Book Talk: Stitching Truth

Author and journalist Jeff Kelly Lowenstein travelled to Santiago, Chile as a Fulbright Scholar in 2013, and so lived in Chile during the 40th Anniversary of the country’s 1973 military coup. His book The Chilean Chronicles: Moments and Memory Forty Years After the Pinochet Coup contains his observations of this important moment in Chilean history. Lowenstein had the opportunity, during his months in Chile, to interact with a diverse group of Chileans and learn about their experiences in the days and years after General Augusto Pinochet overthrew President Salvador Allende, suppressing those who opposed his regime (including by torturing, executing, or “disappearing” thousands).

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As Lowenstein observed in his book and in a recent book talk at Teachers College, normal people can cope with or protest against this kind of trauma in dramatically different ways. The book Stitching Truth: Women’s Protest Art in Pinochet’s Chile considers the work of Chilean women who created handcrafted “arpilleras” – traditional quilted squares – that reflected life during the 17 years of Pinochet’s government. The book introduces the arpilleras as a powerful example of protest art, with ordinary women bearing witness and reflecting upon events in their country. During the Pinochet years, some Chilean women moved beyond the traditional approach to arpilleras and portrayed current events in their country, often meeting in secret to create these works of art and challenge a culture of silence and fear.

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Created for classroom use, Stitching Truth is also meant to ask important questions about how we discuss and teach about protests and turbulent moments of history. This is also the goal of the organization Facing History, which has the mission of engaging students in thoughtful examination about topics like racism, prejudice, and anti-Semitism by examining the history of genocides around the world. These are challenging conversations, as they confront some of the darkest periods of human experience, but as materials like these demonstrate, they are also vitally important to teaching students to think critically about history and moral choices.