Looking for Loving Liberation in the Life and Song of Victor Jara

Victor Jara braced the violence of the Chilean state with a song in his heart and a guitar in his hands. His melodic call for resilience and love is more powerful than the screeching sirens of violence. What drives this commitment to social justice and desire to witness the liberation of one’s people? The simple answer to the question is, love; love was and continues to be the driving force that motivates these troubadours to surrender their lives to change their peoples’ lives for the better. By Camila Valdivieso. California. Spring 2016. #LatinOpen

Looking for Loving Liberation in the Life and Song of Victor Jara

An Introduction to Nueva Canción and Love

Vixctor#2The Nueva Canción or New Song Movement began in the 1960’s across various Latin American countries in response to historic injustices and social inequality. These prevailing disparities and activist response to it led to many progressive governments being elected throughout the late sixties. This, in turn, led to a response by conservative forces in the form of violent U.S. backed government takeovers. Musicians like Violeta Parra and Victor Jara of Chile, Pablo Milanes of Cuba, Mercedes Sosa in Argentina, and Caetano Veloso in Brazil were all part of their country’s respective New Song Movement. Fueled by Catholic liberation theology, musicians of Nueva Canción wrote folk music about the beautiful rolling landscapes of their beloved country, the quotidian life of the campesinos, and their struggles. Many also wrote poetic love songs infused with Marxist theory. Musicians like Victor Jara were not only artists but also activists and academics in their own right. Victor rose from a poor working-class family, studied theatre and music and became a kind and loving teacher, theatre director, musician, and activist before and during Chile’s shortened Allende years. Victor, his contemporaries, and those who follow in his footsteps share a commitment to the creation of a better, more just society for their compañeros. The legacy of Nueva Canción was carried on after 1973 by activists and musicians engaged in what they then called Canto Nuevo, which also translates to “New Song” but refers specifically to the music produced after the coup. They engaged in this commitment through the sharing of their music, teaching, and their participation in various actions, protests, and movements worldwide.

What drives this commitment to social justice and desire to witness the liberation of one’s people? The simple answer to the question is, love; love was and continues to be the driving force that motivates these troubadours to surrender their lives to change their peoples’ lives for the better. Author bell hooks, through psychologist M. Scott Peck, defines love as the intentional will and action of “[extending] one’s self for the purpose of nurturing one’s own or another’s spiritual growth” (hooks 2000). For hooks and Peck love is about will, intention, and most importantly choice. People like Victor Jara made the conscious choice to speak out against the injustices experienced by his fellows; he made this choice so adamantly that it cost him his life at the hands of the Chilean military junta. During the Allende years, Jara became a symbol for the dream of a better and more just society, thus becoming a target of the military junta. After his murder, he is transformed into a symbol of hope and resistance and an example of the sacrifice that must be made for transformative social change. Jara used his art – his music – as the mechanism through which to share the love he had for humanity just as those who keep his legacy alive hold in their hearts the will to aid in the spiritual growth of those willing to hear their call to action. This call for love and justice is poignant in a society, which neglects to hone in on our capacity to love in such a way that allows us to successfully effect transformative change and construct a just society. Love is so often individualized and trivialized by mainstream dominant society to the point where it loses the potential to be understood as the powerful source of resilience that it is. Through this understanding of a latent desire for justice, I examine how love can be a radical force and tool for social change. In this vein, I will engage with Victor Jara’s lyrical composition, his activism, and the work of current artists who have made it their objective to preserve his legacy to establish how their work is fueled by a radical love – a love which nurtures growth and change. Through the practice of this radical love – which foments the compassionate social justice that Victor Jara, his contemporaries, and today’s activists long for – transformative change can be made. Victor showed us with his life work – su obra – and through the ultimate sacrifice, that love and justice are possible. Musicians like Inti-Illimani, Quilapayún, Illapu, Angel and Isabel Parra, Congreso, Rafael Manriquez, Francisco Villa and Patricia Carmona, Ana Tijoux, Silvio Rodriguez, Duamuxa, and many others continue his legacy by not only performing his songs but also adding to the repertoire their own songs of struggle, justice, and love. This essay presents an examination of definitions of love by bell hooks, who outlines the overarching understanding of love I use to frame Jara’s work in this context; Inga Muscio’s contrasting of violence and love; Michael Nagler’s discussion on nonviolence and operating from one’s “soulforce”; and Chela Sandoval’s “methodology of the oppressed” and accompanying theory of engaging difference as being an act of love; Jara’s activism and poetry; and lastly, the work of current musicians who follow in Jara’s legacy.

My Personal Stake in Searching for Love in Song

jaraSome of the first memories I have are sharing space and time not only with my parents but with my grandfather, family friends, and various community members. From a very young age I was part of this growing community with a shared history, yet all of their stories were unique. I was taught that the way to engage with my family and community was through honest and open communication. Early in my childhood I learned of the atrocities my family and community experienced at the hands of Dictator Augusto Pinochet and his military junta. I remember being flabbergasted, horrorstruck, sobbing, and asking, “Why? How could people treat each other this way? Why don’t they love each other? Why are they so cruel and unkind?” It took my mother what seemed like hours to console me. It has also taken years of discussion, reading, and learning to understand the complexity of Chile’s coup and the complicity of the U.S. government in the violence endured by the Chilean people. Now, at every turn of injustice that I learn about, the same pain and rage I felt at age twelve twists a tremendous knot in my throat. I have come to recognize this pain as the physical manifestation of the intergenerational and still very present trauma that my community has experienced. At the same time, it is the physical manifestation of an urging desire to foment resilience and justice in the world but in particular for my community.

All of my life I have been listening to the resilient songs of Victor Jara, Mercedes Sosa, Inti-Illimani, Los Jaivas, Silvio Rodriguez, Violeta Parra, Rafael Manriquez, and more. Rafael Manriquez was particularly prominent in my memories of repertoire as he is my grandfather; he was among those who was able to self-exile after the coup and fortunately did not fall victim to the immediate violence of the dictatorship. The songs of these musicians and many more at times consoled me, lulled me, and yet others provoked the same knot in my throat that I feel every time I encounter injustice. These musicians’ songs among others taught me that despite all the hate and violence that exists in our world, there still exists a place for love and justice; that the melodic call for resilience and love is more powerful than the screeching sirens of violence. Whenever I am pained by unfairness, cruelty, and heartlessness my respite is found in song; songs like Los Jaivas’ “Todos Juntos” (All United) which chants “For a long time I have lived asking myself/ Why is the earth so round and why is there only one?/ If we all live separately/ What are the sky and the sea for?/ What is the sun that shines upon us for?/ If we don’t even want to look at each other/ So many sorrows that are taking us all to the end/ How many nights of tenderness, every night, will we have to give?/ Why live so separated/ If the earth wants to unite us/ If this world is one and for everyone/ All united we will live.” Because these musicians’ activism and music has kept the fight for justice alive for me and so much of my community, I have chosen to engage in a critical analysis of one of Chile’s most cherished cantautores, Victor Jara, who was much more than a singer-songwriter. Music and prose encapsulate moments in time while often remaining relevant long after their initial composition. Victor Jara’s songs, although written during the 1960’s through the 1970’s, still hold messages of truth for today’s society and most importantly, today’s sociopolitical environment. His calls for love, peace, and justice have not lost their resonance, on the contrary, they are just as equally needed today as they were in 1973 Chile.

Literature Review: What Does Love Look Like?

FamiliaI begin this analysis by engaging definitions of love to set a framework and provide a solid grounding for what love looks like in this context. Love is so much more than the stereotypical romance between two people, often two heterosexual people that is regurgitated to the public by popular culture. Love exists in romantic relationships but it also exists in platonic relationships with family, friends, pets, our communities, and others we choose to surround ourselves with. However powerful love is within romantic relationships, it is not the only realm in which love should thrive; while love contained in romantic relationships has the potential to be subversive and transformative, this love must also exist outside of the context of an intimate relationship in order to be effective, or in order to move and touch others. Love is a force that provides us with the impetus to care not only for our own wellbeing but that of others; it is the opposite and rival of selfishness, violence, and apathy. For these reasons, love is a powerful tool for building toward social justice. Many academics and activists have written on the subject of love as well as that of love’s role and place in the context of social justice; in other words, how engaging in a practice of love and knowing how to love in our present society can create a much better place not only for ourselves but for our children and for all of those who will occupy the future. Later in this essay the ways that Victor Jara and other musicians incorporate love into their musical prose will be explored.

When we watch the news or access media in any way it is obvious that our society is saturated with violence, and it’s not just simply violence. It is violence constructed, structured, and perpetuated by those invested in maintaining the same power dynamics that have existed in this country for the last four centuries; violence keeps white capitalist heteropatriarchy as the dominant power structure to which all members of society must adhere to. As will be discussed later in this essay, Victor Jara calls out the violence of his state in many of his songs in the same way that musicians Francisco Villa and Duamuxa do when addressing the current affairs of both the U.S. and Chile. Inga Muscio in Rose: Love in Violent Times details the various types of violence that permeate our lived reality; she unapologetically explains the many ways violence is not just manifested by wars, or as she terms them “brutal occupations,” orchestrated by the military industrial complex in which both soldiers and civilians are casualties; violence is not simply the four-centuries long enslavement and decimation of black and brown people in the U.S.; violence is also not just the many ways women and women’s bodies have been constantly denied rights and autonomy; violence is also in the ways we conduct ourselves in our daily lives. When we don’t acknowledge each other’s presence, embrace someone’s differences, or when we organize ourselves in hierarchical pyramidal structures instead of horizontally, in a circle or in a spiral, allotting some with all of the power while leaving the rest powerless and marginalized, we are engaging in violence.

jaraniñosTo counteract these acts of violence present in our daily lives and our society at large we must recondition ourselves to treat and look upon everyone around us with love and respect in the same way that native Hawaiian people strive for and practice aloha, as the short film “A Place in the Middle” so eloquently explains. Ho‘onani Kamai, the young girl centered in the film, closes out the film by providing the most important definition of aloha, which is “to have love, honor, and respect for everyone.” Much in the same vein, Muscio defines love as “finding value in most everything, and new ways to value yourself, the planet, animals, trees, people you like, people you don’t like, and so on,”. As it is for bell hooks and Scott Peck, love for Muscio is an action, it “is something you do” and a “manner of being present in the world,” (Muscio 2010). As individuals and as a society we must choose to act out of love in our everyday interactions; this decision becomes ever more powerful as love is enacted in the face of the violent world we live in. In this vein, Victor Jara braced the violence of the Chilean state with a song in his heart and a guitar in his hands.

The idea of horizontality discussed by Paula Rojas in “Are the Cops in Our Heads and Our Hearts?” as practiced by the Zapatistas in the Chiapas region of Mexico resonates with Muscio’s discussion on misplaced hierarchical deference on “important people” to the detriment of those around them, especially those who support them and their work. When she says “important people” she’s referring to celebrities, well known authors, activists, and anyone with notoriety whom people put on a pedestal. While Muscio experienced various instances of subtle ironic violence at an anti-war rally in Washington DC since the organizers were much more concerned about press coverage and suiting the needs of “important people” rather than the cause itself, the Zapatistas share and disperse power equitably or evenly so that all members of the community gain access to the leadership skills necessary to function in a collectively organized society such as theirs. Jara was very vocal about his anti-imperialist, anti-capitalist beliefs and they were woven into most if not all of his songs; he made every effort to align himself with su pueblo and never held himself above them.

bell hooks too, like Muscio, is concerned about the lack of love present in our society, or what she calls lovelessness. In All About Love: New Visions bell hooks urges the reader to understand love as much more than that which you share with an intimate partner, as much more than a noun, but rather as a verb, as an action which must be embraced and practiced to its fullest extent. Without loving there is no healing and thus there can be no true transformative social change. Both hooks and Muscio refer to the dictionary definition of love and declare it inaccurate, insufficient, and too simple. For both, love is not an easy endeavor; it involves difficult work, dedication, and commitment. bell hooks derives her definition from psychiatrist M. Scott Peck; love is choosing to nurture growth both in oneself as much as in others, it involves intention, action, and will while Muscio’s definition involves a practice of sharing time, space, and life with those around you.

teleThe musicians discussed later in this essay also engage more poetic definitions and examples of love that contain anti-violence messages about horizontality and sharing time. Michael Nagler in The Search for A Nonviolent Future uses the term “soul force” which he defines very closely to the way that hooks and Muscio describe love; soul force, necessary to practice nonviolence, consists of not only thought and speech but also deeds, or action. In “Uses of the Erotic: The Erotic as Power” Audre Lorde also describes an internal energy or “lifeforce”, that of the erotic, which she understands as an empowered and empowering knowledge to be reclaimed. Lorde sees the erotic as that which embodies love, creativity, intention, and purpose. Nagler also refers to compassion and Mahatma Gandhi’s theory of heart unity which is defined by the desire for another’s happiness regardless of their differences. Thus loving community is built through heart unity. Engaging each other’s differences from a place of love, as difficult as it may be initially, has the potential to illustrate another point of view and even transform previously held opinions or convictions. Engaging differences is what Chela Sandoval explores in her book Methodology of the Oppressed wherein she discusses differential consciousness, which partially comprises the apparatus of love which is “understood as a technology for social transformation.” These writers, though they may use different terms, understand the significance of love as not a feeling but as an action and a practice, which must be engaged with intention in order to improve our lived reality.

Victor Jara and His Song

publicoThis section will provide the context of Jara’s life and how he came to be the symbol for resilience that he is today. His life experience and obra will show how Jara and a radical love are inextricable. Victor Jara’s poor rural upbringing before the Allende years in Lonquen made him ever so conscious of the strife of his poor working-class compañeros. Even though his family was of very little means, his mother always encouraged him to pursue his education and follow his dreams. His drunkard father left them when he was very young and after his mother died when he was only fifteen years old, he hoped “to find a different and more profound love which perhaps would compensate for the lack human love” in his life (Jara 1987), thus he ended up entering a seminary in San Bernardo, a town near Santiago. However, he found that he was not well-suited for the priesthood and ten days after leaving he was drafted into the Chilean army; young men in Chile were required to fulfill a certain amount of time in the military forces. Though he became a first class sergeant he was soon discharged and returned to Santiago. Jara was raised within the context of the folkloric tradition; his mother sang folk songs and as such Jara also learned to play the guitar and sing. This upbringing allowed him to audition for the choir at the University of Chile and he subsequently also auditioned and applied for the theater program at the same university. At his audition he was praised by the judges for his stage movements rather than his reading skills. Jara met Joan Turner Bunster, a British dancer in the late 1950s. Joan and Victor soon thereafter became romantically involved and by 1965 married and raised two daughters.

A significant moment in his life is when Jara met Nueva Cancion singer-songwriter, Violeta Parra in Santiago in 1957 at Café Sao Paulo where she had just performed. This encounter inspired him to join the movement by joining a folk group by the name of Cuncumén and wrote songs which explored Chile’s traditional music. Even as he continued to work in theater as a stage director for nine years, music became ever more present in his life. After leaving the group Cuncumén in 1962 he started to write songs which were at first more personal but later, following in Parra’s footsteps began to write more songs dedicated to the poor working-class struggle, justice and dignity for all, and any number of songs with undertones of deep-felt love for his people and humanity at large. As Jara began to become popular in leftist circles he became much more of a target for the Chilean right-wing. Jara joined the Communist Party in the early 1960’s and as such wrote political songs about the poverty he experienced throughout his life more adamantly. He was so politically active in fact, that he performed and recorded the theme song for Salvador Allende’s Unidad Popular (Popular Unity) movement and supported his election to the presidency in 1970; the song was named Venceremos or We Will Triumph in English and it was written by Sergio Ortega and Claudio Iturra. His poetic composition combined with his rock n’ roll infused traditional Chilean folk sound were admired by leftist Chileans as well as worldwide with songs like Te recuerdo Amanda (I Remember You, Amanda), Manifiesto (Manifesto), El derecho de vivir en paz (The Right to Live in Peace), Angelita Huenumán, \Luchin, Plegaria a un Labrador (Prayer to a Laborer), and many more.

I begin the analysis of Jara’s songs with one of his most well-known and world renowned songs, Te recuerdo Amanda. Victor Jara wrote Te recuerdo Amanda about a poor working-class couple he became friends with and thus he had become privy to their marital and financial struggles. The song honors the role of the woman in the family, who is more often than not, treated akin to a slave or a servant. Jara says “El hombre no es nada sin la mujer,” (Man is nothing without woman). Through this song he addresses the strife many working-class families endure; that of the woman bearing the burden of raising the children in the home while the husband, a laborer, goes to work en la fabrica – the factory. The song was written in homage to the exploited obrero who often had very little or no time at all to rest or care for his wife and children as can be deciphered by how the couple, Amanda and Manuel, learn to make five minutes seem eternal. Like this song, many of Jara’s compositions addressed the experiences of the working-class. He wrote about his own experiences growing up first in a rural town outside of Santiago and after the separation of his parents in a more urban context with his then single mother. Later in his life he also often visited poor working-class towns and neighborhoods in Chile to hear their testimonies in order to honor them in song. He considered himself un cantor popular – a popular singer – not for his popularity but because he was a man of the people; he considered himself a laborer in song, always aligning himself horizontally with the working-class and never replicating hierarchical structures (Chaparro, Seves, and Spener 2013). This is in line with Rojas’ and Muscio’s discussion on sharing power and avoiding placing people on pedestals. By practicing horizontality, recognizing the working-class struggle, and replacing potentially violent behaviors with compassion, understanding and love Jara put into practice hooks’ and Muscio’s underlying definitions of love.

Te Recuerdo Amanda
Te recuerdo Amanda
 la calle mojada 
corriendo a la fábrica
 donde trabajaba Manuel. 
La sonrisa ancha
 la lluvia en el pelo 
no importaba nada
 ibas a encontrarte con él 
con él, con él, con él
 son cinco minutos 
la vida es eterna
 en cinco minutos 
suena la sirena
 de vuelta al trabajo 
y tú caminando
 lo iluminas todo 
los cinco minutos
 te hacen florecer.

Te recuerdo Amanda la calle mojada 
corriendo a la fábrica
 donde trabajaba Manuel. 
La sonrisa ancha
 la lluvia en el pelo 
no importaba nada
 ibas a encontrarte con él 
con él, con él, con él
 que partió a la sierra 
que nunca hizo daño
 que partió a la sierra 
y en cinco minutos
 quedó destrozado 
suena la sirena
 de vuelta al trabajo 
muchos no volvieron
 tampoco Manuel. 

I Remember You, Amanda
I remember you, Amanda the soaked street
Running to the factory where Manuel worked
Wide smile the rain in your hair
Nothing mattered you were going to meet with him
With him, with him, with him

He who left for the mountains

He who never caused harm
He who went to the mountains
Five minutes life is eternal in five minutes
The siren sounds back to work
And you light up everything as you walk
Those five minutes make you blossom

And in five minutes was destroyed
The siren sounds back to work
Many did not return neither did Manuel.

 Jara wrote another very well-known song, Manifiesto in the days following the bombing of the National Palace and Allende’s alleged suicide. Joan Jara describes some of the days before he was arrested by the military junta in her book Victor: An Unfinished Song, wherein she talks about when he was writing Manifiesto; she recalls that the way he was so caught up in it was as if he was writing his last will and testament, as if he knew his end was coming. In this song, Jara writes of his love and duty to sing because unlike most everything else in the world, the guitar has sentido y razón; his interest in cultural production is not a desire for riches or for fame but to foster hope, love, resistance, and resilience. Manifiesto is both an ode to Nueva Canción and a declaration of his perceived role as a man of the people. Rumor says that before Jara was shot to death in the head two lieutenants beat him up, broke his fingers, and threw a guitar at him in an attempt to humiliate and mock him; the surviving prisoner who witnessed this event states that even moments from death and with his fingers in what must have been excruciating pain, he still sang. Manifiesto is the last finished song Jara wrote before being shot in the head and subsequently bombarded with bullets along with fourteen other prisoners who were present during his last moments. Additionally, a poem which has many names – Ay canto, Somos cinco mil, or Estadio Chile – was the very last poem that Jara wrote while he was imprisoned in Chile’s stadium which the military used as a prison. Ay Canto is an unfinished poem as it was smuggled out of the estadio before the officers could confiscate it. In this poem he reveals the true horror of the actions of the military junta against the Chilean people behind the walls of the stadium. His haunting last words still demand justice and implore society to hold one another into justice. Jara’s relentless commitment to people’s liberation through song is forever memorialized in the collective Chilean (leftist) memory; although he never openly claimed operating from a politics of love – though he did speak about trying to find love in his life – his actions and lyrics embody that which bell hooks and M. Scott Peck see as nurturing growth through “care, affection, recognition, respect, commitment, and trust, as well as honest and open communication,” (hooks 2000).

Victor Jara’s summoning of Violeta Parra in one of the very last songs he wrote and sang before his unjust and untimely death is an homage to her tremendous role in the founding of Nueva Canción. Parra travelled across the countryside in Chile collecting and preserving folk songs. She also wrote her own songs dedicated to her country, the working-class struggle, and the struggle of the indigenous people of Chile (Chaparro, Seves, and Spener 2013). Parra was a cantora, a folksinger, whose work was not recognized for its immensity until years after her death. Many Nueva Canción and Canto Nuevo musicians now attribute the birth and success of the musical movements to her tireless work (Morris 1986). Parra, just like Jara, had a deep-seated love for her pueblo y patria so she dedicated her life to uncovering and preserving the musical gems of her patria. They both believed music has the power to not only unite people but also to move people to action. Victor Jara took his last breaths believing song had the power to change the circumstances of his people. He was right; his love for his pueblo y patria, so apparent in his music, inspired budding Canto Nuevo musicians to maintain the cultural production and dissemination of the people’s political and social strife through song despite the dictatorship’s harsh censorship. Canto Nuevo musicians learned to disguise their subversive messages with poetics and metaphors; such was the necessity to share the need for justice, peace, and love that musicians like Isabel and Angel Parra, Illapu, Silvio Rodriguez, and various others so desired. This desire to continue engaging in a cultural production which was deemed subversive and thus endangered their lives is explained by Lorde’s discussion of the erotic, as previously mentioned; the ongoing commitment to a possibly fatal obra embodies love and creation itself.


Yo no canto por cantar ni por tener buena voz
Canto porque la guitarra tiene sentido y razón
Tiene corazón de tierra y alas de palomita
Es como el agua bendita santigua glorias y penas
Aquí se encajó mi canto como dijera violeta
Guitarra trabajadora con olor a primavera
Que no es guitarra de ricos ni cosa que se parezca
Mi canto es de los andamios para alcanzar las estrellas
Que el canto tiene sentido cuando palpita en las venas
Del que morirá cantando fas verdades verdaderas
No las lisonjas fugaces ni las famas extranjeras
Sino el canto de una lonja hasta el fondo de la tierra
Ahí donde llega todo y donde todo comienza
Canto que ha sido valiente siempre será canción nueva.

I don’t sing just to sing nor because I have a good voice
I sing because the guitar has both feeling and reason
It has heart of the earth and wings of a little dove
It is like holy water healing glories and sorrows
My song has found a purpose as Violeta would say
Hardworking Guitar with the scent of spring
My guitar is not for the rich no, nothing like that
My song is of the scaffold to reach the stars.
For a song has meaning when it throbs in the veins
of a man who will die singing, truthfully singing his song.
My song is not for fleeting praise nor to gain foreign fame,
it is for this narrow country to the very depths of the earth
There, where everything comes to rest and where everything begins,
song which has been brave song will be forever nueva canción

In continuation of Jara’s solidarity with the working-class masses, he wrote the song translated below, Plegaria a un Labrador or Prayer to a Laborer. In this song Jara evokes not only a call to the peasants who cultivated the land with their own hands to join their brothers in the struggle for a more just society but also Nueva Canción’s relationship to Liberation Theology. Given that the song is in the style of a prayer to the poor working-class, Nueva Canción’s undeniable roots in the Church of Liberation are very clearly shown in this song as well as many others. Theology of liberation is a term coined by Gustavo Gutierrez, a Peruvian theologian and pastor, in 1968. Gutierrez stipulates three primary goals as the defining tenets of liberation theology; first, the practice involves political and social liberation, and as such the eradication of the most obvious causes of poverty and injustice. The liberation of the poor, the marginalized, and the otherwise oppressed from “those things that limit their capacity to develop themselves freely and in dignity” is the second tenet. Lastly, society must be liberated from selfishness and sin, must re-establish a relationship with God as well as with other people (Gutierrez 1988). Both Liberation Theology and Nueva Canción are embedded in a legacy of Marxism which is devoted to the betterment of those most marginalized. Again, this devotion exemplifies a life of giving nurture and care to one’s community, both on a small scale and a grander scale as Jara’s name and work gained more recognition throughout Chile and the world. He, like Chela Sandoval’s analysis of an activism of love, engaged the differences of all his country people; he recognized the struggles of the poor, of women, of the indigenous, and all of those most heavily affected by political upheavals and violence. In Plegaria, Jara gives respect to the grueling hard work of the laborer and invites him to join his brethren in a fight for justice until the end, until they reach a “kingdom of justice and equality.” This plea for coming together as a united front comes from a place of understanding the sacrifices that must be made in order for everyone to access the sort nurturing that love has the capacity to impart; love must be practiced within the cause, the movement, so as to push it forward.

Plegaria a un Labrador

Levántate y mira la montaña de donde viene el viento, el sol y el agua.

Tú que manejas el curso de los ríos, tú que sembraste el vuelo de tu alma.

Levántate y mírate las manos para crecer estréchala a tu hermano.

Juntos iremos unidos en la sangre hoy es el tiempo que puede ser mañana.

Líbranos de aquel que nos domina en la miseria.

Tráenos tu reino de justicia e igualdad.

Sopla como el viento la flor de la quebrada.

Limpia como el fuego el cañón de mi fusil.

Hágase por fin tu voluntad aquí en la tierra.

Danos tu fuerza y tu valor al combatir.

Sopla como el viento la flor de la quebrada.

Limpia como el fuego el cañón de mi fusil.

Levántate y mírate las manos

para crecer estréchala a tu hermano.

Juntos iremos unidos en la sangre

ahora y en la hora de nuestra muerte. Amén

Prayer to a Laborer

Arise and behold the mountain from whence come the wind, the sun, and the water

You who drive the course of the river you sow the flight of your soul

Arise and behold your hands to grow, embrace your brother

Together we will go, united in blood now is the time that can be tomorrow

Deliver us from that which dominates us in misery.

Bring your kingdom of justice and equality

Blow like the wind the flower of the ravine

Clean like the fire, the barrel of my gun

Have at last thy will here on earth

Give your strength and courage to fight

Arise and hold your hands 

to grow, embrace your brother

Together we will go, united in blood,

now and in the hour of our death. Amen

Oftentimes those most vulnerable to the state violence and political and social upheavals Jara so adamantly protested are children, and more specifically poor children. Jara wrote Luchin about a poor boy living in the shantytowns of Chile; the song itself sounds like a lullaby for all of the poor children “like Luchin” who make the best of what they have despite the very real disparities they experience as a result of living in poverty due to Chile’s archaic classist and anti-indigenous policies which displace poor and indigenous people to this day. Jara had a special love for these children, having himself grown up in poverty. Amongst all of the work he did to bring attention to the plight of the Chilean people, especially the poor and working-class, he brought his song to the shantytowns and sang to the neighborhood children. He believed in the power of song to bring to joy to all those in need of it; one can see the effect this had on the children of the shantytowns in the many grainy videos of Jara playing his guitar as children with wide smiles and bright eyes surround him. Jara recognized the beautiful yet tragic childhood of those who grow up in poverty; his love for the liberation of those most marginalized ran so deep he spoke of opening all of the cages to free these children so that they can fly away from their oppression “like birds.” Poverty, injustice, discrimination, and violence cage these children and so many others while nurture and nonviolent soul force as described by Nagler are the key to unlocking the cage and breaking the chains of their oppression.


Frágil como un volantín en los techos de Barrancas

Jugaba el niño Luchín con sus manitos moradas

Con la pelota de trapo, con el gato y con el perro,

El caballo lo miraba…

En el agua de sus ojos se bañaba el verde claro,

Gateaba a su corta edad con el potito embarrado,

Con la pelota de trapo, con el gato y con el perro,

El caballo lo miraba…

El caballo era otro juego en aquel pequeño espacio

Y al animal parecía le gustaba ese trabajo,

Con la pelota de trapo, con el gato y con el perro,

Y con Luchito mojado…

Si hay niños como Luchín que comen tierra y gusanos

Abramos todas las jaulas pa’que vuelen como pájaros,

Con la pelota de trapo, con el gato y con el perro,

Y también con el caballo.


Fragile as a kite on the rooftops of Barrancas

Played the boy, Luchin with his little purple hands

With the rag ball, with the cat and with the dog,

The horse watched him…

In the water of his eyes a light green color swims

He crawled to his young age with a muddy bottom

With the rag ball, with the cat and with the dog,

The horse watched him…

The horse was another game in that small space

And the animal seemed to like that job

With the rag ball, with the cat and with the dog,

And Luchito all wet…

If there are children like Luchín who eat dirt and worms

Let’s open all the cages so that they fly like birds,

With the rag ball, With the cat and with the dog,

And also with the horse.


In line with breaking the chains of oppression, I end the interpretation of Jara’s songs with that of his most well-known song El derecho de vivir en paz or “The Right to Live in Peace.” In this song Jara calls to mind solidarity with Vietnam during the atrocities perpetuated by the U.S. government in Indochina. The song was released in 1971, two years before the Chilean military coup; Jara’s anti-imperialist and anti-capitalist legacy grew ever more with the release of this song calling out the injustice of the Vietnam War while at the same time claiming song as a means of loving resistance with the line “Uncle Ho, our song/ Is fire of pure love/ […] It’s the universal song/ A bond that will prevail/ The right to live in peace.” In El derecho he honors the memory of Vietnam president as well as Communist revolutionary leader, Ho Chi Minh. In this song, Jara again engages across difference in solidarity with the Vietnamese people in a harmonic cry for the dignity and right of all people to live a life of love and peace without violence, corruption, and injustice. He evokes both soul force and the erotic, as Lorde describes, to send a message of love, hope, and resilience to not only neighbors in struggle but to all of humanity.

El derecho de vivir en paz

El derecho de vivir poeta Ho Chi Minh,

que golpea de Vietnam a toda la humanidad.

Ningun cañon borrara el surco de tu arrozal.

El derecho de vivir en paz.

Indochina es el lugar mas alla del ancho mar,

donde revientan la flor con genocidio y napalm;

la luna es una explosión que funde todo el clamor.

El derecho de vivir en paz.

Tio Ho, nuestra canción es fuego de puro amor,

es palomo palomar olivo de olivar

es el canto universal cadena que hara triunfar,

el derecho de vivir en paz

The Right to Live in Peace

The right to live poet Ho Chi Minh

Who from Vietnam struck all of humanity

No guns will wipe out your rice field furrow

The right to live in peace

Indochina is the place beyond the wide sea,

where the flower bursts with genocide and napalm;

The moon is an explosion that drowns out all of the cries

The right to live in peace.

Uncle Ho, our song is fire of pure love,

It’s a dovecote dove, olive from an olive grove,

It’s the universal song a bond that will prevail

The right to live in peace

Musicians Who Continue the Legacy

TorresManriquezMany artists have covered, re-interpreted, translated, and in any matter of ways re-purposed the music of Victor Jara in an effort to keep his legacy of love and resilience alive. It is of no surprise that the messages in his songs still ring with the harsh truths of injustice and the need to come together hand in hand to foment loving liberation. One of the many artists who engaged in this legacy of speaking out against the injustices in Chile and Latin America as a whole, and whose poetic lyrics are bathed in messages of love for humanity, is Rafael Manriquez. While Rafael Manriquez did not experience physical violence at the hands of the dictatorship, he did, like many others during the tragic time, experience the loss of a dream. Before the coup, Manriquez had been working as a journalist but was also slowly gaining popularity as an incredibly talented musician – he was on a path to becoming the world-renowned musician having recorded with RCA Victor in 1970 and 1971. However, soon after the coup the magazine company where he worked got shut down and the master recordings at RCA Victor in Santiago were destroyed and he set out of the country, first temporarily settling in Ecuador before making his way to the United States. The dictatorship’s censoring of the arts as well as the violence inured by all those who showed dissidence in any shape or form murdered my grandfather’s dream of building a just society and pursuing his music successfully – here success implies that he would have been able to live off of his craft. Manriquez became a musician regardless of the financial insecurity that would result from his career path; his talent and his love for the music superseded any desires for wealth or fame, just as it did for Jara. One of numerous compositions Manriquez wrote is a song by the name of Canción Sin Nombre or “Song Without a Name.” In this song he is nostalgic for a world of peace, a world without “violence, fear, hate, and cruelty.” The song is nostalgic for a utopic existence, a utopic memory and as such the song will remain without a name until there is justice in the world, until this utopic existence of peace and love becomes reality. Unfortunately, in June of 2013 Rafael Manriquez passed away having lost not only his unspoken dream of recognition but also never having seen the justice he wrote about brought to life. As such, his family is continuing his legacy out of a desire to share his work with the world so that he gains the recognition he so richly deserves but also in an effort to spread love and understanding through cultural production.

Many, for any number of reasons, did not have the capacity or opportunity to flee Chile after the coup. My father, also a musician, was eleven years old on that fateful September 11th of 1973 and he experienced what it is to live in a dictatorship. Musicians Francisco Villa and Patricia Carmona, who are about the same age as Ricardo Valdivieso, also know what it is to live in a dictatorship yet amidst the repression have cultivated a musical legacy in the same vein as Jara; Villa writes songs about love, the injustices experienced by people worldwide, calls to action to his compañeros, and even songs shaming both those who have become complicit in state violence, who used to be compañeros, and the very politicians who perpetuate the violence.

Villa dedicates the song Mi generación, or “My Generation,” to his generation who were forced to live in a dictatorship; who bore witness to the heinous crimes of said dictatorship; and who despite all of the woes they suffered still knew of lucha y amor. In Mi derecho a soñar or “My right to dream” Villa defends his and his pueblo’s right to dream of a better world, he also denounces those who would have him sing something less confrontational, something that would obscure “the truth of [his] people.” Jara also refused to hide or obscure the truth of what was happening to his pueblo in a relentless attempt to forge unity against a torturous, murderous state. This refusal to shroud the truth in a state which heavily censors any media that espouses messages against the state or against the status quo is a loving act of rebellion; during the dictatorship this behavior, as seen by Jara’s experience, was punished and though today the censoring and repercussions are not as extreme, the state still manages to silence people like Villa and Carmona and those they sing for. The silencing occurs in the form of limiting the opportunities to spread their messages of love and resilience but as shown by Villa he surpasses this censorship by touring across Latin America, to Europe, and for the first time to the United States in April of 2016. His musical messages of love, solidarity, resistance, and resilience, just like Jara’s, transcend borders and in effect engage differences around the world.

The last contemporary group I will discuss is a duo named Duamuxa. Ricardo and Marci Valdivieso make up the duo named Duamuxa, which is a word of their own creation meaning Double or Two Muses. As previously mentioned, Ricardo Valdivieso lived the dictatorship in Chile until he traveled to the United States at age twenty-eight in 1990. Marci, his partner and daughter of Rafael Manriquez, also grew up in the aftermath of the dictatorship but within a community of those who had been exiled and who resided in the Bay Area in California. Duamuxa fuse Nueva Canción, Canto Nuevo, folk, rock, jazz, blues, and psychedelic sounds to cultivate their own unique sound which also expresses messages of love, resistance, and which denounces injustices through their lyrics. One of their songs, “Blues in G” ends with the verses “When are we going to learn that different isn’t wrong/ that we’ve so much to learn from each other/ There’s only one world/There’s only one world/ Why don’t we do our best to share it?” As such their lyrics continue a legacy of encouraging anyone who will listen to engage across difference, to build and learn from each other instead of acting in violence toward one another.

Duamuxa has written a number of songs condemning the capitalist society we live in. In one such song, called Mr. Profit, Marci sings “You never think past those prophecies of profit/ Prophets like you don’t consider life worthwhile/ No human emotion behind the formula/ No way to measure what living is.” Here she very clearly critiques the government for their focus on capital and their total disregard for human life. She continues “There’s profit to be made in third world nations/ Their losses well connected to our gains/ The Middle East holds promises of war/ There you go/ There you go/ You’ve got the corner on the market, you know/ Your oil starts growing on the market/ War’s your money maker/ War’s hero-maker/ For countless innocents searching for a God.” Mr. Profit was written in the wake of the Iraq War under the Bush administration. Duamuxa recognized the violence of the war for what it really was, and refused to remain silent. The same way that Muscio urges her readers to dispel violence and act in love instead, songs like Mr. Profit decry the violence of the state in order to demand transformative social change.

In the same vein as Manifiesto and Mi derecho a soñar, Duamuxa wrote Credo, which is a response to being asked what Marci believes in after negating the existence of the Christian God to a family member. In another tune reminiscent of a lullaby Duamuxa sings the following verses:

Creo en tu sonrisa cálida y ternura

creo en tus ojitos con su brillo dulce

creo en tus manos, atentas a descubrir

Creo en tu creciente experiencia de niña traviesa

En tus pasos, creo en ti

Creo en el amor Creo en la pasión

y a veces el dolor creo en sentir y jamás mentir

y creo en mi Creo en mi gente

creo en la tierra…

I believe in your warm tender smile

I believe in your eyes which shine sweetly

I believe in your hands, ready to discover

I believe in your growing experience as a playful little girl

In your footsteps I believe in you

I believe in love I believe in passion

And sometimes sorrow

I believe in feeling and never lying

And I believe in me I believe in my people

I believe in the earth…

In this song Duamuxa lays out the many aspects of life which are worthwhile and worth believing in. Instead of praising a false God or dollar signs, Duamuxa finds meaning in watching their daughters explore the world with wide eyes; the power of love, passion, and even at times sorrow or pain to transform; and most importantly they believe in their people – su gente – in the same way that Jara believed in his pueblo. These songs, like Jara’s, are riddled with undertones as well as overtones of nurture, care, affection, and prioritizing growth. They send strong messages of love and resilience to anyone willing to listen.

In Memory of Victor Jara and the Importance of Love in Social Justice

heroBeyond the work of countless musicians continuing the legacy of Victor Jara many other projects and efforts exist in the name of Jara and justice. One such project is the documentary film about his life, “The Resurrection of Victor Jara” produced by John Summa, directed by John Travers, and with Executive Producer Fernando Torres. The film explores his activism, his music, and his work as an educator. The film also contains commentary from well-known individuals such as Arlo Guthrie, Arlo and Shenandoah, Bono of U2, Holly Near, Emma Thompson, and many more who speak in regards to his legacy, memory, and the impact his music has left behind. Bono states, “he never died. It takes more than guns to kill a man.” Jara lives on in the hearts of all of those who were touched by his music and by his dedication to his people and the dream of a better, more just world. While Pinochet and the military wanted his memory erased and destroyed many of his recordings, the love he espoused was too strong to be eradicated. His followers, his fans, friends, and family will not allow his work to have been in vein. Joan Jara and Amanda Jara, his wife and daughter, to this day are working with a human rights attorney to demand justice from the Chilean state for the death of Jara and, in turn for the countless others who lost their lives at the hands of the military junta. Theirs is an act of love not only because they are demanding justice for a loved one but also because in doing so they are denouncing the violence of the Chilean state and the U.S. government in their involvement in the coup. Part of eradicating violence is calling it by its name when it presents its thorny head and shattering it with love – or rather with nurture, care, affection, open communication and spiritual growth.

Musicians and artists often engage in creation to elicit certain feelings and images from their audience. They write music to teach, inspire, and spread a gospel of understanding, truth, love, and justice. The work of Victor Jara, Rafael Manriquez, and countless others has the intention of bringing a different, a peaceful, and just world into existence with their melodic harmonies and love-fueled lyrics. What Undocuqueer (undocumented and queer) graphic artist, Julio Salgado refers to as “artivism” weaves together the artists’ love for their labor with their love for justice and thus engaging in an activism that creates transformative social change through loving liberation. Song is a medium through which to send and receive a message; it has the potential to reach the heart in ways that literature or plain speech cannot. If we, as activists, musicians, artivists, and producers of culture pool this potential to spread messages of loving liberation to our communities and the world at large, hope and resilience can be birthed to foment transformative social change and bring into being out of our collective imaginations a loving, just society.##


I dedicate this work to my parents and my grandfather; my grandfather who tirelessly, lovingly, and with a sparkle in his eye sought a better world for his children and his grandchildren; my parents who have both inherited and passed down his legacy to my sisters and me and who every day inspire me to be a beacon of love and light amidst all of the darkness; to my sisters, who are my eternal best friends and the traviesitas who have already begun to pave themselves beautiful paths in their early 20-some years; to all of my tios and tias who have supported me through this incredible journey; and to all of my friends who have stood by me after every single moment of craziness. I would also like to give special thanks to Dr. Priya Kandaswamy for all of her support in my truly transforming journey at Mills College. You have been my life line at this institution and I am so honored to have been able to work and share space with you.


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