Chileans rally for earthquake victims

This capital city grappled with conflicting emotions over the weekend as Chile slowly recovers from one of the strongest earthquakes recorded: tears and jokes, dancing and chanting and a strong show of solidarity for victims in the most severely punished parts of the country.

In crowded cafes, barbershops and even during a drag show in Santiago’s bohemian Bellavista district, Chileans were using humor and a toughened cool to deal with life on a part of Earth that never quite wants to be still.

Strong aftershocks that persisted Sunday just served to punctuate the mood. Did you feel that one?

“What happened was so painful for this country, it crushed us. All of Chile is mobilized at this moment,” Catherine Mazoyer, a television actress who was emceeing a benefit concert Saturday, said backstage between acts. “Chile is particularly solidarity-minded.”

Scores of Santiago youth converged on downtown Bustamante Park for a benefit concert to raise money for victims of the Feb. 27 quake that killed hundreds of people, mostly to the south. Arm in arm in the crowds, youth spontaneously sang the national anthem and shouted rallying cries of “Chi-Chi-Chi-ILE!” as if at a soccer match. When another emcee mentioned the looting that spread through hard-hit coastal cities such as Concepcion, the throngs whistled and jeered.

They also clapped and danced while listening to messages from beloved Chilean bands such as Inti-Illimani and Los Miserables.

“We’ve all been affected by it,” said artist Juan Pablo Arroyo, 28, working on a graffiti-style mural nearby that read Fuerza Chile -- or “Be strong, Chile!”

All week, the phrase has appeared on T-shirts, television announcements, and scrawled on the windows of private cars and municipal buses.

“We’re trying to get people motivated to give, deposit money,” Arroyo added. “That’s ‘Fuerza Chile,’ that we are all Chile. We are in solidarity.”

At Dionisio, a crumbling drag-show bar in Bellavista, meanwhile, one performer joked that when the quake hit, “I didn’t know whether to keep putting on my makeup or run out the door.”

A nationally televised telethon that began Saturday night and continued Sunday raised more than $59 million, doubling its goal. Outgoing President Michelle Bachelet stood side by side with President-elect Sebastian Pinera and Don Francisco, the Chilean-born host of the popular, internationally broadcast program “Sabado Gigante.”

“Chile is a country that knows suffering, without a doubt, but we are also a country that knows how to overcome adversity,” Bachelet said. “Thank you, Chile, and always ‘Fuerza Chile,’ because we can do it!”

Cameras caught women in the audience breaking into tears.

The concert was a form of release for a new “earthquake generation” that will be defined by the monumental seismic event, said Elena Vasquez, 28.

“There are going to be a lot of secondary psychological effects from this,” she said, taking a swig from a Cristal bottle that passed from one hand to the next. “Those of us who lived through ’85, we were so young, really. This earthquake of 2010 is going to mark us deeply.”

Hernandez is a staff writer in The Times’ Mexico City Bureau.