5.1 Final Reflections

It is not an exaggeration to state that future knowledge of this site will only be available through archival materials—the audio tour, the replicas, the memorial wall, the art pieces staged in the experiential practice that characterizes current memorialization practices. We enter the space that has been set up in such a way so that the archival objects might spark an affective reaction in the visitors. But it’s hard for me to imagine that these objects will move someone who has never been to the site, or who has no connection to what happened there. The punctum, or the trigger, has to come from somewhere in the viewer/listener. Trauma lives in the body, not in the archive.

The Parque de la Paz continues to be a highly practiced place. The violently contested history of spatial practices returns and disturbs the present. Memory is being constantly updated. Personal testimonies become part of the historical narrative. On the evidentiary level, Villa Grimaldi demonstrates both the centrality and complexity of place in individual and collective memory. What happens to that space is tantamount to what happens to Chileans’ understanding of the dictatorship: will people repress, remember, transcend, or forget? The warring mandates about the space rehearse the more salient public options: tear it down to bury the violence; build a commemorative park so that people will know what happened; let’s get beyond violence by hosting cultural events in the pavilion; forget about this desolate place, forget about this sorry past; let’s use this place to educate future generations. Nowhere is there talk of justice or retribution.

The questions posed by these dark sites extend far beyond the fences built around them. The small model near the entrance is to Villa Grimaldi what Villa Grimaldi is to Chile, and what Chile is to the rest of the Americas: a miniature rendition of a much larger project. There were 800 torture centers in Chile under Pinochet. If so many civic and public places like villas and gyms and department stores and schools were used for criminal violence, how do we know that the whole city did not function as a clandestine torture center? The scale of the violations is stunning. The ubiquity of the practice spills over and contaminates social life. We might control a site and put a fence around it, but the city, the country, the southern cone, the hemisphere has been networked for violence—and beyond too, of course, and not just because the U.S. openly outsourced torture. I actually do always know what happened here/there and accept that this, like many other sites, is my responsibility. I do participate in a political project that depends on making certain populations disappear. I am constantly warned to keep vigil, to “say something” if I “see something.” Though I shirked responsibility when I first met Matta—the Mexican government had nothing to do with the Chilean coup—there is another layer. After years of my own self-blinding, I realize that the Mexican government under then President Luis Echeverria disappeared thousands of young people, about the same age as I was then. Now that I live and work in the U.S., I know my tax dollars pay for Guantánamo and who knows what else. Something has been restored through the tours, with all their differences, that brings several of my worlds into direct contact. As the multi-tiered space itself invites, I recognize the layers and layers of political and corporeal practices that have created these places, the practices and politics of historical transmission, the personal histories I bring to them, and the emotions that get triggered as we walk through them in our own ways. I experience the tour as performance, and as trauma, and I know it’s never for the first, or last, time.