The Chilean summer is in full swing. As much as possible I’ve been outside, in my Couchsurfer host’s backyard pool, in the grass with a book, exploring Santiago’s streets after sundown, with friends at sidewalk bars, the beers cold and sweating on plastic tables.
And I’m not the only one who seems to live in the open air. Everyone is outside enjoying the lazy days. Concerts, film, and theater events are especially popular this time of year, with several city-wide festivals during the month of January. Last night I saw Step Afrika! perform at a free outdoor venue sponsored by the United States Embassy. The temporary stage and auditorium seating was erected in the newly renovated Peñalolen Park, whose site was formally both a detention center used to torture political prisoners during Pinochet’s dictatorship in the 70s and 80s as well as home to Chile’s largest land invasion by the poor and homeless. A brief, ambiguous speech in Spanish was given by the embassy’s cultural representative that alluded to the need for cultural understanding and peace instead racism and violence—a reference to the political repression of the past—and how the arts can bring together people from all rings of society—a reference to the neighborhood’s present-day poor.
From my perch atop an electric generator in the arena’s back corner—the place was packed and we arrived too late for actual seats—I could see that the crowd reacted well to the message, despite the woman’s broken, embarrassing Spanish. (Personal rant: how many millions are spent on foreign relations but the U.S. government couldn’t hire someone fluent in Spanish?). Though neither a stepper or of African descent, I felt proud of the United States for its many artistic contributions to the world that on most other nights tend to be overshadowed by the Golden Arches and high-budget media. Last night, for a change, all eyes were on the stage, all ears were filled with music, and people danced together no matter their nationality or skin color. For more information about stepping history or Step Afrika! as an organization here is their official website.