First book by Chilean musician and writer Fernando (“Feña”) Andrés Torres
“Walk through the memories of oblivion.” is a “tender, funny, poetic and inspiring work” of short stories, essays and flashbacks about resistance, prison and exile.
Growing flowers from sorrows.
This unlucky tree was born
from a crack in the rock.
Instead of feeling sorry for himself,
he made his sorrows bloom!
“The aroma”. Song by Atahualpa Yupanqui, Argentinian folklorist
These weeks, Chilean musician and writer Fernando (“Feña”) Andrés Torres is having a wonderful time. A few days ago, his daughter Valentina made him the grandfather of a healthy baby boy. Then this week, on October 7, La Peña Cultural Center, Berkeley’s venerable icon for a progressive blend of art and politics, is hosting a reception for its first book.
The book is called “Walks Through Memories of Oblivion”. The short stories, essays and other flashbacks of an ex-political prisoner on resistance, prison and exile. From the title, one could imagine that the book is a bit depressing. Words like exile, oblivion and political prison could suggest this.
It’s much more than that. It is a tender, funny, poetic and inspiring work. A moving account of the year spent in prison by a politicized Chilean teenager.
In his author’s notes, Torres writes: “But the stories written here are personal; the flesh and bones of the young activist that I was. They are accounts of notes kept in the most inaccessible recesses of my memory. Some of them are tragicomic, which is emblematic of the typical Chilean response to adaptation by squeezing a laugh out of any situation, no matter how tragic.
Thus, the book is a mixture of Feña’s personal experiences of events experienced by other prisoners, shared during his incarceration and served to forge bonds. Bonds that last a lifetime. Torres also shares some original segments that can be considered poetic prose. Dreams or adventures that took place before the military coup of September 11, 1973, as well as subsequent encounters, which occurred when he arrived in political exile in the United States. First in Boston in 1977, then in New York, and finally, a final landing in SF Bay in 1979.
Feña was 18 when he was incarcerated by Pinochet’s soldiers. He was the youngest of the entire prison population. A population made up of both political criminals and “common law criminals”. I believe, from my personal experience, that the distinction is a way of classifying inmates according to their level of perceived danger. Danger for jailers that is.
I remember learning this during my brief stint in a Chilean prison in 1973. “Ordinary prisoners,” or “comunes” in Spanish, shared the very crowded space with us political prisoners, “Los Politics”.
Common law prisoners were thieves, drug traffickers and participants in various criminal activities. They generally had little education and were used to living outside the law. The “politicos” were considered differently, perhaps more dangerous than the “comunes”. Dangerous for jailers because political prisoners had motives that most jailers didn’t dream of or care about. The “Los Politicos” were better educated and had also been branded as dangerous communists.
While in prison, first in the Cárcel Pública de Antofagasta and then in the Tres Alamos prison in Santiago, the capital of Chile, Fernando Torres managed to establish contacts and have meaningful and positive encounters with “communes”. But his main experiences took place among other political prisoners. There, a strong feeling of solidarity was created, which helped them to face their difficult situations.
I asked Fernando why he wrote the book in English. His answer: “I had a debt with the “gringos”. It’s important to mention that “gringo” isn’t necessarily a bad term. Torres is referring to activists and workers from Amnesty International, or “Norte Americanos” from an organization called NICH (Non-Intervention in Chile), people with whom he shared many years at the La Peña Cultural Center, or even some iconic members of various religious denominations.
There were many wonderful gringos and gringas who helped Fernando Torres find refuge in this country. That’s why he thanks them, in English. He adds proudly: “A Spanish version is being printed in Chile, in my hometown, Antofagasta. Some young people read the book and felt it was important to write the Spanish version. I’m going to Chile later this year or early 2023 to present the book in different cities, including Santiago.
At the end of our conversation, we agreed that it is very important, for the personal and collective mental health of those who lived through terrible events, like the 1973 military coup in Chile, to have their stories known. . To write them down or tell them to other people.
Not everything that happened to Fernando Torres was negative. In prison, he learned the true meaning of solidarity, he dared to write his first poems, he made his first musical instrument and became friends with people who inspired him throughout his life. journey. He came out a more defined human. Lifelong musician, writer and activist.
Like the aromatic tree in the song “El Aromo”, by Atahualpa Yupanqui, Fernando Torres “made flowers out of his sorrows”.