his sex life was like… And what about the questions that asked if he thought a woman should know about politics?  Or if he could keep himself from using drugs for the next three months?

And then I think about how after having three children from different mothers, a man can still view condoms as more of a nuisance than a form of protection, or that wearing one is more of a difficulty than the possibility of having another child that is not allowed to see his father.

We continue through the comuna, passing row upon row of houses boxed in with fences taller than I am, almost each hose with a satellite dish raised half-mast to so-called poverty mentality… maybe that’s odd to say, but these people are in situations where at times they can’t meet basic needs, yet television is a necessity.  It reflects the need to escape, you know?

Now, looking back two months later, I still remember the brown and the gray; gray satellites, gray sky, brown roads littered with holes and who knows what else.  I don’t know what it means.  I don’t know what to do with the experience.  I can’t say it was life changing; I’m sure it was, but I won’t know how for years to come.  Then I’ll be sitting, reading a book, writing a letter to a friend, wondering how I got where I am and how on earth I am to continue, and I’ll think of those satellite dishes.  I’ll think radical thoughts of being caught in the system, of sticking it to the man, of walls painted with Allende’s dreams and Pinochet’s reality.  I’ll sigh and miss that powerful mountain range that persists, remains the same for every ciudadano, whether in La Pintana or Las Condes.  I’ll remember the faith that stirs the hearts of those with the least hope, and how their hope plants disbelief, doubt, and bitterness in the minds of the others, witnesses to injustice and suffering.

Dear reader! It rests with you and me, whether, in our two fields of action, similar things shall be or not. Let them be! We shall sit with lighter bosoms on the hearth, to see the ashes of our fires turns grey and cold.”

Classes have started!…sort of…

Bathroom at Universidad Católica

Above: Sign indicating a bathroom in UCatólica.  Remarkably one of the clearest messages I’ve received from my university experince.  It’s a stunning metaphor, really. I’m the flailing legs (much like Brueghel’s Icarus), and that brilliant, porcelain masterpiece is the Chilean university, or as I affectionately like to call it, Leviathan.

I’m finally settling in and gathering my bearings; I’m getting to know my family a little better, and I made a friend recently that showed me the ropes of navigating through Chilean classes.

The Chilean system of education is chaos.  The first class I attended is Sociology of Organization; its goal is to explore the continuum between chaos and order.  Initially, I didn’t know if I could handle that topic in Spanish, but now I realize that I need to study chaos and order if I want to survive this semester.

So here’s what I’ve learned in the past three weeks:

Initially, I signed up for seven classes.  The first couple weeks are generally a mad rush of frantically adding, visiting, and dropping classes.  I’ve finally settled on Social History of Latin America, the Sociology of Organizations (both at the University of Chile), Spanish for foreigners (at the University Católica), and an internship at Mano a Mano, an HIV research initiative at the Universidad Católica.

It’s taken me a long time to write about classes; I honestly have no idea where to begin or how to form some explanation of the phenomenon that is the Chilean university.  For example, one of the most frustrating experiences has been figuring out my Sociología de la Organización class.

My cool friends, Emily and Charles

We could figure out Chile… or we could use Brie’s orange peels to eat yogurt…

First of all, I’d never seen a description of the class.  I had no way to find one in the course booklet or the UChile website.  My directors didn’t know how to help me, nor did the counselors with whom they are associated because most students take classes in the Facultad de Humanidades y Filosofía (In Chile, each faculty is a separate entity, and students only take classes through their faculty.  The faculties are split into departments, such as Education, Sociology, or Anthropology in the Facultad de Ciencias Sociales.).  I sent an email to the “profe” to ask him where I could find the readings and for more information on the class.  He didn’t respond, but in class when he called my name, he asked, “Didn’t you send me an email?  You don’t know how to find the readings?”  One of the girls next to me saw that I was clearly gringa and took pity on me, writing down the website to visit.  This faculty has a separate website to view all classes, apparently.  Unfortunately, that syllabus listed over twenty texts, and I had no idea if I should buy them, try to find them in the library, or even which texts we would be reading, let alone when we would read them.  Usually, students don’t buy books.  Everything is photocopied.  But there was nothing in the photocopy room for me.  Ugh.  The next class I worked up the nerve to ask a student for some direction, and she was super-gracious and friendly.  I followed her to the photocopier, we copied the reading for next class, and then she took me to the computer room to show me how to find other readings.  Apparently, the sociology department has a Gmail account on which students post readings.  Each person then logs on, selects their course, and reads/prints out what other people have posted.  !!!  There is no way I could have ever known that!  And it took me two weeks to figure any of this out!

This is a perfect example of a significant cultural difference between Chileans and Americans.  If I want to get information in the US, I can make a phone call or shoot someone an email.  Usually, that will do the trick.  Or at least, the result is probably the same as if I were to go in person with the same inquiry.  Not so in Chile.  If you want anything done, you must go in person.  Even to register for classes.  Someone might tell you that there are no chorus ensembles available, but if you go in person to talk to them, they suddenly find information.

Other school-related tidbits:

If your profe (short for professor for those who aren’t used to being intentionally playful with words) doesn’t show up for class because he doesn’t feel like it, deal with it.  Move on.Intentionally playful

It’s not cool to come into class, sit in your desk, and wait for the profe to come in.  The cool kids (Chileans) wait outside the classroom and follow the profe in.

More to come…!