This article explores the role of critical engagement with official and alternative historical narratives for dissident/diverse activists in Chile. Intervening in the debate surrounding queer temporality, which has tended to focus on the idea of futurity, the article brings Elizabeth Freeman's concept of “temporal drag” into conversation with Silvia Rivera Cusicanqui's theorization of ch'ixi subjectivity to argue that temporal drag on ch'ixi bodies renders visible the impact of colonial norms surrounding race and sexuality in the creation of the modern Chilean nation-state. Through four case studies, gathered via archival research and ethnographic participant observation, the author makes the case that by engaging with and questioning, rather than running from, official historical narratives, dissident/diverse activists in Chile carry out activism that brings to light both the country's historical and continuing oppression of sexual and racial minorities and the violent histories of colonialism and dictatorship that have made this oppression possible.
“¡Te gusta la del caballo!”1 (You like horse dick!), yelled a passerby at activist Cristeva Cabello. Unfazed, he continued ecstatically writhing his tall, thin frame on the statue of the conquistador Pedro de Valdivia and his horse, located in Santiago's central Plaza de Armas. Cristeva, along with six other CUDS (Coordinadora Universitaria/Utópica de la Disidencia Sexual or University/Utopian Coordinator of Sexual Dissidence)2 activists, had gathered on a chilly June morning in 2015 to film a performative intervention, reenacting Chile's first recorded sexual dissident3 protest, in that same location in April 1973. Shivering in the white striped shirts of the era, they meticulously re-created each pose for the camera. The jeering spectator's shout did not disrupt the performance, nor did it cause the desired offense. Rather, Cristeva simply shouted, “Yes!” and further exaggerated his movements, groaning in ecstasy and asking later, “Did we get him saying that on tape?” Given that the original protest led to shockingly homophobic newspaper headlines, the slur hurled at Cristeva seemed—to him—somehow appropriate. “That's how you can see how little has changed,” he commented.
In April 1973 a group of Santiago's locas4 took over the city's central plaza—then a hub of daily urban life, tourism, and sex work—to protest police violence against loca sex workers, in an uprising that would come to be called Las Locas/Los Maracos5 de la Plaza de Armas. Despite being a watershed moment for Chilean dissident/diverse6 activism, there is scant historical record of this moment, owing to a combination of willful suppression of queer historical narratives (Hiner 2010) and the subsequent coup d’état that led to the brutal Pinochet dictatorship (1973–90). While a few newspapers ran stories on the protest, with headlines like “F*ggots [Maricones] Flaunt Their Sexual Deviance in the Plaza de Armas” (Robles 2021) and “Queers [Colipatos] Want to Have It All” (“Calipatos piden chicha y chancho”) (Robles 2008: 15), the event appears to have quickly faded from both public memory and official records. Given the locas’ low class positions and the Pinochet regime's initial crackdown on both sexual dissidents and sex workers (Robles 2008), this is hardly surprising.
Nonetheless, the activists of CUDS made use of the few existing photos of the event, unearthed decades after the fact in the National Archives, to publicly re-create the event, shot for shot. In their 2015 performance, they drew attention not only for their sexually charged movements but also for the anachronistic disruption their dated, matching clothing represented. To Cristeva, the homophobic slur also seemed appropriate precisely because of its refusal to be tied to a temporal location, equally likely in 1973 as in 2015. It served as a reminder that, although the action CUDS was reenacting was situated in the historical past, it still existed in a trans- and homophobic present in which animosity and violence against sexual and gender minorities remains commonplace. The continuous nature of this violence destabilized the notion of homo- and transphobia as relics of a “less enlightened” past, highlighting the continued existence of these forms of discrimination in the present day.
This article explores the role of nonlinear temporality—notions of time that break with progressivist ideas about the fixed nature of past before present—in the activism of several dissident/diverse activists and activist groups in contemporary Chile. They engage in forms of activism that question both official narratives of history and their grounding in progressivist and linear temporality—the idea that the past, present, and future represent discrete, ordered, and objective realities—as well as the violence of the ongoing colonial process that has rendered them largely invisible. In this context, representations of alternative historical narratives represent a key locus for activist intervention. These historical representations resurface hidden narratives and constitute a direct critique of understandings of the “post”-colonial7 nation-state that situate the colonial process exclusively in the past. They disrupt the presumptive temporalization of the “post”-colony as modern, highlighting a legacy of violence against nonnormative bodies and subjectivities spanning from the beginning of the colonial period to the present day.
While the Chilean state has often preferred to downplay both the violence of the past and the ongoing precarity of marginalized people, obscuring them behind measures of supposed economic exceptionalism (Fischer 2016), or to memorialize this violence in homogenized and heteronormative ways (Gómez-Barris 2008), the activism explored in this article troubles the notion that history is necessarily resolutely located in the past, disrupting Chilean national narratives of ever-greater progress, modernization, and inclusion. Bringing Elizabeth Freeman's notion of “temporal drag” into conversation with Aymara scholar Silvia Rivera Cusicanqui's theorization of ch'ixi—roughly translated as “mestizo” or “mixed-raced”—temporality, and the self, I will demonstrate the role of temporally nonlinear, historically engaged activism in Chilean dissident/diverse efforts. This kind of activism allows activists to question narratives of equality and inclusion in the modern Chilean state along the intersecting (Crenshaw 1991) axes of sexualities, genders, and ethnicities that the processes of colonization and modernity have attempted to efface. That is, by bringing theories of queer and ch'ixi temporality together, I aim to demonstrate that historically engaged activism brings to the surface culturally situated notions of sexuality, gender, and race that ultimately result in the multiple marginalization of certain bodies and discourses under the guise of modernity in today's Chile. This in turn brings to the fore the often-hidden constituent parts of the project of Chilean modernity.
Through a mixture of archival and ethnographic research, participant observation, and semistructured interviews conducted over eighteen months between 2013 and 2018, I argue that critical engagements with hegemonic and alternative historical narratives of sexual diversity and dissidence intersect with the ch'ixi bodies of Chilean dissident/diverse activists to highlight the multiple and mutually constitutive forces of homo/transphobia, racism, and coloniality that are often obscured behind narratives of modernity and nation. That is, it is the stubborn incommensurability of subaltern ch'ixi bodies and lifeways that reveals the “post”-colony as an imagined phenomenon. I make use of three case studies to demonstrate the role of critical and historically engaged activism for dissident/diverse activists in Chile. The first examines the recent history of Chile's national dance—the cueca—as a form of subversive queer protest during the Pinochet dictatorship. The second concerns another intervention by CUDS, Rubias para el bicentenario (Blondes for the Bicentennial), in which I demonstrate the importance of historical engagement for the destabilization of temporalized racial narratives. The final example—of an organizational meeting resulting in the collapse of the LGBTI group Diversidades Temuco8—illustrates the power that normative and exclusionary historical narratives hold to facilitate and potentially immobilize dissident/diverse activism.
This reenactment (see fig. 1) of the locas’ protest became, thanks to that unplanned interruption, a re-creation of the conditions of persecution experienced by the original protestors. The passerby's comment rendered past persecution visible in the present, accentuating the continued pull of the past on the present, effectively and affectively linking Cristeva's own dissident subjectivity and that of the loca he was portraying.
The choice of location for this action, the statue of the conquistador Pedro de Valdivia that dominates one corner of the city's central Plaza de Armas, is significant not only as the site of the original protest; it is also an instantly recognizable example of the glorification of the violent colonial process that led to the existence of today's Santiago and Chile. As Chilean feminist theorist Alejandra Castillo (2005) explains, the process of Chilean nation building has been gendered from its inception and thus also predicated on ideas of compulsory heterosexuality and reproductive futurity. At the same time that Chile was consolidating itself—first as a colony and then as a nation-state—criminal sexual “offenses” like sodomy were aggressively punished (Horswell 2005; Contardo 2011). Sexual dissidence was deemed a threat to the project of colonization and, eventually, nation building, and thus there continues to be no place for sexual dissidence in the putative modernity imposed by the colonizer. The juxtaposition of dissident bodies performing dissident acts atop the giant bronze monument to one of Chile's most famous conquistadores can be read as an intentional confrontation between sexual dissidence and Chilean modernity itself.
Dictatorship, Coloniality, and Modern Dissident/Diverse Activism
Though it is important to point out that Chile, and especially Santiago, had a thriving underground scene of dissident sexualities and genders long before (Fischer 2016; Asalazar 2017), 1973—the year of the first recorded organized loca protest and Augusto Pinochet's coup—was often referenced in my interviews with Chilean activists as a watershed year, in both positive and negative ways, for Chilean dissident/diverse activism.
Beginning with the US-backed Pinochet coup d’état in September 1973, and throughout his regime, both dissident and straight Chilean activists often used history strategically, in most cases engaging with the human rights atrocities committed by the regime (Rojas Sotoconil 2009), and often using the language of memory (Stern 2006). While these efforts were crucial in reestablishing democracy and remain fundamental in holding subsequent governments accountable, they have often relied on “official memory” of the events in question (e.g., Collins, Hite, and Joignant 2013; Lazzara 2006; Frazier 2007; Gómez-Barris 2008; Lessa and Druliolle 2011).
Franco-Chilean scholar Nelly Richard (2010) has critiqued the exclusion of non-male and non-heteronormative histories from the narrative. Richard has argued that critical engagement with “memory” in Chile can play a role in destabilizing “official memory,” owing to its “critical countertempo,” a concept that “favors . . . the disjunctive simultaneity of the partial and fragmentary that render chaotic the perception of the real (168).”9 That is, “real” history is messy, an amalgam of infinite remembrances of the same event, each situated and culturally informed. These remembrances simultaneously constitute and trouble linear and homogeneous historical narratives, serving as vehicles for counter-hegemonic contestation.
Work on dissident/diverse activism in Chile has argued that the country's modern “diversity” movement—dominated by powerful NGOs like Movilh10 and Fundación Iguales11—has tended to focus on state-centered and largely homonormative goals, often taking cues from the global North, most notably in their advocacy for marriage equality (Campbell 2014; Contardo 2011; Robles 2008; Sánchez 2004). More dissident activism—advocating for systemic changes—has remained on the margins, along with the demands of lesbians, bisexuals, and trans people (Núñez González 2010; Campbell 2014). This reflects a larger trend in Latin America of electorally based LGBT movements that often look to the United States for cues and, crucially, funding (De la Dehesa 2010; Babb 2001; Thoreson 2014), resulting in activist agendas that coalesce around available resources rather than the actual needs and desires of local people.
Nonetheless, scholars have highlighted instances of more affective, embodied dissident activism in Latin America (Allen 2012; 2011), especially in (post)dictatorship contexts such as Nicaragua (Howe 2013) and Argentina (Taylor 1997), as well as among indigenous populations (Bacigalupo 2007). Additionally, in Chile, the line between activism and art has often been blurry, resulting in what scholars and activists call artivismo (artivism).12 Jennifer Joan Thompson (2020) argues that, despite the repressive nature of the political regime toward both activism and art, it was in fact the response to this climate of repression that allowed these groups to coalesce. While not all of the artivism these groups engaged in was specifically sexually dissident in nature, much was, and its overall character “challenged the regime's conception of Chilean citizenship by calling for an expanded space of existence and invoking the possibility of an artistic and contestatory subjectivity within everyone” (4). This history of artivism (Vidal-Ortiz, Viteri, and Serrano Amaya 2014; Viteri 2017) demonstrates a trajectory of art as activism that endures today, as well as the particular efficacy of this form of protest in times of political upheaval, precisely because it straddles the line between performance and protest.
Many of the early post-dictatorship dissident/diverse activists began as pro-democracy activists (Campbell 2014), and thus it is not surprising that they have also adopted tactics from this struggle, mostly notably within the frame of “human rights” (Contardo 2011; in Nicaragua see Babb 2001; in Brazil see Alvarez 1990). Nonetheless, the diversity movement seems to favor progress narratives—incremental, linear progress toward civil rights, often as defined by the global North. Dissident groups, on the other hand, have largely avoided this kind of state-centered activism, instead aiming to question and destabilize the many structural violences that lead to the oppression of marginalized people.
Although undeniably part of a larger cultural reckoning with official memory, dissident and nonnormative bodies are uniquely able to destabilize the past/future terms of this debate, precisely because their subjectivities refuse normative temporalization owing to their embodiment of colonial schemes of difference (Pierce 2018). This in turn calls into question the “normalcy” of linear temporal narratives, by providing clear and visible examples of alternative possibilities (Halberstam 2005), embodying the potential for straight subjects to break with traditional norms.
Beyond and Before Futurity
Much of the work on non-heteronormative temporalities has focused on the question of futurity. While Lee Edelman (2004) rejected the notion of future-oriented queerness, José Esteban Muñoz took the opposite tack, arguing that futurity is in fact fundamental to the advancement of queer goals, but that the utopic future of queerness he envisioned may be perpetually—and necessarily—incipient. That is, the very idea that a queer future is always just out of reach motivates us to continue to strive toward it.
Still other scholars have problematized linear or “straight” time itself. Jack Halberstam (2005) asserts that queer people have the inherent potential to destabilize linear and progressivist notions of time by their refusal to define their lives in relation to narratives of adulthood, maturity, or parenthood. Jafari Allen (2009) has argued that Edelman's notion of future is problematically racialized, rendering it difficult to read in the context of the racialized global South. In relation to the widespread critique and debate generated by Edelman's and Muñoz's respective work (see also Dinshaw et al. 2007; Shahani 2013), Elizabeth Freeman's (2010) concept of “temporal drag” offers a useful analytic for understanding how the refusal of linear temporality creates new possibilities of engagement with certain kinds of activism. While Freeman's temporal drag focuses specifically on the drag of one feminist “wave” on the next (c.f. Clark Mane 2012), this article expands the term, bringing it into conversation with Andean understandings of ch'ixi time to question another linear, progressivist narrative—that of the “post”-colonial Chilean nation-state.
As many of my principal interlocutors are avid—albeit critical—readers of queer and feminist literature from the global North as well as the global South, it seems appropriate to bring their activism into conversation with theoretical traditions rooted in both contexts. Mindful of CUDS activist, biologist, and feminist theorist Jorge Díaz's (2016) admonishment of “academic extractivism,” I am inspired by CUDS's own praxis to think critically about how queer theorists from the global North and Andean theorists may diverge and/or coincide in their understandings of temporality and history, rendering visible the multiple constituent forces at the heart of the colonial nation-state.
Freeman's (2010: 62) temporal drag indexes both the popular understanding of drag—gender play in which a subject purposefully blurs or crosses a gender boundary—“with all the associations that the word ‘drag’ has with retrogression, delay, and the pull of the past on the present.” Temporal drag thus represents a dual concept, both the drag inherent in embodying another gendered and temporally situated identity, and the actual feeling of the drag of the past on the present. Thus, a person's very corporeality—through the simultaneous embodiment of disparate, temporally situated elements—challenges linear notions of time in which one event must end for another to begin.
Additionally, I suggest that the specific history of colonialism in Chile—and its myriad forms of racialized, gendered, and sexualized oppression—demands further nuance that takes into account the varieties of embodied history present in the “post”-colonial context; that is, one that engages overtly with the already in-between nature of Andean racial subjectivity, a nuance for which Rivera Cusicanqui's theorization of ch'ixi subjectivity can be especially illuminating.
Though Chile is often glossed as part of the Southern Cone, preferring a project of blanqueamiento (whitening) (Barandiarán 2012; Richards 2013) to the strong sense of indigenous identity in the northern Andes, I nonetheless believe that indigenous Andean understandings of race remain fundamental to understanding race in Chile. In both contexts, colonial processes of racialization have long framed the lifeways and subjectivities of Indigenous and Black people as inherently inferior (Larson 2008), incentivizing the performance of a racially unmarked subjectivity that extends beyond phenotypical diversity. As such, one's ways of speaking, physicality, positionality, and access to resources all play a role in the construction of race in the Andes (Weismantel 2001).
Rivera Cusicanqui (2012) uses the Aymara word ch'ixi to describe her racial identity. While ch'ixi's closest Spanish equivalent is mestizo, the Aymara meaning of the word is importantly different. It “reflects the Aymara idea of something that is and is not at the same time. It is the logic of the included third. A ch'ixi color gray is white but is not white at the same time; it is both white and its opposite, black” (105). This refusal of binary categorization maps on to the diverse bodies of “post”-colonial Latin Americans who simultaneously embody the mixture of their constituent parts and the stubborn refusal of either part to be completely subsumed in the other. That is, in Chile, to be criollo is to be neither “white” nor Indigenous, but rather a mixture that is neither entirely one thing nor simply the sum of its parts. The constituent parts of Chilean criollo identity are always present, though often just below the surface. Ch'ixi illuminates the infinite iterations of individual subjectivities and histories resulting from colonization, which are often flattened and homogenized into criollo or mestizo identities without ever entirely disappearing.13 Importantly, while criollo often stands in for “white” or “Chilean,” its roots as a marker of colonial difference between Indigenous people and settlers exemplify the slippery nature of Chilean racial identity, at once drawing attention to and occluding the mestizaje inherent in criollo subjectivity.
For Rivera Cusicanqui (2012: 96), ch'ixi subjectivity is also inextricably linked to indigenous conceptions of temporality, in that “there is no post or pre.” That is, it is not that the past rears its head in the present, but that the past—and the futures it enables—is inextricable from what the global North terms the “present.” The similarities and productive differences between this version of temporality and the nonlinear time that undergirds Freeman's temporal drag suggest the potential for productive overlap between global North queer and Andean indigenous feminist scholarship that centers the experiences of the multiply marginalized activists whose work I explore in this article, grounded in the unique mixture of thought, people, and lifeways that have coalesced in today's Chile.
As such, I propose that they can be productively brought together to better elucidate how and when temporal drag is legible. The concept of ch'ixi—of the mixture that does not subsume its constituent parts—allows us to pinpoint the “out of time” and “out of place” of temporal drag. That is, it is the disruption of linear temporal narratives by ch'ixi bodies that denaturalizes these narratives, exposing their constructed nature.
Nuancing Freeman's concept of temporal drag with an additional focus on distinctly Andean ways of understanding coloniality and ch'ixi temporality, the remainder of this article will examine three case studies: the Chilean national dance, the cueca, as a form of protest; Rubias para el bicentenario, a performative intervention by CUDS in the 2010 Santiago pride parade; and an organizational meeting of Diversidades Temuco in which the drag of historical colonial violence on present-day activism represents a point of deep division in the group. In all three cases, through engagement with the temporal situatedness of each intervention, the multiple and overlapping historical narratives and processes undergirding each action allowed dissident/diverse activists to draw attention to the homogeneity, heternormativity, and erasure inherent in these same narratives. By “dragging” the past into the present, the activists in question simultaneously question the terminal nature of the past, and the “truth” of both the historical narrative in question and the progressivist, modernist narrativization of the present moment, bringing to the fore its normally hidden constituent parts.
La (Mari)Cueca Sola
The eighteenth of September, Independence Day, is perhaps the most important holiday of the year in Chile. Along with traditional games, kite building, and asados (barbeques), perhaps the most emblematic symbol of the holiday is the national dance: the cueca.14 Unlike other Latin American dances, such as tango, salsa, or merengue, all of which are performed outside the context of national celebrations, the cueca is almost exclusively danced during the weeks prior to Independence Day. The dance is generally accompanied by the traditional national costume: independence-era ponchos (mantas),15 spurs, and hats for men and a corresponding dress for women, the traje de huasa/china,16 the kind of clothing that was ubiquitous in Chile's Central Valley at the moment of independence.
As evidenced by its particular aesthetic, the dance is rooted in a specific imaginary of Chile's past (Cayuqueo 2015), a history that begins at the moment of independence, seemingly after the violence of colonialism, and in which criollo, Chilean, and Chile as a nation are interchangeable. Theorists have long argued that, in the postcolonial nation-state, independence has often been framed as a temporal breaking point, in which the pre-colony and colony are cast as premodern (in the Andean context, see Larson 2008 and Poole 1997; in colonial Latin America, see Vacano 2012) and the nation-state as modern, relegating the violence of the colonial process to the past (Mbembe 2001; McGranahan 2007; Bhabha 1994; Stoler 2013). Understood in the context of the Chilean nation-state, the cueca presents fertile ground for activist intervention, a widely legible symbol of the very moment in which Chile ceased to be a colony and became an independent—and “modern”—nation. Often represented as the “birth” of the nation, such independence narratives reify the reproductivist notions of futurity decried by Edelman and Halberstam. Annual celebrations of Independence Day in turn serve to solidify these narratives as historical fact, creating a stark visual and temporal contrast between the moment of independence and the present day through the performative use of “traditional” clothing, food, and games. These expensive costumes are dusted off only on special occasions to celebrate the birth of the modern nation-state. The specific temporal location of the cueca—relegated to the past except for a few weeks a year—renders it an effective tool for activism that questions official historical narratives.
During the Pinochet dictatorship, protest was heavily repressed, and in the early days of the regime, thousands of people were killed or disappeared and remain missing to this day. Resistance, though constant, was driven almost completely underground. Nonetheless, while still in the throes of the dictatorship, Chilean women from the Agrupación de Familiares de Detenidos Desaparecidos (Group of Family Members of the Detained/Disappeared) invented a form of protest called la cueca sola (the lonely cueca) (Rojas Sotoconil 2009). In these public performances, women—dressed in black and displaying a photo of their lost loved one(s)—danced their half of the cueca, generally to lyrics written specifically about the disappearances occurring in Chile.
Given the specific steps of the cueca, meant to imitate a rooster courting, chasing, and subduing a hen, the awkward physicality of the cueca sola drew attention to its own impossibility. Owing to the overtly gendered nature of the choreography, without a male counterpart, the movements of these women drew attention to each missing desaparecido (disappeared person). The cueca sola has become a widely recognizable form of anti-dictatorship protest in Chile, having been featured in the “No” campaign during the 1988 plebiscite,17 and as the subject of a 1987 song and music video by Sting, “They Dance Alone.”
Although the cueca sola is one of the most widespread usages of the dance for the purposes of protest, its impetus has been taken up by many other activists (Carreño Bolívar 2015), such as famed Chilean author, poet, and artist Pedro Lemebel and his artistic partner, Pancho Casas. Their performance duo, Las Yeguas del Apocalípsis,18 became known for its overtly dissident and anti-dictatorship performative protests during the last years of the dictatorship. One of their most famous public interventions was a 1989 “maricueca,”19 in which both danced a cueca barefoot on a map of the Americas covered with broken Coca-Cola bottles, as seen in figure 2 (Robles 2008), and accompanied only by recordings of their beating hearts playing through headphones, so that the audience observed them dancing in total silence.20
The performance's stated intent was to protest the celebration of the Día de la Raza (Indigenous People's Day)—a long-held point of contention between white, criollo, and Indigenous Chileans. Las Yeguas aimed to draw attention to the violence of colonialism and the dictatorship, and to their mutual imbrication. As the map became increasingly covered in blood, the Yeguas challenged the narrative of modernization and progress put forth by the Chilean nation-state, by rendering momentarily visible the violence of Chile's colonial past. Dancing as they cut their feet on broken Coca-Cola bottles, a globally legible symbol of the “success” of both US capitalism and globalization, Lemebel and Casas called attention not only to the substantial role played by the United States in the 1973 coup but also to the overarching narrative of endless privatization, neoliberalism, and “progress” the dictatorship espoused. They highlighted the processes of colonization still at work in Pinochet's Chile—now at the hands of the United States rather than Spain—and the history underlying them. By spilling their own blood, they symbolically dragged into the present the innumerable lives lost at the hands of these colonial processes, linking the brutality of the centuries-long process of the conquista to that of the direct US involvement in the Pinochet regime, via the mutilation of their own subaltern bodies.
Additionally, through their very appearance as two men dancing together, and because the duo was unabashedly and publicly loca, they drew attention not only to the silenced voices of the desaparecidos but also to those silenced by the Chilean state's historical repression of difference (Contardo 2011: 321–22) both before and during the dictatorship. The blood, pouring from the feet of two criollo locas, covered the map in representation of the subaltern blood shed—and yet to be shed—in the ongoing process of colonization and repression at the heart of Chile's national project. Indeed, even at the time, gay men were dying in scores because of the regime's refusal to acknowledge the burgeoning HIV/AIDS crisis in the country (355–56).
The Yeguas’ performance hearkened back to—and troubled—narratives about post-independence Chile as a bastion of modernity, while simultaneously underscoring the ch'ixi nature of dissident and subaltern oppression as constant, purposeful, but often silenced parts of the Chilean national project, from the moment of colonization forward, in both democracy and dictatorship. The Yeguas’ performance dragged the so-called past and future into the present, disrupting progressivist narratives of modernization that would situate past, present, and future as a linear progression. Their performance invited spectators to hear silenced voices from the “past,” in the present and as the present, and gestured toward a future in which a mere return to democracy would not bring an end to the violence. Moreover, the spilling of the blood from their own bodies—doubly marginalized as locas and racialized others, disrupted the idea of linear temporality, manifesting a continuous and cyclical temporality, reiteratively written in the blood of subaltern subjects within the Chilean nation-state.
By emphasizing the continued drag of colonial violence on modern Chile, Las Yeguas called into question the impossibility of escaping this violence through a political change that would not ultimately address its continuity from the colonial period onward. By engaging in the cueca as protest, out of context and with markedly different aesthetics, Las Yeguas laid bare, in their absence, the colonial aesthetics that underpin the dance and the coloniality inscribed on their bodies. They invoked a past-future that places the present under a microscope, bringing to the fore the histories of colonialism and fascism that shaped their performance. Forced to grapple with the decontextualized dance, spectators were thus also forced to question the context itself, which highlighted temporalized aesthetics that undergird the traditional version of the dance, and dragging the violence of colonialism to the fore through the juxtaposition of the dance, its history, and their bodies.
As in the case of the cueca, Chile's deep investment in breaking with its colonial past to become a criollo nation-state (Garabano 2009) provides ample opportunity for activist intervention. The formation of this criollo Chilean identity has depended on the invisibilization of ethnic minorities such as Indigenous populations like the Mapuche in both discourse and law (Dijk 2005). Long past the moment of Chilean independence, territorial and cultural colonization of the Mapuche continued at the hands of the new Chilean state, and even the so-called Chilean miracle—the supposedly miraculously but short-lived improvement of the Chilean economy under Pinochet—depended on both tacit and overt oppression of Indigenous Chileans (Richards 2013). This in turn exemplifies a longer history of Indigenous erasure through both the biological process of mestizaje21 and the discourse of modernization through the process of creolization (progressive whitening) that undergird national projects throughout Latin America (Vasconcelos 1966; Giminiani 2018).
Given the difficulty of speaking about race as race in Chile (Mellafe R. 1964; Barrenechea 2009; Arre Marfull and Barrenechea Vergara 2017), it is perhaps unsurprising that CUDS is the only dissident/diverse activist organization with which I have worked that centers race and antiracism in their activism. In an interview from June 20, 2013, Cristeva described a performative intervention by CUDS in Santiago's 2010 LGBTI pride parade—a space many CUDS activists would otherwise avoid owing to its normative and increasingly corporate politics—called Rubias para el bicentenario (Blondes for the Bicentennial): “It was in a gay march during the Chilean bicentennial . . . and what we did, several groups of activists, was to bleach our hair so it would be blond, and we wore masks of the faces of blonde female politicians, because there were so many of them on the Right. I mean, it was [an] act of blond transvestitism.” As the activists marched through the streets, applying bleach to the hair of volunteers, they carried with them a banner that read, “It's easy to become blonde. What's hard is to stop being black”22 (see fig. 3).
Members of the group took turns on a megaphone, reading a manifesto that highlighted the impossibility of achieving truly platinum blond hair—and whiteness—for most Chileans. This message was discursively connected to the project of whitening so important to the creation of the nation-state, highlighting the fact that both literal and cultural whitening are false ideals, predicated on colonial logics that position whiteness as inherently superior, desirable, and modern.
After forty minutes, the bleach was rinsed from the volunteers’ hair in the middle of the street, and the manifesto continued, drawing attention to the “failure” of the bleaching process, underscoring that most of the participants were too “black” to ever be truly white, and thus to ever truly be “modern.” Cristeva remarked: “And the wonderful thing that happened was when we bleached our hair; there were some that turned out more and less blond, like when Mapuche hair was bleached. So whenever there was somebody whose hair had turned out more orange, we would yell ‘Mapuche!’ as a way to make that hidden identity visible, because we never see that intersection.”
By physically whitening themselves, CUDS activists called attention to the absence of productive racial discourse, not just in the context of the state-sanctioned march but also in Chile in general. Highlighting the indigeneity of some of its members and collaborators (yelling Mapuche, a term often wielded as an insult), CUDS's performative act called attention to the myth of Chile as a homogeneous, criollo nation, and thus to the myths undergirding Chilean narratives of national history and modernity. It also troubled the notion of indigeneity as past, demanding attention to the systematic erasure of indigenous histories and anti-Indigenous violence throughout the colonial and “post”-colonial periods.
In their planned act of “blond transvestitism,” the members of the CUDS also engaged in temporal drag; adorning themselves in the trappings of Chilean modernity (platinum blond hair and drag interpretations of familiar right-wing politicians), they succeeded in highlighting the constructed, tenuous chi'xi nature of Chilean modernity.
By drawing attention to the overwhelming whiteness of the Chilean political class in relation to their own subaltern bodies, they also called attention to the violent history of colonization that led to this status quo, and the politics of exclusion that have allowed a tiny minority of “white” Chileans to dominate Chilean politics. As they called out the names of these politicians through the megaphone, the assembled crowd responded enthusiastically, “¡Presente!” (Present!). Following a long-held Latin American protest convention, and meant simultaneously to mock their “presence” at the march in the form of drag impersonators and call attention to their absence from a long overdue conversation about race and class in Chile, these same cries also rendered present indigeneity and its complicated relationship with Chilean national identity, exposing the systemic racism and quest for modernity that sought to banish it to a forgotten past.
This Meeting Is a Drag . . . : Temporal Drag and Activist Immobility
When questions of a nation-state's legitimacy arise, especially in a ch'ixi context such as Chile, the discord they inspire can sometimes lead to activist immobility, a queer kind of time in its own right. That is, the nagging of the past in the present moment can become so overwhelming as to make concrete activism impossible. Such was the case for Diversidades Temuco, an LGBT activist group in the southern Chilean city of Temuco, with whom I spent time in June and July of 2013.
Temuco (Temuko) is a small city in Chile's southern Araucanía region, colonized Mapuche territory, known in Mapudungun as Wallmapu. As both the regional and Mapuche capital, Temuco is a flashpoint for conflicts between Mapuche and settlers, and the city is palpably at odds with itself, as it continually negotiates its identity as a ch'ixi space. While the area surrounding the city contains a number of indigenous comunas, Temuco is the center of life and commerce in the region, and thus a continual zone of encounter between Mapuche people and their colonizers.
At the time of my fieldwork, Diversidades Temuco had around twenty members from a wide variety of backgrounds, identifying across the dissident/diverse spectrum. Despite having been formed only a year earlier, and with young and inexperienced leaders, Diversidades Temuco had nonetheless managed to quickly establish a presence in the city through the successful organization of a Pride parade, the first ever in the famously conservative city. The event received a fair amount of press coverage and established Diversidades Temuco as the LGBT organization in the city. Nonetheless, behind closed doors, fissures in the group were beginning to appear, dividing more normative, diversity activists—like Vice-President Vicente—and more radical, dissident activists—like María, the president.
Nonetheless, the members of Diversidades Temuco were eager to start planning their next event, which would coincide with the celebration of Independence Day, September 18. The proposed event was to be a “diverse” take on a traditional Chilean fonda, a usually temporary structure selling food, beverages, games, and entertainment (such as cueca) during the Fiestas Patrias. Born out of early Independence Day celebrations in which fondas were established informally, they are now strictly regulated because of the sale of alcohol and have become a popular way for organizations to raise funds. As the fonda is one of the most omnipresent symbols of the Fiestas Patrias, its very ubiquity was the point of contention in what rapidly turned from a simple organizational meeting to a heated debate about the ideals of Diversidades Temuco as a dissident/diverse group in a ch'ixi context. The fonda itself, a symbol of nation and nationalism, catalyzed a debate that was long overdue, for a group that had just begun to define itself ideologically.
The meeting veered quickly from its celebratory tone when Vicente brought up the main item on the agenda: the fonda. “There are several things we need to talk about in terms of the fonda, that some people don't want it to be a fonda, or want it to be an anti-fonda.” The room erupted in conversation, as many group members questioned why the upcoming event needed to be a fonda, leading to lengthy debates about whether the event should be a fonda, an anti-fonda, or la desfondá,23 the most dissident of the possibilities; there were, however, no firm suggestions of what the desfondá might look like.
In naming the event, the reference to the fonda seemed unavoidable. Even those who wanted to avoid the reference suggested that the anti-fonda still have all the recognizable characteristics of one. The inevitability of the fonda points to its deeply rooted temporal co-location with Chilean independence, and thus all of the violent history that this holiday entails. Most salient in this debate was the idea of “queering” the cueca. María offered, “[The cueca] is usually a man and a woman. If we have two men dancing cueca, we're starting to denormalize that, deconstructing an idea that's really well rooted.” Jónathan, the only self-identified Mapuche member of the group, did not agree. “That doesn't make any sense. Just because you have two men dancing doesn't make it an anti-fonda.” Vicente replied, “I for one think that if we're going to do something on the eighteenth, whatever we call it, it has to be something patriotic!”
Once again the room erupted, as it became clear that the real issue was the unavoidable inherent nationalist undergirding of the fonda. Inextricably linked to Independence Day, it was thus also linked to the violence of colonialism and the birth of the modern nation-state. Here the drag of time could be felt in two regards: the weight of the violent colonial past on the country's present, and the weight of that history on anything associated with September 18.
As with the maricueca discussed above, the drag of the past on traditions established in the precolonial and independence periods rendered the reference to violent colonial histories seemingly inevitable. Moreover, Jónathan's presence and words demanded a conversation that moved beyond the theoretical to the consequences of this violence for him and other Mapuche people. As many of the activists in the room discursively espoused decidedly anticolonial politics, this tension quickly became an insurmountable obstacle for their desire to truly subvert these symbols through activism.
Given the organization's presence in the capital of Wallmapu, it is certain that many, if not most, of the group's members had both Indigenous and white ancestors. Nonetheless, due to the importance of whitening to the Chilean colonial project, ch'ixi subjectivity is often culturally “rounded up” to whiteness, and Jónathan was the only member of the organization to overtly claim a Mapuche identity. As such—as often happened in group discussions—he came to stand in for “Mapuche” writ large, indexing both the history of colonialism inherent in Chilean independence and his own experience of coloniality and internal colonialism growing up in a Mapuche comuna while navigating the colonized winka24 world of Chile beyond the comuna.
A guest from another organization finally asked, “Are you [as a group] patriotic?” The cacophony of yeses, nos, and long-winded explanations was answer enough. Vicente said yes. Jónathan responded with an emphatic no.
When Vicente suggested that this debate was not important to have “right now,” María replied, “It is! Because you're going to organize an event that has an entire historical trajectory behind it. Obviously, just by using the date and name, you're taking all of that on, whether you like it or not. You can think otherwise, but we will have a responsibility to answer when someone asks, Are you patriots? Nationalists? Why did you call it that? Why are you using the date? It has to make sense.” The debate raged on, and the group ultimately failed to reach a consensus. In everything from decoration to the subversive potential of the cueca, the group was deeply divided. The drag of colonial history catalyzed a total breakdown of group cohesion, lending credence to the ch'ixi idea that the past-future is always already contained in the present, though it may not always be visible.
Jónathan was emphatic in his insistence on the colonial and “post”-colonial violence underlying Chilean Independence Day, questioning whether such an event could ever truly be subverted without simply becoming a symbolic reproduction of this violence. Other members were clearly wrestling with the clash between their political ideals and their affective associations with the holiday, troubled by their own reluctance to abandon a tradition in which they had participated since childhood. Still other members of the group saw no problem with simply holding an event that would make money and worrying about the politics later. The incredible weight of Chile's violent colonial past-present became a flashpoint at which individual activists grappled with their commitment to their personal politics, and at which the group was forced to define itself.
Chile's independence accelerated colonial incursion into Mapuche territory—a project at which the Spanish crown had largely failed—and led to Indigenous subjugation, but not total erasure, within a larger “Chilean,” criollo society. Jónathan's criollo counterparts’ inability to understand his point of view speaks to the successful naturalization of this process. As a racialized ch'ixi subject, Jónathan was uniquely able to feel the effects of these events on the present moment, while his fellow activists could only attempt to sympathize. In embodying both Mapuche, which is temporalized in the past, and gay—often framed in Mapuche communities as an imported subjectivity—Jónathan himself exemplifies both the ambiguous nature of separations between present, past, and future and the ch'ixi nature of his subject position. That is, while Jónathan claimed an Indigenous, and not criollo, identity, his entrance into the putatively “Western” space of diversity activism emphasized his in-betweenness—at once Mapuche, gay, and a gay Mapuche, the product of constitutive parts that resist effacement through their mixture.
In the end, Diversidades Temuco held no Independence Day event and instead held a “queer cabaret” some weeks later. Around this same time, the fissure between the dissident and diverse contingents of the group—exemplified by their embrace of or resistance to the fonda—grew too much to bear, and the majority of those on the diverse side abruptly left the organization, following a heated discussion on the group's Facebook page. Yet the anti-fonda debate was indisputably productive, provoking a long overdue discussion about the group's political identity. While these tensions would undoubtedly have come to a head eventually, the heated and divisive nature of the debate over the fonda signals the power of history over Chilean dissident/diverse activism. The debate is illustrative of the fine line activists walk when engaging in subversive activism that takes on nationalist tropes. Temporal drag itself is a balancing act between reference and reproduction, constantly calling into question at which point one becomes the other, a ch'ixi moment of two wholes resisting annihilation through mixture. For this reason, ch'ixi represents an important nuance for theories of nonlinear temporality from the global North, as it calls attention to what underlies the temporalization of the “post”-colonial state: processes, people, and structural forces that—while mixed—remain both whole and part of something new.
I have proposed in this article that troubling the linear characterization of history may be key in theorizing dissident/diverse strategies that more accurately reflect the specific subject positions and actions of multiply marginalized activists in “post”-colonial spaces like Chile. The activists in this article demonstrate in their actions and subjectivities that the same histories and futures are not equally intelligible—or accessible—for every Chilean, and that engagement with what linear temporality understands as the past is inextricably linked to possible futures. The conscious critique of ubiquitous nationalist histories provides the space in which historically based activism can render the multiple violences at the heart of the colonial project legible to the masses on the bodies of ch'ixi activists.
In his critique of queering the cueca, Mapuche Diversidades Temuco member Jónathan remarked, “The cueca is a symptom, not a cause. If you really want to deconstruct something, you have to get to its roots!” With varying degrees of success, the activists in this article have sought to locate and unearth these “roots,” complicating the linear divisions between past, present, and future, and between representation and reproduction. This in turn exemplifies the ch'ixi nature of Chilean modernity, the product of a colonial project that can be hidden but never erased. In reenacting moments from dissident/diverse history, queering the cueca, “failing to whiten,” and collapsing under the weight of the fonda, these activists illustrate both the difficulties and potentialities of engaging with, rather than running from, complicated histories. Moreover, they demonstrate the embodied nature of coloniality, their multiply marginalized, ch'ixi bodies standing as stubborn testament to the failed project of Chilean modernity. Through long debate, careful critique, and purposeful engagement with historical narratives, dissident/diverse activists in Chile bring to light the violence of the country's colonial and dictatorial past, offering in turn new or hidden historical narratives from the perspectives of those whose histories have been erased or silenced. Moreover, the moment when temporal drag meets ch'ixi subjectivity highlights the constituent legacies of racism, colonialism, and heteronormativity that undergird—and have been obscured by—the creation of the Chilean nation-state and its imagined “post”-colonial present.
In our very beings, non-heteronormative subjects necessarily trouble linear, reproductivist notions of time, revealing the existence of other alternatives: that the future is neither linear nor predetermined, nor necessarily only in front of us. As a result, dissident/diverse activism has a unique and inherent ability to engage with matters of historicity and futurity, shedding light on their constructed, nonlinear, and exclusionary nature. This article has shown that Chilean dissident/diverse activists, in conscious and critical engagement with linear notions of time, hold within their very ch'ixi subjectivities the potential to subvert hegemonic historical narratives that seek to obfuscate the country's violent colonial past and present. In each of the ethnographic examples above, dissident and diverse activists made use of alternative historical narratives as a key tool for publicly legible activism, activism that simultaneously questions the racist and heteronormative underpinnings of the Chilean nation-state, beginning with the colonial process and stretching to modernity; renders these violent constituent forces visible; and allows activists to carve out their own place in a nonlinear history of dissident/diverse activism in Chile.
The essay's title is inspired by a popular Chilean saying, “hay que darle tiempo al tiempo,” roughly equivalent to the English “time will tell.” The field research for this article was funded by grants from the Tinker Foundation and the SSRC-DPDF.
Although the noun is omitted in this common Chilean construction, la stands in for la tula, or dick.
Originally formed as a group of university students, the group has preserved their original acronym but often substitutes university with utopian. Since the writing of this article, CUDS has officially disbanded.
Preferred among many Chilean activists to describe what others have called queer or cuir subjectivities, the term (sexually) dissident has a similarly political and anti-institutional valence.
Although difficult to translate, loca (the feminine form of crazy), is used pejoratively to describe effeminate gay men, as well as those who engage in cross-dressing or drag (González 2014; Fountain-Stokes 2014). In this particular historical case, loca should be read as sex workers who are not cisgender women.
A pejorative term in Chilean Spanish for effeminate male homosexuals.
I use these terms throughout the article to gesture toward the two poles of what in the global North might be referred to as queer activism. Diverse/diversity activists are those who belong to nongovernmental organization (NGO)-style groups and focus their activism on institutional and state targets. Dissident activists are more radical and anti-institutional, forming loosely organized collectives. Conscious of the fraught politics of the term queer outside the global North (Rivas San Martín 2011), I use dissident/diverse as a gloss for the larger movement against heteronormativity that both groups constitute despite their significant differences.
To mark the ongoing legacy of the colonial project in both the extraordinary and the everyday (González Casanova 1969; Rivera Cusicanqui 2012), I have used the term “post”-colonial when positioning this article in a larger critique of the term (Quijano 2000, 2007) and have signposted my tense relationship with the term via endnotes and quotation marks to remind the reader of its inherent ambiguity.
I identify this organization with a pseudonym to avoid confusion. Since the time of the ethnography presented in this piece, the group has gone through several politically distinct iterations under the same name.
My translation. While Richard's analysis deals specifically with Patricio Guzmán's film La batalla de Chile, her analytic is also useful for conceptualizing nonlinear histories in a variety of contexts, in the realms of art, activism, and artivism.
Founded in 1991, the Movimiento de Integración y Liberación Homosexual has historically been Chile's gay rights organization of reference. Nonetheless, this group has been consistently controversial, splintering several times throughout its history, owing to the perceived invisibilization of lesbian, trans, and travesti concerns, as well as the often iron-fisted rule of its leader, Rolando Jiménez. Movilh also serves as a popular foil against which other LGBTI NGOs often position themselves.
Fundación Iguales was founded in 2011 by Chilean author Pablo Simonetti; Luis Larraín, son of the right-wing politician of the same name; and attorney Antonio Bascuñán. Owing to the societal positions of its founding members, the organization has often been criticized for its assimilationist politics and willingness to work with the right wing. This is also due to the fact that, despite being among the country's newest major LGBTI NGOs, it quickly ascended to the level of Movilh. According to its detractors, this is largely thanks to the political connections and social and financial capital of its members.
Two emblematic artivist groups were CADA (Colectivo Acciones de Arte or Art Actions Collective) and the performance duo Las Yeguas del Apocalipsis (The Mares of the Apocalypse), whose work will be discussed below. The individual artistic output of some of their participants, most notably Pedro Lemebel and Diamela Eltit, should also not be overlooked.
Similar but not identical to the concept of ch'ixi is the Mapuche term champurria, or mixture, specifically the mixture of Mapuche with colonist (Bacigalupo 2014; Tijoux 2014), though its relation to temporality seems less overt.
The origins of the cueca are in fact quite murky, varyingly ascribed with Moorish, Spanish, Indigenous, and African influences (Torres 2003; Garrido 1976).
It should be noted that ponchos, both the word and the garment, are likely of Mapuche origin, and thus their adoption as the Chilean natural costume itself indexes the invisibilization of indigenous influence on Chilean society (Garavaglia 2002).
Like the poncho, the elision of the words huasa (peasant) and china (literally Chinese woman, but often used to refer to Indigenous people), demonstrates the complicated history of the cueca as a national symbol that ultimately renders invisible the multiple non-European influences on the dance.
In 1988 Pinochet was voted out in a historic plebiscite, ending his seventeen-year dictatorship and leading to a return to democratic governance in 1990.
Literally, “Mares of the Apocalypse.” The name arose during the onset of the HIV/AIDS crisis in Chile and is a play on words with both the biblical “Knights of the Apocalypse” and the popular slur for promiscuous women and feminine homosexual men, “yegua.”
A portmanteau of marica (f*ggot) and cueca, the traditional dance of Chile, this word is one of many in the Chilean lexicon with the purpose of deriding male homosexuals, and it was used by the poet Pedro Lemebel, discussed below, in his work on Chilean sexual dissidence and invisibility (Lemebel 2000). The word was also used by activist Víctor Hugo Robles (2008), known as “El Che de los gays,” to describe his own impromptu queer cueca sola performance in 1997.
It should be clarified that, by this point in the dictatorship, total repression of protest was becoming increasingly difficult, and the plebiscite that eventually led to the return to democracy had already taken place. The year 1989 represents a moment of slight political aperture in which this kind of protest was, to some extent, possible, if still largely clandestine.
Racial mixture, generally understood in Chile as the mixture of white and Indigenous people, effacing the contributions of other groups such as Arabs, East Asians, and people of African descent to the fabric of today's Chile.
In the context of Chile—a country with little history of African slavery compared to its neighbors and even less discourse about it—at the moment of the performance, the word black should be interpreted as “not white.”
From desfondar—and etymologically unrelated to fonda—to remove the bottom from something.
The Mapudungun (Mapuche language) word for non-Mapuche people, generally understood to refer to the colonizer (Giminiani 2018).