RODRIGUEZ, Carmen Laura




Author Tags: Civil Rights, Fiction

Carmen Rodriguez came to Canada from Chile as a political exile following the August Pinochet military coup in 1973. In her writing, she explores place, language and the emotional terrain of dual geographies. Her earlier work has been the product of a bilingual, bicultural process: going back and forth between Spanish and English until she was satisfied with the end result in the two languages.

Rodriguez has dedicated a great part of her life to the field of education. She has taught adult literacy and popular education in a variety of settings, in addition to an array of subjects in the field of education itself: literacy instruction, ESL instruction, curriculum development, multicultural education and others. She is co-author (with Don Sawyer) of the Native Literary Research Project (Native Adult Education Resource Centre, Salmon Arm, 1990) and author of Educating for Change: Community-Based/Student-Centred Literacy Programming With First Nations Adults (Open Learning Agency, Burnaby, 1994/2000).

Rodriguez has taught Latin American Literature in translation at Simon Fraser University. She served on The Writers' Union of Canada's National Council and acted as Chair or Co-Chair of the Union's Racial Minority Writers Committee and Social Justice Taskforce. In addition to her work as a Vancouver correspondent for Radio Canada International since 1990, she was a founding member of the bilingual (Spanish-English) Latin American women's magazine AQUELARRE, a quarterly published in Vancouver between 1988 and 1997. She is not to be confused with the Chilean-born playwright Carmen Aguirre who also lives in Vancouver.

Her powerful novel Retribution (Women's Press 2011) takes the form of three memoirs by a daughter, mother and grandmother. Whereas the grandmother Soledad was once convinced to vote for a right-wing candidate in Chile, her daughter Sol joined the resistance movement against the dictator Pinochet and was tortured for nine months. The threesome arrives in Vancouver in 1974 as refugees. Sol's child Tania is a newborn. The grandmother recalls:

"As much as I wanted to pretend that I didn't care about Chile anymore, it didn't take me long to realize that when you leave your country behind, you don't really leave your country behind. It haunts you, it teases you, it plays tricks on you; it shows up at every corner, in every street; in the wind, in the clouds. It doesn't leave you alone. Your past plays in your head over and over again, like a movie that you already know by heart, but cannot stop watching."

During their first weeks at the Cove Motor Inn in English Bay, a one-star transit hotel operated by the Canadian government, her daughter Sol tells her, "The baby's father is my torturer." (Rodriguez has already alerted the reader to this possibility on the opening page of the book.) Soledad, the grandmother, explodes with hatred:

"I hated Pinochet. I hated my son's murderer. I hated my sister for having turned my daughter in. I hated my daughter's torturer. I hated my daughter for giving birth to the torturer's baby and I hated baby Tania. But above all I hated myself for not having known to live my life to the fullest when I was young; for not having accepted and loved my son for who he was; for having disapproved of my children's political views; for not having appreciated what I had. I hated myself for being alive and not having the guts to end it all and leave this world once and for all."

The grandmother rallies herself and becomes involved in the solidarity movement of Chilean exiles and refugees in Vancouver, but the title Retribution arises from the tortured daughter Sol's resolve to take revenge by breaking the legacy of cruelty and hate, by re-inventing love.

Carmen Rodriguez’s novel Retribution was runner-up for best book in the popular fiction category of the International Latino Book Awards.

CITY/TOWN: Vancouver

DATE OF BIRTH: June 19, 1948

PLACE OF BIRTH: Valdivia, Chile

ARRIVAL IN CANADA: August, 1974

ANCESTRAL BACKGROUND: Chilean

EMPLOYMENT OTHER THAN WRITING: Sessional Instructor, Latin American Literature in Translation (English), Simon Fraser University. Correspondent: Radio Canada International

BOOKS:

And A Body To Remember With (short stories), Vancouver, Arsenal Pulp Press, 1997

De Cuerpo Entero (Spanish version of And A Body To Remember With), Santiago, Editorial Los Andes, 1997

Guerra Prolongada/Protracted War (bilingual Spanish-English poetry), Toronto, Women's Press, 1992

Retribution (Women's Press 2011)

AWARDS:
Premio Municipal de Literatura, Mencion Honrosa, Santiago, Chile, 1998; Mencion - Revista Paula short story competition for the story "Acuarela", Santiago, 1973; Runner-up, Vancouver Book Award, for short story collection De Cuerpo Entero, 1998

[BCBW 2011] "Chilean"

And A Body To Remember With (Arsenal $14.95)
Article



Originally written in Spanish and simultaneously published as De Cuerpo Entero in Santiago, Carmen Rodriguez's patchwork of thinly disguised memoirs and short stories, And A Body To Remember With (Arsenal $14.95), doesn't revisit past injustices so much as evoke contemporary pain.

The reminiscences -- in very simple English, translated tentatively by the author -- dignify the lives of women in transition who are torn between two cultures, not feeling fully at home in either, adapting to Canadian customs and winters, silently haunted by a nightmarish past.

While raising families which straddle two hemispheres, Rodriguez and other ex-Chileans must watch uncomfortably, from afar, as Allende's killers appear to be vindicated through the all-powerful prism of international economics.
As Chile is being drawn further into the so-called free trade global economy, young people in Chile are increasingly disinclined to consider what the fuss was all about. Yes, Chileans were tortured and murdered. Yes, thousands disappeared. But shouldn't people like Carmen Rodriguez learn to get over it?

"I couldn't go back until 1987," she says. "I had been blacklisted until then. Because the Pope went there in '87, they shortened the blacklist. All those emotions of going back for the first time happened for me in '87. There is a character in one of my stories who goes back for the first time and she says, 'Santiago has become a very clean city, as clean as oblivion.'"

As illustrated by a documentary at the Vancouver Film Festival, The Obstinate Memory, modern Chilean history isn't being erased so much as eroded by neglect.

"This time when I went back to launch the new book at the National Library, it was very political. I had mixed feelings and I didn't realize how emotional it was. I started suffering from insomnia. I knew I wasn't in any danger but subconsciously I was still scared. It was like repeating the experiences I had just after coup.

"My family was very supportive. At the same time it hurt to see that few people were talking about the human costs of this economic success story. Young people have been brainwashed. Everything is very fine and dandy. They see in their text books that Allende's government were barbarian Marxists. Many of them genuinely don't know what happened.

"The country is suffering from collective amnesia."

It has common knowledge that a camp in southern Santiago called Dignidad, founded by ex-Nazis, served as a government collection point for the disappeared, but Rodriguez says few writers within Chile are addressing the country's bloody past directly. One exception is Chilean judge Rene Garcia Villegas who has alleged that political prisoners were killed aboard the schooner Esmeralda, 'a floating torture chamber', which docked at Canada Place in October.

At the entrance to the main cemetery in Santiago is a monument listing the names of the disappeared, but government and major media only acknowledge torture and state killings in oblique ways.

A Chilean writer in Ottawa, Leandro Urbina, has published Collect Call, mainly about being in exile in eastern Canada; Carlos Cerda's first book deals with his exile, in East Germany; and Lake Sagaris recently completed a lengthy book about contemporary Chilean society from her Canadian perspective.

"Bringing my book to Chile made me feel good," Rodriguez says. "It was like saying, 'You're not going to make us forget. The dreams have not gone away.'"
Of the approximately 40,000 Latinos in Vancouver, she estimates 15,000 are of Chilean origin. Recent news reports that police have been harassing Latins are alarming to her, especially given that she has escaped one police state in the past.

"There's no doubt that there is a problem in the Downtown Eastside with single men, mainly from Central America, who have come here by themselves, who are completely lost. Their only survival system is the drug system. But I also know people who are completely clean who have been picked up just because they're Latin. They get harassed and punched around and then released. What can they do?"
Carmen Rodiguez was born in Valdiva, Chile in 1948. She left Chile in December of 1973, staying in California until she was allowed to emigrate to Vancouver in August of 1974. Between 1979 and 1984, she lived in Bolivia and Argentina.

Rodriguez was a founding member of the collective which produced 21 issues of Aquelarre, a ten-year-old Latin Canadian magazine which has ceased publication this fall. She works as an adult literacy consultant and has published one bilingual poetry collection, Protracted War / Guerra Prolongada (1992).
1-55152-044-3

[BCBW 1997]


Retribution (Women’s Press Literacy $22.95)
Review (2012)



Carmen Rodriguez’ Retribution (Women’s Press Literacy $22.95) takes the form of three memoirs by a daughter, mother and grandmother. Whereas the grandmother Soledad was once convinced to vote for a right-wing candidate in Chile, her daughter Sol joined the resistance movement against the dictator Pinochet and was tortured for nine months.

The threesome arrives in Vancouver in 1974 as refugees. Sol’s child Tania is a newborn. The grandmother recalls:
“As much as I wanted to pretend that I didn’t care about Chile anymore, it didn’t take me long to realize that when you leave your country behind, you don’t really leave your country behind. It haunts you, it teases you, it plays tricks on you; it shows up at every corner, in every street; in the wind, in the clouds. It doesn’t leave you alone. Your past plays in your head over and over again, like a movie that you already know by heart, but cannot stop watching.”

During their first weeks at the Cove Motor Inn in English Bay, a one-star transit hotel operated by the Canadian government, her daughter Sol tells her, “The baby’s father is my torturer.” (Rodriguez has given the reader some foreknowledge of this, near the outset.) Soledad, the grandmother, explodes with hatred:

“I hated Pinochet. I hated my son’s murderer. I hated my sister for having turned my daughter in. I hated my daughter’s torturer. I hated my daughter for giving birth to the torturer’s baby and I hated baby Tania. But above all I hated myself for not having known to live my life to the fullest when I was young; for not having accepted and loved my son for who he was; for having disapproved of my children’s political views; for not having appreciated what I had. I hated myself for being alive and not having the guts to end it all and leave this world once and for all.”

The grandmother rallies herself and becomes involved in the solidarity movement of Chilean exiles and refugees in Vancouver, but the title Retribution arises from the tortured daughter Sol’s resolve to take revenge by breaking the legacy of cruelty and hate, by re-inventing love.

[Carmen Rodriguez is not to be confused with Chilean-born playwright Carmen Aguirre, also of Vancouver, whose memoir of political resistance in Chile, Something Fierce, won this year’s Canada Reads competition.]

978-0986638817