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49 At school, violence erupts and becomes part of my life. At home, there’s a contrast, a refuge, a calm afternoon in which Grandmother and Great-Grandmother drink tea, listen to a soap opera on the radio, and work at adjusting seams or making new dresses on hire for women in the neighborhood. Great-Grandma Natalia utters in cranky disdain about these modern women who can’t make their own dresses as she cuts cloth and wonders why she has to do this—for a few extra escudos, was the answer. My grandmother is more tolerant: city women work and still have to take care of the home and the children, so give them a break, she argues with her mother; we provide a service for these women and use the money for summer vacations. It’s a small world of work and duty, and long-term planning. But at my school, the aggression, masculine bravado, and sportsmanship of hunting down the faggot fall exclusively upon me, and I am left to fend for myself. At home, my mother opens up a store, and we trade used magazines and books to a neighborhood in need of a little culture, if only pop culture, comics, and illustrated romances. A cartoon version of Don Quixote might get passed around, along with a couple of non-illustrated Agatha Christies, the only books even aspiring to high culture. Reading is still reading. Words become real. My life at home opens up my eyes to the world. But at school, it becomes about learning survival strategies. My early education is a world in conflict. I was sent to school to be battered, harassed, sometimes injured. That’s what boys did. It was natural. I wasn’t supposed to complain. If I cried, I 2 A Santiago Education was a sissy. But I was a sissy anyway, which was one of the reasons I was beaten up to begin with, and if I cried, I became more of one—sissier and sissiest—and then netted further abuse. I also got perfect scores in most of my assignments, another reason to receive severe beatings. A know-it-all is even more dangerous than being a sissy. When I placed first in the class for four years in a row, I must have unleashed other resentments on top of homophobia. I came to associate school with a jungle that I would one day escape—and yet I did well in school because I absorbed learning from every other aspect of life around me. My mother felt torn. She contributed to the acceleration of my learning, but that also contributed to the resentment at school. She wanted to protect me from abuse, but she often succumbed to the cultural pressure of letting boys be boys. “Boys are supposed to play rough,” one of my Socialist aunts told her. She might have been expected to stand up for the downtrodden, but she didn’t defend me. “If you protect him all the time, how’s he going to grow up and protect himself?” This aunt—and I had my share of them—bitterly opposed the dogeat -dog world of our capitalist society. She romanticized the saintly proletariat , the oppressed masses, but with me (and apparently just for me), she was laissez-faire all the way, baby. Darwin meets Spencer meets Pinochet, and may the best man win. She was not really my “aunt,” but all women that age who were cousins qualified as part of a sisterhood. She was an aunt, but she consistently sized me up from the eyes of a masculine world. She seemed to be horrified by my femininity. “My boys are tough,” she constantly repeated. “My boys know how to fight.” I could see my mother turn away, intimidated by her and feeling a sense of deference. She looked up to this slightly older cousin, an assertive woman in an admirable, stable marriage to a young man from our hometown of Mulchén. Association with this aunt appeared to make a difference . My mother felt compelled afterward to tell me I just needed to be tougher. I needed to fight back. Yet, I didn’t know how. My idea of being tougher was to get more perfect scores, but then almost everybody, including the girls, would resent me. My mother wouldn’t accept less than perfect scores, but this also set me apart. My uncle and my grandfather were immersed in their...


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