Descendants of Spanish exiles to Chile preserving their memory in artistic scrapbooks
By Iñaki Martinez Azpiroz
Santiago, May 12 (EFE).- Dozens of descendants of Spanish Republicans forced to flee to Chile after the 1936-1939 Civil War are preserving their memory by crafting artistic scrapbooks containing photos and other material that had been kept in storage chests for decades.
The parents of Carmen and Rafael Garcia arrived in Chile in 1939 aboard the SS Winnipeg, a ship that acclaimed poet Pablo Neruda – then Chile’s special consul in Paris for immigration and future Nobel Prize in literature laureate – organized to transport hundreds of Spanish refugees to Chile.
They fled Europe after spending weeks in French internment camps, since they were not wanted either in Spain or France.
Carmen’s and Rafael’s father, a member of the Spanish Socialist Workers’ Party (PSOE) and a Spanish Republican Army soldier, crossed the Pyrenees as Gen. Francisco Franco’s Nationalist forces were advancing.
Their mother first escaped to Valencia and later traveled northward along the Mediterranean coast to France, a trip in which her daughter died en route. The two were reunited when they were chosen to travel on the SS Winnipeg.
The couple was among thousands of Spaniards forced into exile due to post-war political persecution in Spain under the Franco dictatorship, which was a non-combatant ally of Axis powers Germany and Italy in World War II.
One Saturday last month, dozens of old photographs, letters, ration cards and newspaper clippings were spread out on a table in a room at the Cultural Center of Spain in Santiago.
A score of descendants of Spanish Republicans – most of whom were born in Chile, although others arrived as children – were preparing for a workshop on cyanotype printing, an antique photographic process for producing Prussian blue monochromatic prints.
They have since spent several sessions arranging the prints on colored poster board, using other techniques such as collage and binding to create a visual display that showcases their families’ stories.
“Our father isn’t here, but it’s a way of saying, ‘look, dad, all that you did wasn’t for naught. We’re going to explain everything you went through because it had been left sitting in silence,” Rosario Lopez, who participated in the workshop along with her sister Mercedes, both of whom were born in Chile, told Efe.
Historians estimate that more than 3,000 Spanish Republicans arrived in Chile after the Spanish Civil War, not only on board the SS Winnipeg, but also on other ships that docked until as late as the 1950s.
The Spanish Republican Center served for decades as a meeting place for Spanish Republican exiles in Chile, although other regional entities, such as the Casal Catala and Casal Valencia cultural centers, also existed.
“Our father was a political commissar during the war and always fought in Valencia. Later, he was imprisoned for four years,” Lopez said while her sister used colorful threads to embellish an old photo of that eastern Spanish city’s traditional Fallas celebration.
“When he got out, he continued his political activity and they jailed him again. In 1950, he fled to France and caught a boat to Chile,” she added.
The Lopez sisters heard all about Valencia’s traditions and gastronomy from their father and thanks to the Casal Valencia, which ceased to have a physical location during the pandemic but continues to function as an organization.
Despite the different backgrounds of each family, most have one commonality: their parents kept silent about the horrors they endured during the war.
“I think our dad didn’t want to remember. It was so painful for him to see so many of his comrades die, to know that his daughter had died without even being able to hold her in his arms … His brother also was shot dead by his side. He said he would never return to Spain until Franco was gone,” Carmen Garcia told Efe. EFE