editor’s introduction
‘‘I’m going to tell you a little about my life, you see, so that we can get to
know each other better,’’ Isolde Reuque Paillalef says at the beginning of her
testimony. These were the first words she spoke to me during our first
formal interview on November 29, 1996. We had talked on the phone a
couple of times, setting up our meeting, and I had earlier heard from my
Santiago colleague María Elena Valenzuela a summary of the role Isolde had
played as a Mapuche feminist leader, including a description of how María
Elena had gotten to know Isolde on the Chilean delegation to the Inter-
national Women’s Conference in Beijing earlier that year. I met Isolde at the
Café Raíces, an experiment in the blending of indigenous cultures, musics,
jewelry, and cuisine from all over Latin America that had existed in down-
town Temuco for about eight months. Though we were not aware of it at the
time, the Café Raíces was already on its last legs when the two of us began to
get to know each other across one of its tables.
What was perfectly clear to me at that moment were my reasons for
wanting to get to know Isolde. Less than a year before I had taught a course
on oral history and testimonial literature at the University of Wisconsin in
which we had read the most recent experiments in the genre as well as
reviewing some of the classics. We had also discussed recent critiques by
feminist and postmodern literary critics. In such a context, one of my goals
was to explore the possibility of collaborating with a Mapuche woman in
the production of a feminist testimonial. I was searching for a horizontal or
egalitarian relationship, inasmuch as this was possible. I was not interested
in a story that could be ‘‘typical’’ or ‘‘representative’’ of any group, and in
any case I doubted that such typicality could be claimed by any one person.
I wanted to collaborate on a testimonio whose author/subject could dia-
logue and reflect with me about the political and cultural complexities of
her people and her culture.
From what I already knew at the time of our first conversation, Isolde
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