Santiago, Chile – 25-26 June, 2015
When the Chilean soccer team defeated Uruguay, downtown Santiago became a circus. Things stayed weird the next morning as the university professors protested.
I had just quit my job. My job had television and offered me free housing. This meant I would sleep and watch the Copa America quarterfinal match elsewhere that night. After being unable to find a public viewing, I found a pizzeria showing the match and grabbed a table. I had only missed 15 minutes and the game was still scoreless.
As the game went on, a sort of resignation to fate could be sensed at the stadium and felt at the pizzeria. This was Chile’s best team in decades. Chile had never won an international competition before. It was the last time for 40 years that the Copa America would be on home soil. And like always, they would find a way to choke. Minute after minute, the tension built. Then, after 80 uncomfortable minutes, Chile’s Mauricio Isla scored the game’s only goal. Every voice, car horn, and set of hands in Santiago exploded into a cathartic symphony.
Twenty minutes later, I was following the chorus of singing and clapping that could be heard throughout all of downtown. This led me to Plaza Italia. The actual plaza is the island in the middle of a traffic circle, connecting two large roads to a major road. Someone seeing Plaza Italia for the first time would never have known that there are roads there.
A wall of Chileans dressed in flags, red shirts, painted faces, and cartoon hats extended for a block in every direction. Two traditional chants (Chi-Chi-Chi, Le-Le-Le, Viva Chile! and Yo soy Chileno) were restarted every thirty seconds and sung by nearly everybody in the crowd, while fireworks were regularly fired off. At 11:30 the crowd was still growing and long lines of people could be seen from nearby streets running to the plaza.
Growing crowd or not, the celebrations ended at exactly 12:01.
This is when the riot police gathered nearby were ordered to clear the plaza. With firehoses. Most of the crowd ran away screaming, but others had different ideas. Celebrators earlier had uprooted street signs and were now trying to shield themselves from the spray of the firehoses using stop signs. Others threw glass bottles at the riot police. This was entertaining from the window where I was sleeping, but probably much less fun when you’re hit by a firehose and left soaked, shirtless, and handcuffed on the pavement in the middle of a frigid winter night. Random yelling and shattering glass could could be heard sporadically for the next hour and served as my lullaby that night.
My alarm in the morning was more yelling and singing from the square outside. The crowd was roughly the same size as the night before, but more orderly and coordinated. There was also an absence of glass bottles being thrown or fireworks being lit. I grabbed my bag and hurried back to Plaza Italia.
This particular protest was made up mostly of university professors on strike for better wages and work conditions. The students are also striking and protesting, as well as many of the blue-collar workers, creating an solidarity that allows the teachers to walk out without any attempt to fire or replace them. The group as a whole was peaceful, charismatic, and intelligent. They marched down the streets in paper school buses, quoted celebrities and public figures while hiding behind large cutouts of their faces, and talked calmly with anyone willing to listen. As a former teacher myself, it was interesting to talk to those striking and find that many of their concerns are the same ones that my friends and I had back in Arizona. After another hour, the protest calmed down and I left.
One month later, classes are still suspended indefinitely at several universities. Three people were killed in Santiago in the aftermath of the Copa America final.