“El Año Que Nací”: Reflections on War, Race, and History with Lola Arias at PICA’s 2013 TBA Festival

Originally published with Portland Institute for Contemporary Art

I am running late from a meeting, but I am here. I join friends in the front row. The theater lights dim. The show begins. I had worried that I might be lacking the energy needed for a two hour show, but within minutes I find that I am already deeply engaged. I am teary eyed. My hand covers my mouth in moments of anguish and admiration. I am riveted and moved.

El Año Que Nací is true documentary theater. What unfolds is not a script recounting history and retold by actors. It is a performance of individuals telling their individual stories, both to the audience and to each other. It is a Truth and Reconciliation hearing in performance. A weaving of the statements of eleven Chileans born between 1971 and 1989 when Pinochet’s unrelenting dictatorship polarized and terrorized the country. This is history being told and history in the making. It is the story of war and dictatorship. It is the battle between good and evil enacted in the lives of each person, an exploration of the effects of war on children and psyche. This is the story of my mother, one woman shares. This is the story of my father, another offers. This is the story of my birth. This is the story of my life as an exile and as a citizen. This is my story, as a Chilean and as a person.

El Año Que Nací is not only an inspiring piece of art, but an inspiring piece of healing.

photo by David Alarcon.

photo by David Alarcon.

Americans: imagine eleven children born in Birmingham, Alabama in the ’50s and ’60s taking the stage to tell their story in artful poetry. They are the children of parents who helped to establish the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, but they are also children of the Ku Klux Klan; their parents were among the Freedom Riders and among the mobs who beat them; their mothers and fathers were Southerners, black and white and mixed, juggling their ideological positions with their responsibilities as employees and parents. Where did your parents stand? These southerns ask each other in front of their audience. What color is your skin? How dark are you? How radical were you? How poor and how righteous? Where were your parents when it mattered? What side were they on? Was your mother a leftist who sent you letters from prison? Was your father a police officer whose only ideology was allegiance to commands?

In El Año Que Nací we are shown microcosms of history and macrocosms. The lens focuses in on one story and then back out again to the collective. Abstract dates are doted with personal details: births and deaths; murders and incarcerations; moments of transforming discovery. This is not dry history that struggles to penetrate the psyche. This is life, they tell us. This is your life as much as it is my own. The story in Chile is unique but it is not unrelated to the stories of power and oppression and struggle that have taken place in human history from moment one.

The use of mixed media and costume throughout the production is spirited and engaging. The flow of the show is a carefully orchestrated emotional rhythm, never unbearably heavy nor intellectually abstract. The Chilean spanish of the actors/participants is a pleasing departure from the mostly English language performances, as are the occasional inaccuracies of translation and departures from the subtitled script. In moments, it is clear that the English-speaking audience is missing nuance, and when the actors obscured the view of the subtitle board for an entire scene, it also became clear that this show was not made for us. This is a story that has crossed nations to be here. And we are reminded in those moments that these actors are people first. Their humanness reminds us of our own.

We all have stories. Our parents, no matter the conflict or the period of history, have taken sides. And we have too. This piece of work, by the brilliant Argentine writer, director, and performer Lola Arias, is a reminder that there are stories in us all. It just may take a particularly painful, burning fire to bring them to the light of history, and courage to bring them to consciousness in the present time.

Satya Byock is a Portland psychotherapist specializing in dream work and Jungian psychology for individuals in the first half of adulthood. She recently delivered a workshop at PICA on the Language of the Unconscious Mind with Anna Craycroft as part of the C’mon Language series.

Originally published with Portland Institute for Contemporary Art

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