Chile Warmth

New documentary celebrates dissenting poet-activist Fernando Alegría.

Surely everyone in the East Bay is at least marginally familiar with the dismal story of Salvador Allende, Augusto Pinochet, and how, in the early 1970s, the government of Chile turned from a legally elected socialist one into a junta-ruled right-wing dictatorship — complete with “disappearances” — with the connivance of the CIA and US business interests.

Surprisingly, today few Chileans hold that against us. In fact, the Bay Area has long been a refuge for chileno political exiles; Berkeley’s La Peña Cultural Center was originally started as a meeting place for them. And this Saturday evening, La Peña will once again ring with echoes of Chile at the world premiere screening of the documentary ¡Viva Chile M …!, honoring the life and work of writer, activist, and teacher Fernando Alegría. It was the Santiago-born Alegría who wrote the poem “¡Viva Chile M …!”, a popular work that captures the love-hate dichotomy of chilenos who love their country, yet hate what happened to it (the title circumnavigates the poem’s repeated line, “Long live Chile shit!”, better translated as “Long live Chile, my ass!”). After Alegría moved to the United States to teach at Stanford, his rebellious spirit earned him the respect of such counterculture heroes as Allen Ginsberg and Angela Davis — but now, with the poet in his late eighties and reportedly suffering from a form of dementia in an East Bay nursing home, Berkeley’s Western Institute for Social Research (where Alegría served on the board of trustees) felt the time was right to produce the documentary, written and directed by local filmmaker Uwe Blesching and sociologist Marcia Campos. Blesching is especially pleased that Alegría was able to view a finished cut of the film last year at a special sneak screening. “His entire life,” Blesching says, “was about bringing the Chilean spirit into the world.”

¡Viva Chile M …! is being shown at La Peña (3105 Shattuck Ave., Berkeley) at 4:30 p.m. Saturday, followed by a reception at the center’s restaurant. For more info: or 510-849-2568.


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