From Home

I went back to Chile to rediscover my identity as a Hispanic man living in the United States for the past 19 years.

A dog walking through the Villa Portales in Santiago, Chile. The Villas were a destination for many radicals, artists, students, workers and immigrants during Augosto Pinochet’s dictatorship in the 1970s. My grandfather walked these same streets when he studied at the University of Chile, across the street from Estacion Central. There is a lot of history here for my family. The Villas are also tied to my great grandfather who mostly raised his 6 children here. June 2018. Photo by Pablo Unzueta.

Living in the United States has done something to me. It’s odd, difficult to wrap my tongue around —and even difficult to accept that, yes, I’m a “gringo.” I have lost sharpness in my Spanish, something I realized during my time in Santiago, Chile this past summer. But to be politically correct, I’m a first generation Chilean and proud to be one. My life as a Hispanic young man has always been a quest to fit in — to find my identity as both a human and artist, seeking answers to the questions about his roots and heritage.

For most of my life, I grew up wondering about the absence of my father, Luis Hidalgo. I found out 10 years ago that he was a photographer for the Associated Press in Chile. This was around the time we began to maintain close contact. Both of my parents are artists, however, my mother inherited painting as her medium due to the influence from family members on her father’s side.

At 20, my mother fought hard for me to have a better life. She was a single mother, studying at the university and taking care of me. We lived in Providencia in Santiago until I was 4. I went on to live in the United States with my grandmother for one year so my mother could finish her studies and get her degree. The intention of the move was only to be temporary.

Me and my dad outside of the airport after 19 years of not seeing each other. Santiago, Chile. June 2018. Photo by Emily Whitmore.

But the year stretched on to 19 years away from home, or what I perceived was home. However, home actually became North Los Angeles. My childhood environment was rich in life, art, music and politics. I learned about important figures such as, Pablo Neruda, Salvador Allende, Che Guevara, Frida Kahlo and other notable people from Latin America. Most of the people in my family are musicians, painters and great independent thinkers in their own respective circles. I just wanted to take pictures; to become a photographer to tell stories that matter. After years of not seeing my father, the day finally arrived. All of those hours spent on Skype were incomparable to the two minutes when I hugged my father at the airport. His scent, his touch, his voice all synchronized into a moment of raw emotion. I felt like a little boy again. Fatherhood. I have lived through the pain of an absent father, but that remorse was put behind me. I grew older and I began to forgive my past, and after further self-evaluation, I forgave myself, too. There were many years lost in our relationship, years that we could never gain back. But this moment had given me a sense of closure.

My aunt Maria Beas’s backyard from her Villa Portales home. She spends the afternoon picking the dead plants from the garden. Santiago, Chile. June 2018. Photo by Pablo Unzueta.

Family intimacy is an essential aspect to someone’s journey from childhood to adulthood. My new continuing project, “From Home,” deals with the absence of family presence. It is a portrait of my personal familial experience intertwined with our affections and historical value that people have for one another. In other words, it’s the memories that shape our ideal values revolving around the foundation of family: love.

I spent a lot of time in the Villa Portales where my great grandfather, Julio Beas, raised his six children in the 1960s. Nearly six decades later, two of his children reside in the Villa Portales. Chilean history is restless on the dry terrain. The Villa Portales is made up of 19 block apartments built in the 1960s, housing over 2,000 families today. It is being labeled as an “architectural attraction.” The Andes emerge from the dirt roads, painting the mythical panorama that Chile is.

During the beginning of its time, the Villa Portales was mostly characterized by left-wing organizations that revolved around its intensive activism. On September 11, 1973, the course of Chilean history radically changed. Socialist President Salvador Allende was overthrown and killed by General Augusto Pinochet’s military. According to reports, Allende barricaded himself in La Moneda, the presidential palace, as air force jets bombed the building. He exchanged gunfire with an automatic rifle that was given to him by Cuban leader Fidel Castro, only to turn the gun on himself. However, there are still speculations about Allende’s fatality. Loyalists to Allende were also caught between crossfire in the Villa Portales. Buildings were bombed and many of its residents disappeared, or were captured and tortured.

Victor Jara, a Chilean political activist, poet and teacher, was arrested near this exact amphitheater on September of 1973, at the University of Chile, where my grandfather completed his degree. Jara was tortured and killed in Estadio Nacional during the Augusto Pinochet dictatorship. This university has been the foundation for many leftists such as Salvador Allende, a socialist president who was overthrown and killed that same year (in 1973) by the CIA backed dictatorship. The university is only a few blocks away from the Villa Portales. Santiago, Chile. June 2018. Photo by Pablo Unzueta.

My great grandfather, Julio Beas, never involved himself or his family with the opposition to Pinochet, at least with armed force. Instead, the Beas family created their own world view through their artwork. They seemed to separate themselves from politics. My grandfather, Patrick Beas, a musician, went on to study at University of Chile, a block away from the Villa Portales. University of Chile is a school known for its left-wing politics. In fact, both Salvador Allende and Victor Jara studied there. The 1970s was an impactful decade for many Chileans and for the country itself, which still seems to be healing.

“When the plants die, everything else around it dies too — all the plants. So here, I water these plants and maintain the garden after my neighbor died here in the Villas,” Nancy, 73, explains, who, too, lives in a corner house of the Villa Portales. Her relatives have lived here all of her life, but she remains a resident for 3 years so far. “This is monumental, historic. During the dictatorship, these houses were run down. And it was difficult for many people to come by. But now, the flowers bloom and the children wander in the summer time.” Santiago, Chile. June 2018. Photo by Pablo Unzueta.
“In this very spot we are standing in, bullets ripped across from one side to the other,” Juan Castillo, a 93 year old man said. He’s lived in the Villa Portales since 1971 and when the 1973 Chilean coup happened the Villas became a battle ground and also a place for leftist occupancy. “Chile has changed and so has this place. I’ve watched my country endure many social ills,” he said. Every morning and afternoon Castillo feeds the pigeons to get out of the house. Santiago, Chile. June 2018. Photo by Pablo Unzueta.
The Andes seen from the dirt walkway in the Villa Portales. Santiago, Chile. June 2018. Photo by Pablo Unzueta.

The emerging middle class continues to struggle to find its foundational support, while the rich thrive off copper export and international trade. Chile has become one of the few Latin American countries to prosper, but in most recent times, its economic distribution has deficiently created opportunity. The richest 10 percent of Chileans collect $42 out of every $100 worth of disposable income, according to data from the World Bank, published in The New York Times. Additionally, the country shares a common plague amongst its Latin American counterparts: corruption under the power of the rich and oligarchy.

Chile is beautifully rich and oppressed. It is important to walk the streets, to taste the foods sold on the corners, to take the underground trains, to talk to natives, and to drink their wine. Engagement is a powerful technique that molds an outsider’s perspective into a local one. Despite the inequality, Chile does not remain silent. It speaks with its art, music, culture and intellect.

Chileans are hard working class citizens who live fulfilled lives with very little, like most of my family members whom I met. These images are pieces from the experience. Some are written, and others, captured through a lens. Chile is a representation of who I am, but Chile is also a fragmented relationship that we share, distanced between thousands of miles of land and mountaintops.

My aunt Tita Beas smoking a cigarette in her usual spot, the dining room in her apartment, located in Grecia, Ñuñoa, Chile. Tita Beas was married and had one daughter. Before her divorce, she provided hospitality to the armed leftist movement. Her husband at the time was a revolutionary who fought against the Pinchot dictatorship. He eventually fled the country as a political refugee. Tita Beas went on with her life and became a teacher. “Most of us here are struggling for the obvious reasons. The working people of Chile will continue to provide the country’s fortune,” she expressed. June 2018. Photo by Pablo Unzueta.
One of the highlights of this trip was meeting my three younger half brothers from my father’s side. This is Clamente, 3, the youngest, with his mother, Karen Bobadilla, outside their La Cisterna, Chile, apartment. June 2018. Photo by Pablo Unzueta.
Estacion Central. Santiago, Chile. June 2018. Photo by Pablo Unzueta.
Produce. Comuna de Peñalolen, población Lo Hermida, Chile. June 2018. Photo by Pablo Unzueta.
Street vendors from Comuna de Peñalolen, población Lo Hermida, Chile. June 2018. Photo by Pablo Unzueta.
Mural. Villa Portales. Santiago, Chile. June 2018. Photo by Pablo Unzueta.
My aunts: Tita Beas, left, and Maria Beas, right, prepping potato salad for lunch in the Villa Portales. Santiago, Chile. June 2018. Photo by Pablo Unzueta.
The Andes from la Comuna de Peñalolen, población Lo Hermida, Chile. June 2018. Photo by Pablo Unzueta.
My aunt Maria Beas’s living room, where she keeps hundreds of printed images of family on her wall. This is called, “The Memorial Family Wall.” June 2018. Photo by Pablo Unzueta.
“Lets not forget who is killing us.” Villa Portales. Santiago, Chile. June 2018. Photo by Pablo Unzueta.
My brother Tupac Hidalgo, 18, the second oldest out of his three brothers, smoking a cigarette outside his father’s patio. La Cisterna, Chile. June 2018. Photo by Pablo Unzueta.
From left to right: My uncle Alberto Beas, my aunt Tita Beas and my cousin Tati Beas, sitting down inside the home of my aunt Maria Beas, for glasses of wine hours before I depart back home to the United States. Villa Portales. Santiago, Chile. June 2018. Photo by Pablo Unzueta.
View from my aunt Tita Beas’s dining room window in Grecia, Ñuñoa, Chile. June 2018. Photo by Pablo Unzueta.
Home grown peppers hang above the kitchen sink inside my aunt Maria Beas’s home in the Villa Portales. Santiago, Chile. June 2018. Photo by Pablo Unzueta.
Inside the music studio of my uncle Alberto Beas, where he recorded multiple albums and songs with his brothers, his daughters and father. This is also a place where members of the family get together to drink lots of wine and sing freely over the microphone. Villa Portales. Santiago, Chile. June 2018. Photo by Pablo Unzueta.
South of Santiago, Chile. June 2018. Photo by Pablo Unzueta.

This story is written and produced by Pablo Unzueta. For more work, follow here. All rights reserved.