Guest column: Multilingual Program

Avatar of Violeta Tapia-Mills
Features Column

I was named after Violeta del Carmen Parra Sandoval, a Chilean composer, visual artist, and social activist. Born in 1917 in San Fabián, Chile, Violeta grew up in a poor family. Her father was a music teacher who played instruments to his children, especially the guitar.

Violeta started composing songs at a young age, and then began to perform in small bars and ballrooms. In 1952, she traveled throughout Chile, exploring Chilean folk music.

Cueca is one of the most traditional styles of folk music in Chile. It is mainly played with guitar and is meant for dancing. Violeta’s travels inspired her creation of a new type of Chilean folk music: Nueva Canción.

Nueva Canción is a genre representing the left-wing social movement. It takes inspiration from folk music and poetic lyrics about social justice. In his song “Vientos Del Pueblo,” Victor Jara, another artist who contributed to Nueva Canción, sings, “De nuevo quieren manchar / mi tierra con sangre obrera / los que hablan de libertad / y tienen las manos negras.”

The message Jara communicates is about freedom from war and suffering. It’s about the hope of being able to live in peace with his sons and his brothers.

Writing songs was one of Violeta’s passions, but so was art. Her art consisted of sculptures, paintings, and arpilleras, colorful hand-woven quilts. Arpilleras are mostly made by women and became popular during the Chilean dictatorship. The sad stories they told visually about what the country was going through made them stand out.

As Violeta became known, she collaborated with artists like Jara, and her art was praised by the public. In 1964, Violeta became the first Latin American artist to have a solo show at the Louvre in Paris.

In 1954, Violeta was invited on Radio Chilena, where she sung her songs and explained their meaning. Although Violeta was famous, she was also humble and strong, always fighting for justice. Violeta’s social voice has always shown through in her art.

Sadly, at the age of 49, Violeta committed suicide. Throughout her life, the Nueva Canción movement continued, and to this day, it is still practiced in Chile.

As Chilean-Americans, my parents taught me about role models like Violeta. They made sure I knew the person I was named after. Violeta inspires me tremendously because of how much she stood up for the left-wing social movement. She should be known internationally for her music, art, and activism because it was and still is fundamental to Chilean culture and Latin American folk music. Violeta’s strong personality should inspire everybody. Nowadays, social justice is being talked about more and more throughout the world, and Violeta is a remarkable role model who fought for these issues throughout her lifetime. Her message and spirit should never be forgotten.

The Multilingual Program (MLP) is a BHS small learning community serving students who speak a primary language other than English. MLP students represent nearly 30 different countries and speak over 20 languages.