VALPARAISO, CHILE – Estimados Amigos, What you see in the picture is “The Jewel of the Pacific”- the city of Valparaiso, nestled on the Chilean coast between the coastal mountain range and the Pacific Ocean. This city was one stop in a journey that has taken me through the Latin nations of Argentina, Chile, Peru and Venezuela and will continue through Costa Rica, Guatemala, Mexico and Cuba.
I travel as I research social mobility and opportunity in Latin America, with the objective of producing at the end of this journey a thesis on the needs of these nations, and more importantly, on what can be done about them. My questions have guided me through this land to meet and listen to as many of its people as possible. I journey by bus, and in each city I seek to speak to government officials and opposition leaders, professors and academics, doctors and lawyers, laborers and farmers, businessmen and journalists, students and teachers.
This journey, inspired by the mid-century travels of Ernesto Che Guevara, has brought me into the mud-and-carton ghettoes of Buenos Aires, into the rural health centers of Cordoba, onto the decks of Valdivian fishing boats, into the heights of Machu Picchu and through the Inca golden highway.
I have admired massive and intimidating urban expanses of over 25 million inhabitants, and seen the peaceful and vast Andean land from the top of a ruin that once served to worship the sun and the moon.
I have stood in a revolving door, with camera in hand, interviewing the leader of a political movement that decided to take the Labor Department under siege, surrounded on one side by his followers armed with sticks for self-defense, and on the other by the Argentine military with their machine guns.
I have accompanied doctors into the most far-removed communities one could imagine to bring health care to a pregnant woman about to give birth, and with no phone or transportation.
I have lowered the nets that sustain hundreds of fishermen and their families into the anxious waters of the southern Pacific, and I have sat in think-tanks that attempt to quantify and qualify these fishermen into an industry.
I have interviewed brick-cutters under the burning sun, and have sat with a Congresswoman in her air-conditioned room as the drums and voices of social strife beat and sang steadily outside.
I have seen the tears fall from a social worker’s eyes as she struggles to save a child’s life, and I have heard the cry of a continent for hope, for change, for progress, and for peace.
It has been a thought-provoking, exhilarating and difficult journey. I have heard the Latin stories of hopelessness and suffering, as well as those voices that labor daily and sacrifice all for dignity and justice. There have been those who have told me of a soil that can no longer stand the blood of its people, and then there have been those who have discovered armed struggle to be the only choice they have.
These are a people who desperately seek that which anyone else in the world wants, and through their struggle for peace and dignity and justice, have fought, have lost, and have learned. I have tried to understand the needs of a people who for centuries have suffered under the communist gun and the capitalist whip, all the while searching for a development model of their own. And even when surrounded by the lessons of a tumultuous past and the frustration of an uncertain present,
these are a people who choose to savor their lives, devoutly love their families and gladly labor for their children.
From one place to the next, I have had the opportunity to journey through mountains and deserts, forests and lakes, through rain and fog and sunshine, discovering a rich and expansive land that holds a people that are vibrant and humble, peaceful and fiery, devout and independent, and most of all, alive.
This journey, as of yet unfinished, has helped me discover the true America, a frustratingly complex land that crosses the globe from north to south and that can truly progress – not as a fragmented grouping of nations – but only as one richly diverse and united land.