Living la Vida Local
Why a small working class neighborhood on the outkirts of Santiago might be a hipster dream come true – well, minus the attitude…
One of the best things about traveling along your social network is that you get to go places you would never have seen otherwise. Places that are in no guidebook or on any itinerary, but that are so special they really should be. And this is what it felt like for me staying in Lo Hermida.
Lo Hermida is a little working-class neighborhood on the outskirts of Santiago. It has small houses covered in streetart, a playground in the center of all squares and every second house turns into a tiny store where people sell homemade soap, fresh bread, eggs, and vegetables at some point or the other during the week.
So yeah – in a way, it is every Berlin hipsters dream minus the attitude.
Lo Hermida does not have the best reputation though – because Chiles society is strongly divided by classism and racism. Many Chileans will ask for someone’s last name and the school they attended before deciding whether they are worth their time. Way down on this social ladder are people with Mapuche-sounding names. The Mapuche are one of the most important indigenous tribes from southern Chile. They managed to fight off the Spanish for centuries and were one of the few indigenous tribes who proved to be a real challenge for the colonialist “conquistadores”.
Weirdly enough till this day, the word “Mapuche” is used by some Chileans as an abusive term, as if having Mapuche roots was something to be ashamed of.
At the same time, just to add a little spicy contradiction of modern day Chile, the Mapuche culture, crafts, and traits are presented as roots of Chilean society and sold in markets for tourists to buy…
Now, Lo Hermida is not only working class. It is also one of the neighborhoods that were built by Mapuche who had to flee the south after their final defeat and the resulting transmigration. Therefore many people here struggle with Chilean society to this day. And in addition, many still remember the days under Pinochet’s military regime, when Lo Hermida suffered more than other neighborhoods, due to its ancestry and working class ties.
Which might be one of the reasons many Lo Hermidians rather put their trust in a tightly knit social network of neighbors, family members, and friends than in getting help from the governmental institutions.
When a family is struck by a catastrophe when someone falls ill or has an accident, the neighborhood often will come to their rescue.
While I was here there was, for example, a big fire, three houses burned down completely. One of the victims was a musician who earns his money by singing on the public transport in Santiago and his family. A few days later his friends organized a peña, a gathering of musicians, in the little cultural center. Hundreds of people showed up, paid entrance fees, bought beer and hot wine and sang along till three in the morning:
I know this is not the kind of experience that is easily marketed or sold – phew. But if you stumble into a tombola or a bingo game somewhere while roaming the streets of chile, stop for a moment and if you feel like it, participate – it is likely you are witnessing some act of neighborly generosity.