Translated into English by Alec Schumacher and with an introduction by Cecilia Vicuña, The Chilean Flag is, at long last, available in a fully bilingual edition.
La bandera de Chile narrates the vicissitudes of the Chilean flag during the Pinochet dictatorship (1973-1990) evoking the fate of victims of political violence. The Chilean flag is a protagonist divested of agency, a national emblem subjected to the whims of political exigency, a body tortured by those who profess their allegiance to her. She is at the same time a flag, the nation, and woman, especially the mother-spouse figure who the military regime believed should be seen, but not heard. In the end the flag is used as a gag; her only act of resistance is to declare her silence.
Written in 1981, the book became a potent symbol in opposition to the dictatorship and was passed around in mimeographed copies until it was formally published in 1991. Poets at the time had to read and write in secret, self-publishing works in order to avoid the censors and secret police. María Teresa Adriasola wrote under the pen name Elvira Hernández upon the insistence of a friend to avoid being detained for the nature of her poetry. Her work has recently received renewed attention, being awarded the Pablo Neruda Ibero-American Poetry Prize and the Jorge Tellier National Poetry Prize both in 2018.
Despite the uniquely Chilean context of the work, this poem contains an urgent message for readers today as rising nationalist movements mobilize patriotic discourse in order to silence dissenting voices. The Chilean Flag continues to speak of silence, and through silence, speaks.