Victor Jara of Chile, Presente! Now and Forever
By Sergio Reyes
Victor Jara was born on September 28, 1932, on the outskirts of Lonquen, where the land of the Ruiz Tagle family ended and the estate of Fernando Prieto began. Lonquen is a small peasant village, or rather a rural area, where the main objective is to house those who work for the few large latifundia who exploit equally the land, animals and the people.
Victor's wife, Joan recalls, "Victor was the son of a Chilean ploughman and a Chilean folk singer, by that I mean a real folk singer... His mother was a woman who played the guitar, who went round singing at harvest parties and funeral parties. Chilean peasants have a party when somebody dies. His family were very poor. They lived on one of these enourmous farms. where the peasants really lived in a feudal state. They had practically no salary at all --where paid in kind, with bags of flour and fruit. Very little fruit. Each family had a sort of house made of "adobe" which is mud and straw. One of Victor's earliest memories is being yanked out of bed to go and wash his feet in the ditch at the side of the house. To get firewood, to light the fire, and to heat water to make a sort of herb tea for breakfast. Victor remembers once a year when there was meat to eat. What a party it was! A fiesta!"
"These were some of his first memories, which I don't think were for him such miserable ones, because he always said his mother was such an exhuberant person, so full of life, that she made life worth living because of her personality. She made misery bearable, you know. That's what Victor said of her."
Victor's mother name was Amanda. His father's, Manuel. He had three siblings, Maria, Georgina and Eduardo. He was the youngest one. When he was 6 or 7 years old, Victor used to accompany his father to work in the fields. Sometimes, as a great treat, he would get a ride on the harrow, but mostly he remembered trudging along the line of the furrow, helping to guide the heavy oxen, as his father plunged the primitive wooden plough into the earth, backwards and forwards, the whole day.
Victor's memories of his father were not good ones. Manuel, as so many Chilean workers, brutalized by work, injustice, poverty, ignorance and exploitation, found refuge or false escape to his misery in alcohol. In one of his songs Victor says: "I remember the face of my father / like a hole on the wall / sheets stained with mud / and my mother always working..."
His mother decided to move to Santiago as a result of a terrible accident that happened to Maria. As she was preparing food on their rudimentary stove, a pot of boiling water fell on her. Her serious burns could only be treated at a hospital in Santiago. Victor's mother found a way to raise her family there working a food stand at an open market.
One day of March 1950, Victor was called out of the classroom to learn that his mother, Amanda, had collapsed and died from a stroke while she was serving meals to her customers at the market.
Victor was practically left orphan, since his father could not and would not come to his rescue. Living at friends, barely making it in school, he lived a teenage life of poverty. He left school at age 15 and entered the Redemptorist Order in San Bernardo, a small town south of Santiago. In 1952 he left the seminary without being ordered, and was enlisted in the army. In 1953 he was dismissed with honors.
By 1954 Victor was seriously persuing his interest in music and theatre. Aided by friends he could enroll at the university. There he met his wife, Joan Turner, a teacher from Great Britain.
The rest of his life was an uninterrupted process of study and creation, both in music and in theater. Guided by a moral sense of justice, he worked closely with the Communist Part of Chile. His songs and his theater work reflected the life of Chilean workers and peasants. He gave birth to the most beautiful songs of labor, to the ploughman, to the laso makers, to the weaver, to the shaveler, to the ones working the carts pulled by oxens, and to those simple workers who gave their lives for social justice.
In 1973, Doctor Salvador Allende, a member of the Socialist Part of Chile, became the first socialist president to be elected in Latin America. He headed the Popular Unity Coalition, which presented a radical program of peaceful transition to socialism, widely supported by the Chilean people.
Victor was an enthusiastic supporter of this revolutionary process. He became then the target of right-wing hatred, like so many other cultural workers who participated wholeheartedly in the attempt of a revolution that Allende labeled as, "one with the taste of red wine and empanadas."
On September 11, 1973, the military headed by Admiral Toribio Merino and Army General Augusto Pinochet, aided by the U.S. government through its Central Intelligence Agency, carried out a brutal coup de etat. Thousands of Popular Unity leaders and supporters where imprisoned, and hundreds summarily executed. Allende killed himself, truthful to his word, "Only dead, they will force me out of the presidency."
Victor Jara of Chile, a great man, a great compan~ero, a simple man, a great composer, a poet of the people, a loving husband, a people's musician, a self-made man, a heroe of the people, was killed by a cowardly officer of the Chilean Army on September 15, 1973, at the Estadio Chile stadium. His hands were destroyed. His life severed. But his memory lives on... forever.