Alejandro Ferrer: Telling stories of Chile

AUDIO: Alejandro Ferrer talks about making up for lost storytelling time [audio:http://immigrantconnect.medill.northwestern.edu/wp-content/uploads/2009/12/Alejandro_Ferrer.mp3]

ferrer_nowAlejandro Ferrer lives in a “narrow house” in Evanston. It’s where he spends his time as a “basement man,” since he’s only allowed to smoke there.

It is from his basement that Ferrer maintains a strong connection to his home, Patagonia, the southern region of Chile. Thirty three years ago, Alejandro and his family came to the United States, but not by choice.

Salvador Allende was democratically elected president of Chile in 1970 on a Marxist-Leninist platform, when Ferrer was just 25. He was a leader in the Socialist Party and offered a position that put him in charge of tourism in Punta Arenas. Allende’s government believed that every working-class family should have access to a vacation and it was Ferrer’s job to ensure that they did.

AUDIO: Meeting Allende[audio:http://immigrantconnect.medill.northwestern.edu/wp-content/uploads/2009/12/Ferrer-Meeting-Allende.mp3]

This all changed on Sept. 11, 1973, when Allende was assassinated. The military took over and declared a state of war, “…which [was] very dangerous. They could do whatever they wanted,” Ferrer recalls. Over the next three years, the military detained some 130,000 people. Ferrer was one of them.

At 8 p.m. that evening, he was detained by the military and his house was ransacked. They were in search of anything they could use to incriminate him. “They took everything from us. They never returned it,” he says.

He says he was tortured and eventually condemned to five years in internal exile by a military court. He was sent to Chiloé Island and four months later joined by his family.

“I understood it was the price to pay for my ideas,” he says.

A younger Ferrer
A younger Ferrer

Three years later, a law was enacted that allowed Chilean exiles and their families to leave the country. The Ferrers were part of a handful of families that went to the United States as political refugees. They arrived directly in Evanston, the city that would become their home.

It was from an experience during internal exile that Ferrer would be prompted to write his first short story. It won him 3rd place out of 1,200 entries in an international literary contest. This experience opened the door to Ferrer’s abundant creativity.

AUDIO: When a drawing comes to life[audio:http://immigrantconnect.medill.northwestern.edu/wp-content/uploads/2009/12/Painting-in-exile.mp3]

“I don’t believe too much in inspirations,” he says. For Ferrer, everything is simply hard work.

He is motivated by a certain philosophy. “You cannot spend your life working. Life is more than working. Life is creating.”

And that’s just what he does. Ferrer uses all mediums available to him– he draws, writes short stories, blogs weekly for radiopolar.com, and five  years ago his creative juices inspired him to use a new medium – film.

“Movies were a natural step,” he says. “Nobody reads anymore.”

AUDIO: A lesson in filmmaking[audio:http://immigrantconnect.medill.northwestern.edu/wp-content/uploads/2009/12/Movie-Lesson.mp3]

He has since contributed to the making of two movies, “Fingere” and “Momentos de Alturas.” Both films were screened in Patagonia where they were made.

Teaching is a way for this natural storyteller to revel in his other passion: literature. When he came to the United States, his first job was as a janitor in the Garrett Evangelical Theological Seminary, where he says he worked work for three hours and studied the rest of the time; the perfect job for a curious mind.

He decided to go back to college and eventually pursued a Master’s degree in Spanish. He taught bilingual education in the Chicago public schools for 30 years.

After he retired, he was chosen to be the chair of the Spanish department at St. Augustine College in Chicago where he still teaches. At school he combines storytelling, passing on his knowledge of Latin-American literature and sharing his fascination with Mexico.

AUDIO: Mexico is like a big brother[audio:http://immigrantconnect.medill.northwestern.edu/wp-content/uploads/2009/12/Love-for-Mexico.mp3]

Ferrer has yet to receive an apology from the Chilean military. He was able to return to Chile in 1987. “I was just scared they would put me back in jail,” he recalls

Ferrer’s drive to tell stories in unique ways fuels his energy. His charisma could captivate anyone. Sipping his maté and smoking a strong cigarette, he says, “And that’s it. I have nothing spectacular. But it’s not bad because [at] 64 I feel like I still want to make things, things that I was supposed to do when I was young and they didn’t let me.”

2 Responses to Alejandro Ferrer: Telling stories of Chile

Leave a reply