I live here in this Aboriginal land, embraced by those who resist this missing acknowledgement and other injustices. Everything for my family – once we chose a pathway of resistance – has been entangled in our skin as if pain were the only sensible thing to celebrate. The puppets that we were upon our arrival now know they have human hearts. It was as if another voice from both far or near took our hands and moved us, making us open our eyes, making us laugh and able to talk about anything.
Our adaptation to a new life in Australia has remained unfinished ever since we met its Ngarrindjeri people, including my Aunties Veronica and Maggie and Brother Lionel Fogarty and Sister Ali Cobby Eckermann, Aboriginal resistance poets both. We wished to know their sufferings, dreams and hope. We still do. Where are they? They speak in parks or get lost, eating or getting drunk. Where are their dreams and why have they awoken only with a sense of survival and nothing else? I believe strongly that the indigenous people of this country have been and will remain the soul of this land exactly as my Mapuche people are to Chile. I believe if we recognise in each other the continuous struggle for justice and freedom, then we can walk and relate in a deeper relationship.
We have learned to speak the dominant language here in our fight against consumerism because I learnt that our happiness could exist only beyond the consumption of things. It was a hard lesson for us to use coin with the face of Her Majesty the Queen in our hands. To us, that feels as if Spain was colonising Chile all over again as we’re watching on. Even after centuries of slaughter there, we never had to bless and touch their faces in our daily lives.
DAME ROMA MITCHELL GARDENS & ROMERO COMMUNITY
‘Cultivate a white rose in April’ said José Martí, exiled revolutionary and poet who was the primary thinker and father of the Cuba Revolution.
Years of good relationships with friends in the Romero Community came into our lives, and slowly we got to know new fruits of love. It made sense for us to become a part of a new creation, establishing sincere friendships and finding meaning in our existence here where previously there had been none. It was a historical moment – real with spirit and solidarity in resistance. If you have to resist and denounce injustices with words pronounced in vowels and consonants of a dominant power structure you do not understand, that leaves you unhappy and with liabilities you can do nothing about. It was not something that interested us. We turned to gardening: to prepare the land, to plant, to harvest fresh organic vegetables, to look after sheep and chooks, to plant flowers, to prepare compost and, most importantly, to relate to each other with respect and friendship.
I was part of this botanical creation of dignity and hope. It’s where homeless men, recovering from life’s ills, worked amongst smells of the land – our preparation of gardens – fertilizing to revive what was ours, those seeds. It helped us grow asparagus amongst our weeds. Later, we returned to find the colours of a flower, the fruits from our own hands and sweat that we have planted.
We did not sell our vegetables. Each crop that gave us a dish at the community’s table provided fruit to the most marginalized residents of our city via food parcels from the Adelaide Day Centre, our place where Patty (my companera) and I worked amongst others who create this place to care and give dignity to the homeless long before we arrived in Australia. It was in this place that I learned a lot about Aussie ‘mateship’ and the acceptance of different cultures into our collective day-by-day work.
Working together in a community garden, being involved with the theatre there and forming real friendships with Australians – people who welcomed us into their life and into this city – provided joy in our struggles. Tania and Lenin learned music and became members in a children’s theatre group called the Nelson Mandela Theatre Group. Patty and I become part of the Romero Theatre Company, where we performed an annual play directed by Sr Janet Mead. For me, performing here, I was back in Santiago where I studied and acted in works for social justice.
TIEMPO DIFICILES / HARD TIME
During that time I was studying English at the Renaissance Centre in the city’s CBD. We worked hard to create a place with Latin American spirit and meaning in our city – a place where history, music, food, poetry and politics were shared with Australian communities. It was because of our own Mapuche, our personal stories of struggle in South and Central American countries, that we built a bridge to the local culture. This was our version of Adelaide. But after so many meetings and practicalities, the dream did not survive. One of the reasons why this Latin-American Community Project (Casa Latino America) didn’t persist was because, amongst us Chilean people in Adelaide, there were traitors who did everything to let this project to die. And so it happened.
Persistence is a seed in our hands a resolution in our life a relationship in the garden where we work.
Here in Australia, my family continues doing what we left in Chile – making daily ‘bread’ to share, loaves where the most important ingredients are love and respect for each other. However, to be able to make this bread, I had to know how to understand the instructions, how to read the portion of each ingredient. That is why my studying of English as a second language was essential to the spirit of my poetry.