Half an hour by car from the center of Santiago is the commune of La Reina. There is a humble family home there, which is entered through a gate with bars. On the first floor of that house, in a tiny room, there is an industrial sewing machine, scraps of cloth, a nude mannequin, scissors, and remnants of colored ribbon. Something of enormous symbolic power came out of that unpretentious space: the presidential sash that the new president of Chile, Gabriel Boric, will wear this Friday. The 16 women of the Textile Revolutionary Union worked on it, gathered initially to make visible the precariousness of the seamstresses and who unintentionally have found themselves facing the work of their lives.
The women of the union met through social networks and in October 2019 they joined the revolts against the Government of Sebastián Piñera. Two years later, they campaigned for Gabriel Boric and met people around him. In January they received a call: Boric wanted to wear a presidential sash that came out of his workshop. “We didn’t believe it,” says Marta Gatica, owner of the house in La Reina and spokeswoman for the union. “We fell when we went to La Moneda Chica [donde Boric preparó la transición] to take Gabriel’s measurements. We started measuring him right away, because he was behind. And he tells us: ‘Excuse me, what’s up’. ‘We are the ones who are going to make the band”. “Ah, great”, he answered us. He was always very loving to us.” Arety Alvarado, next to him, says that the president-elect was “a nice and very human model.”
In Chile, the band is not passed from hand to hand, but is owned by each president. Each one commissions it to whomever they want, as long as they respect the blue, white and red colors of the flag and serve to carry the pickaxe, a five-pointed enameled star that belonged to the liberator Bernardo O’Higgins and represents presidential power. Sebastián Piñera commissioned the band from him at a workshop in France. Boric wanted his election to be also a nod to the profile that he will give to his government. “We are ordinary people who work together, from a small place. Here there are no great tailors or designers. That is a sample of what Boric wants to project”, says Gatica.
The band has been the result of teamwork. Ingrid Albornoz, founding member of the union, explains that “a fraternity” was generated among the members. “We all organized ourselves with what we could contribute. In four days we made the preparation, others did the shopping, others took care of feeding the companions”, she explains. The hardest work was concentrated on two Saturdays “that started at eight in the morning and ended at midnight,” explains Albornoz. Gatica’s living room was emptied of furniture during those two days and all the women gathered there. While some sewed, others cut and a third group was in charge of logistics. Gatica’s husband served as a model. Then it was necessary to add hours away from home: the gold thread tassels that the band wears demanded 24 hours each, in exhausting manual work. Boric will receive his band in an oak box, handmade by another family who asked to join the initiative.
The union seamstresses did not charge for their work and bought the materials out of pocket. Along with the sash that Boric will wear on Friday, they gave another one as a gift, unofficial and outside the original plan, embroidered with the symbols of the Chile they imagine: indigenous motifs are mixed with the fertile fields of the center of the country, a tribute to a dog which was a symbol of the popular uprisings and the scissors that represents them. The set was, finally, a political message.
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“This is going to be a transition government that will open the doors to change; we have to feel part of this”, says Gatica. And she highlights that she, at 40 years old, grew up in a dictatorship, and that is why she carries “the fear of change” of her entire generation and that of her parents. Boric, she says, is different, because he was born into a democracy. “People like me, who used to have a quiet time, now say that there is no need to waste any more time. That is why we must empower women, because things have to be done today, ”she says. Albornoz agrees: “Not coming with the roots of the dictatorship allows Boric to have another vision. That will allow you to reflect on the changes, ”he maintains. The women of the union will see Boric’s assumption on Friday with his families, who in one way or another joined the project. There will be many tears in front of the television.
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