Wednesday, April 06, 2005

Tom Hayden in The Nation on Francisco Letelier: "An Exiled Son of Santiago"

Tom Hayden has an article in the latest copy of The Nation. It's entitled "An Exiled Son of Santiago."

At a backyard party in the counterculture community of Venice, California, a few years ago I met a young artist named Francisco Letelier. He had the long black hair of a warrior or musician, a classic Roman face and the muscular physique of a bodybuilder. His name, however, is what inevitably defines him, and what drew me to the event. Francisco--whose friends called him Pancho--is the son of Orlando Letelier, the Chilean diplomat murdered along with his assistant, Ronni Karpen, in Washington, DC, in 1976 by agents of Augusto Pinochet's dictatorship. The lives of then-11-year-old Francisco, his mother Isabel and his three teenage brothers were ruptured permanently when anti-Castro Cubans, dispatched by the Chilean secret police, detonated a bomb attached to Letelier's family car.
Though at the time I was immersed in California politics, the bombing jolted me viscerally, as it did thousands of opponents of Pinochet worldwide. The killings had taken place on Embassy Row, not a faraway Third World capital. Letelier, his assistant, and her husband, Michael Moffitt, who alone survived the blast, worked at the DC-based Institute for Policy Studies, a respected center that served thousands of civil rights and peace activists. The terrorist killings by agents of DINA (the Chilean directorate of national intelligence) sent the message that no one in progressive movements was safe.
Now, years later, in Francisco's backyard, I wondered how he had coped. For any teenager, the father is God. When that God dies at the hands of sinister powers, how does one build an identity faithful to that fallen God yet also grow to independence on one's own terms?
In this country, the parallels are with the children of the assassinated Kennedy brothers and the descendants of Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X. The transition is turbulent, never ending. Orlando Letelier himself was a complex person, a man called to politics whose soul was that of a poet and musician. Francisco Letelier, while called to politics by his father's death, has his father's cultural sensibility, choosing art and poetry to process the tragedy, from political murals to poetic works that universalize suffering, beauty and indigenous cultures. At the same time, he represents his father's name at rallies, in persuasive op-ed articles for the Los Angeles Times, by yearly vigils at the site of his father's murder and by human rights solidarity work. The nature of Francisco's art and politics arises from the exile condition as well as from what it means to be his father's son.

It's an important article (and one available to all, not just Nation subscribers) so it's worth highlighting by itself. In addition, it's been awhile since we had an article by Tom Hayden (we linked to the last one in January). That's the opening of the article. If you're someone who visits the link, please check it out. If you don't visit the link, hopefully the above excerpt gives you a sense of the article.

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