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My Journey from Allende to Sanders

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My feet hurt after 3 hours standing in line; my hope is to enter the little theater in South Minneapolis, so I keep waiting in this sweaty crowd.

“But…why,” a friend asked me. “You hate that!” 

How do I answer her honestly when the answer is so big? The implied feelings and memories — history and facts — that I have been carrying my whole life had been packed in the only suitcase I brought when I emigrated to the United States 15 years ago from Chile, the first nation to elect a Socialist President, back in 1970.

This is why I jumped at the chance to take an assignment to cover this event as a journalist. Presidential candidate, Bernie Sanders, was hosting an event in Minnesota and I am now a reporter tasked with covering the story.  

“If you get the chance to ask him a question, what will you say?” my friend asked.

Under that pressure, the answer became incredibly clear. I don’t have questions. I would simply say thank you.

The Dictator

I grew up in a dictatorship. By the time I was born, Nixon and the CIA had worked their black magic to orchestrate the military coup that succeeded in killing roughly twelve thousand people — three thousand missing forever.  

The horror of the reality we lived in was sometimes soothed by beautiful memories — the stories of the movement of workers, artists, and intellectuals that had elected a socialist president just years before. So powerful were these achievements, that those three years of social justice have had a profound effect on our lives. 

“I never thought I could go to college,” my father told me. “That wasn’t for me. I knew I was smart — I cried over a bottle of wine once or twice before accepting my fate. Poverty would beat you to the ground until it taught you to accept your destiny. But then, I heard this guy talk. Salvador Allende. He talked about equality and justice. It was not my fault I was born poor!” he said. “Allende taught us that there were enough riches on this land for everybody, and we could elect people who would really fight for us!” 

Allende ran for President four times before finally winning. His worst enemies were the centrists, the ones who would sit on their expensive seats, talking about inequality and injustice, while doing nothing. These were the ones who would pay lip service to leftist ideals, but encourage you to accept your poverty and fate. They put dictators in power and made lots of money while many worked three jobs. 

That is what I saw when I came to the United States; there was no political left wing — only a right wing with two parties. It was a sad, hopeless political landscape, in a deteriorating country and a drifting world. 

Then I heard this guy, Bernie Sanders, talk. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing! Is he really saying that? It was just like hearing my father speak about Allende. 

Daring to Dream

When my father was fighting the beginnings of Alzheimer’s disease, I would sit with him and talk about everything, including politics. Sometimes he was really there with me, perfectly alert and coherent. In one of those moments of clarity that I clung to with all my might, I told him about Bernie. 

“It can happen, you know, all the things he says. They are possible,” he said.

I thought of my father as I stood surrounded by hundreds of others in Minneapolis, waiting anxiously for Bernie Sanders to take the stage. 

In his speech, Senator Sanders said, “Nelson Mandela said something very profound: ‘Everything is impossible until it happens.’ This campaign is about breaking down the limits of our imagination in terms of what this country can be. 

“It is about taking on an establishment which tells us every single day that nothing real can happen … ‘you can’t afford health care, that’s the way it is’… ‘you can’t afford to send your kids to college, that’s the way it is. It can’t be changed!’” 

“NO!” I yelled from the crowd. No. I knew better. I had seen it for myself. My father had lived it, had seen it all become a reality. It was possible. 

Salvador Allende won, and during the three years of his administration, the national universities were tuition free. That was how my father became the first person in his family to graduate from college. He became an electrical engineer. 

Three short years changed the lives of people like ourselves for generations to come. I am here today — proof against the fate the oligarchy of my country wanted me to accept — as the first woman in my family to earn a professional degree, writing an article in my second language. 

The future can be changed. No one needs to accept poverty or a lack of opportunity. We must fight for our rights. My father did it in Chile and made my life better. Now I am fighting for the same possibilities here.

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