In September 2010, after making world headlines with a major earthquake,
the inauguration of a new conservative president, and the ongoing drama
of thirty-three miners trapped underground, Chile marked its bicentenary
with an outpouring of public celebrations. For weeks before and after the
September 18 national holiday, Chilean media brimmed with reflections
on the country’s 200 years of national life. In concerts and performances,
lectures, and parades, and in the pages of the press, Chileans examined,
celebrated, and critiqued every aspect of their history and identity as a na-
tion. Major public events, such as the inauguration in Santiago’s Santa Lucía
Park—site of the first Spanish settlement—of a commemorative statue dedi-
cated to Chile’s indigenous peoples and symbolically “returning” to them
the park’s main plaza, also foregrounded significant events and themes in
the national memory. Especially noteworthy was the diversity of perspec-
tives represented; alongside the rosters of “official” festivities a plethora of
“alternative” events proliferated whose organizers promised a less conven-
tional, more critical vision of the nation.
The bicentennial reflections on—and competing arguments about—the
past were by no means a unique occurrence. After the arrest of the ex-
dictator Augusto Pinochet in 1998 and again during a wave of 2011 student
protests, Chileans engaged in passionate debates about their society that
were simultaneously debates about the country’s past. The Chile Reader
takes its cue from this impulse to think about the meanings of national his-
tory and the relationship of Chile’s past and present.
For much of its history, Chile has embraced the mantle of exceptional-
ism—the notion that Chile is somehow different from its Latin American
neighbors. In recent years both inside and outside Chile, in Latin America
and beyond, this sliver of a country has been touted for its economic per-
formance, political stability, and modernity. In fact, this aura of historical
exceptionalism itself has a long history. During the colonial period, Chile’s
distinct character derived from its status as a remote backwater of the
Spanish Empire, a colony plagued by a perpetual war with an unusually
resistant indigenous population. In the early nineteenth century, observ-
Previous Page Next Page