Violeta Went to Heaven.


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“Violeta Went to Heaven.”   This is the title of a movie from Chile, my native country.   It received a prestigious 2012 Sundance Film Festival Prize.  As a little-known foreign film, it was shown for a few days in selected theaters.  My daughter and I ended up going to Pasadena, which made the movie event more enjoyable.

The movie is about the folksinger considered to have started the “nueva cancion” or “new song” movement.  This is a style of folk music infused with political awareness, that became a powerful vehicle for change throughout Latin America.  One of her famous songs is “Gracias a la Vida,” popularized here by Joan Baez.  She was not only a folksinger, but a researcher and preserver of the indigenous culture, a poet, a painter, a tapestry maker who exhibited at the Louvre in Paris.  Her name was Violeta Parra.

She was born in 1917 and grew up in the countryside, in poverty.  Rural poverty was common during the 1900s in Chile.  The movie filmed as flashbacks brought back my own flashbacks as my parents were born in the same period, in the countryside.  My mother was born in the foothills of the Los Andes mountain, and did not learn to write or read Spanish.  My father moved the family to the coast, to a seaport, and became a sailor in the Chilean navy, although he did not know how to swim.  His proudest moment was to have visited San Francisco in 1950s, aboard La Esmeralda, a four-masted training tall ship.

In addition to folk music, my parents listened to rancheras, tangos, valsesperuanos.  My oldest siblings were into rock and roll, dancing to Bill Haley and The Comets.  While my father was still in awe about the Golden Gate bridge, the freeways, automobiles, television sets, and appliances he had seen on his trip, a revolution took place in Cuba.  The USA tried to contain the influence of the Cuban revolution, often supporting military dictatorships in a proxy war against the supposed danger of international Communism.

Violeta died in 1967, and her place was taken by another artist named Victor Jara.  As Woodstock, Jimmy Hendrix, John Lennon and Yoko Ono were having an impact on the world, and the new song movement was at its peak, Chile elected a president, Salvador Allende, who ran on a platform of a “mixed economy” – nationalizing some of Chile’s resources.

This caused consternation in Washington, which ultimately encouraged and supported a military coup.  Countless people were imprisoned, tortured, killed or sent into exile.  La Esmeralda became a torture center.  Victor Jara was assassinated, his hands chopped off in the soccer stadium as the assassins taunted him to play his guitar.  Pablo Neruda, the activist poet, presumably was poisoned.   A few years later, an explosion in Washington DC took the life of the ousted Chilean foreign minister and his assistant, a US citizen.  This terrorist act was perpetrated by agents of the military junta.

Terrorists’ acts are despicable, no matter what the reasons are, no matter who the victims or perpetrators are.  Besides condemning the atrocity in Boston, and expressing sympathy and support to the affected families, it’s important to understand the complexity of violent acts, and to stop them.  The powerful testimony of Farea al-Muslimi, born in Yemen and educated in California, is a clear indication of what could be done to stop the current cycle of violence.  He stated to a Senate committee that “psychological fear and terror” has now taken a hold of his old neighbors.  “The drone strikes are the face of America to many.”

I want my two beautiful daughters to live and grow up safely.  I don’t want policies based on indiscriminate violence enacted on their behalf.  Violeta went to heaven, to rest in peace.  In the meantime, let’s honor her tribute to life:

Thanks to life, which has given me so much.
It gave me two beams of light, that when opened,
Can perfectly distinguish black from white
And in the sky above, her starry backdrop,
And from within the multitude
The one that I love.

Thanks to life, which has given me so much.
It gave me an ear that, in all of its width
Records— night and day—crickets and canaries,
Hammers and turbines and bricks and storms,
And the tender voice of my beloved.

Thanks to life, which has given me so much.
It gave me sound and the alphabet.
With them the words that I think and declare:
“Mother,” “Friend,” “Brother” and the light shining.
The route of the soul from which comes love.

Thanks to life, which has given me so much.
It gave me the ability to walk with my tired feet.
With them I have traversed cities and puddles
Valleys and deserts, mountains and plains.
And your house, your street and your patio.

Thanks to life, which has given me so much.
It gave me a heart, that causes my frame to shudder,
When I see the fruit of the human brain,
When I see good so far from bad,
When I see within the clarity of your eyes…

Thanks to life, which has given me so much.
It gave me laughter and it gave me longing.
With them I distinguish happiness and pain—
The two materials from which my songs are formed,
And your song, as well, which is the same song.
And everyone’s song, which is my very song.

Thanks to life
Thanks to life
Thanks to life
Thanks to life


About Ricardo Toro

Chilean native and Anaheim resident for several decades.