On September 11th, 2015, I had the extraordinary honor of meeting with Professor Noam Chomsky At MIT in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Professor Chomsky’s intellectual and social work informs and empowers with a remarkably holistic understanding of the world. The interview could have been intimidating; however, his good-natured and caring presence made me feel as if I was having coffee with a long-time friend.
Our conversation dealt with the social, historical, and biological role of the arts and his statements expanded my perspective. Since the interview was held on the anniversary of the attacks on the World Trade Center, I asked Professor Chomsky if the role of the arts and artists have changed since September 11th. He answered,
“When we talk about 9/11, first of all, we ought to be clear which 9/11 we’re talking about. There’s one that’s commemorated in the west, but there’s another, a much more important one, that’s commemorated in the south. That’s September 11th, 1973, when the government of Chile was overthrown in a military coup.”
I didn’t expect this response, and it forced me to see that, even though I have traveled extensively, it is easy to become insulated by a nationalized point of view. Professor Chomsky continued,
“It was part of a huge plague of repression that began in the early 60s with the military regime in Brazil and swept through the continent. The Chilean case was one of the worst, but not the worst. The Argentine military coup a couple years later was even worse.”
It is impossible to understand the U.S. without including its history and role Latin America, and as I reflect on my recent tour of Argentina, this becomes evident. On March 24th, 2015, I attended the Día de la Memoria por la Verdad y la Justicia (The Day of Remembrance for Truth and Justice) in Buenos Aires. The day commemorates the military junta that brutally repressed Argentinians from 1976-1983, and as illustrated by Professor Chomsky, the effects of the repression are felt in the murals, music, dances, and other art forms.
In fact, one of the direct results is that Argentina boasts one of the most thriving street art scenes in the world. Many artists in Argentina, as well as in Panama, Colombia, and Brazil, use the arts to raise awareness, share hope, cope with trauma, and regain their identities. Though on a different scale, the same is true about many of the artists and organizations that I have spoken with in North America.
Understanding the universal importance of the arts on the human spirit requires a global outlook, and as Professor Chomsky so eloquently stated,
“I think [art is] such a powerful instrument because it is part of our nature.”
After spending time with the artists in Latin America and experiencing their emotions through their work, September 11th, 1973 and March 24th have become an important dates in my life. Whether in the U.S., Latin America, or the rest of the world, tragedy has a way of reminding us how precious freedom, community, empathy, and creativity are to our humanity. I would like to thank all of the individuals who took the time to share their stories, art, and philosophies with me in Latin America and Professor Chomsky for helping me to connect the dots.