A young Chilean-American filmmaker reconstructs the secret story of his nomadic childhood in South America on a journey with his parents, piecing together their life as a family committed to the resistance movement against the Pinochet dictatorship in Chile in the 1980s. The journey retraces their steps from San Francisco, California, in 1980 to Santiago, Chile, in 1989, a few months before the historic elections that marked the end of the brutal 17-year military regime.
My parents, Kata and Igor (alias Flaco), met in San Francisco, California, in 1978. Igor was a 22-year-old refugee from the Pinochet dictatorship in Chile, and Kata was a 28-year-old U.S.-born translator and activist, visiting from Mexico. The following year, they were housemates, then a couple, and I was born in December 1980. During the first nine years of my life, we lived in five different countries, but I hardly remember anything. My earliest memories begin in Guayaquil, Ecuador, when I was almost five years old.
Before that, we lived first in San Francisco and Berkeley, California, and after that in, Havana, Cuba, and Lima, Peru. I grew up listening to my parents tell many stories about me and about things we did in those places. My father is a great storyteller; he made everything fun and funny, but not very clear. My mother was better at answering questions and explaining things, making sure I understood what was important. What I didn’t realize was how important it was that I not know the “real” story about my parents, who my father really was, why we were living in each different place, or what we were really doing when we went on trips.
I now know that, like hundreds of other individuals and dozens of families, we were living a secret story, hidden by the one my parents deliberately made up as we went along. The clandestine resistance movement against the military dictatorship in Chile was a tight network spread across four continents for almost seventeen years, and we were part of it for the first nine years of my life.
When I was eight years old, we moved from Guayaquil to Montevideo, Uruguay, where the story suddenly and unforgettably changed. One day, my mother took me to a park where we sat on some grass and she told me that my father’s name was Igor, not Angel, and that he was Chilean and not Argentinean. She must have explained that he had kept his identity a secret, so that Pinochet’s secret police couldn’t find him, but I was so shocked that I only remember how hurt and angry I was that they had lied to me.
After that, I learned that it was important that I understand which parts of our story needed to be kept secret—or forgotten—and which parts could be told safely to anyone. That prepared me to live in Chile, where we moved a few months later. In Chile, my parents reencountered many compañeros from the resistance movement, and I spent the next several years listening to their passionate discussions and dramatic anecdotes, which became my “real” underground history lessons. Only very recently has some of that history begun to emerge in art, literature and testimony, in Chile. This documentary will help reconstruct the memory of the resistance movement against the military dictatorship in Chile, as well the solidarity movement that supported it in the U.S. and internationally.
Today, Kata (62), Flaco (56), and I (31) all live in the San Francisco Bay Area. Kata and Flaco have been separated for a long time, and I am very close to both of them. Flaco is still a funny storyteller and entertaining in a group, but he is also an embittered and generally pessimistic person. Kata is lively, outgoing, and intensely critical in her thinking on almost any topic. Both are well-informed, opinionated, and argumentative. We speak Spanish together, and the film will be almost entirely in Spanish with English subtitles. For over a decade, they have been telling the “real” story of our lives during my childhood to me and many others, but their perspectives have diverged, and their versions of the same events often don’t coincide. Time and storytelling have blurred the experiences, theirs and mine.
What really happened…
Rexilio will be a journey of personal discovery, of uncovering my family’s hidden memories, learning “what really happened,” and telling the story that emerges. We will retrace our steps from California to Peru, Ecuador, Uruguay, and, finally, Chile, piecing together our memories of life as a revolutionary family and bringing them back into focus. That story, in turn, will reveal part of the collective memory of Latin America in the 1980s, especially the refugees and exiles like Flaco, whose stories remain to be told.