Barrio Yungay is the scene of family history reaching back many generations for some locals, and a symbol of old Santiago charm before the days of towering buildings and isolated urban living. Cobblestone streets and heritage houses hold out against the push of urban development sweeping across the city, street murals articulating a proud sense of community and a vivacious local arts scene.
Photo by Carla Pastén
In sunny Plaza Yungay, presided over by the San Saturnino church with its lovely yellow façade and bell tower, the local community gathered on Sunday, April 5 to mark the barrio’s 170th anniversary and the recognition of the area as a Zona Tipica y Pintoresca (Typical and Picturesque Zone).
The party kicked off in the late afternoon with the Vecinos por la Defensa del Barrio Yungay (Citizens for the Defense of Barrio Yungay), who after years of lobbying received the official decree announcing the heritage status of the barrio. Chattering and laughter from highly spirited residents rose to applause as the paper was handed over to a community representative – a decidedly frostier response awaiting the hapless government official who gave a brief obligatory speech.
The declaration goes some way to ensuring that local architecture and history is respected and preserved. For the residents who signed petitions and lobbied the government, this is something they have been anxiously waiting for. Family histories inhabit the barrio’s streets and old buildings, and even for those who have moved on, it remains an important place to return to.
Despite moving on to another neighborhood, local woman Ignacia, 36, said that returning to the area and seeing that it maintains in its unique character means a lot to her.
“My grandmother lived here for many years. When I was a girl, I lived in this area for years, too," said Ignacia, who came to the event with her husband and 3-year-old daughter. "It’s beautiful--there is no other place in Santiago like this."
Musicians Mauricio Redoles and Inti Illimani were on hand to get the celebrations going, folk heroes who toughed out the years of the dictatorship and emerged in full voice to support community causes and speak out in defense of Chile’s cultural heritage.
Redoles took the stage as the sunlight lowered into the buildings, casting a warm light on the church’s bell tower and the trees across the plaza. A native to Barrio Yungay, the musician and poet has written songs and poems with political
undertones and has been outspoken about issues such as the student protests of 2006. With the occasional preamble about "Comrade Allende" and the Fundacion Victor Jara, Redoles performed a solid set of blues and folk, which lent itself to impromptu cueca and sing-alongs from the crowd to the melodies of "Blues de Santiago" and “Eh Rica." One young man, at the event with his extended family, took his elderly uncle by the arms for a spontaneous waltz. Nearby a small child hoisted up on her father’s shoulders clapped and yelled in delight throughout the set.
The eight multi-talented members of Inti Illimani swept onto the stage after Redoles, all of their fiery, intricate folk tunes instantly recognized and loved by the audience.
Christian Gonzales, who joined the group in 2001, moved fluidly between the flute, guitar, drums and vocals throughout the set, aided by Cuban musician Efran Viera’s charged clarinet solos and vivacious drumming. The dynamism of the set was given a sense of cohesion by the dignified stage presence of brothers Marcelo and Jorge Coulon, who brought to the performance decades of experience with the group.
With the light beginning to fade in the plaza, Inti Illimani closed out the event with an energetic finale that ignited the dancing and yelling crowd in the streets, bringing together groups of young people with illicit beer scattered through the audience, middle aged couples pushing towards the stage and big family clans with several generations of witnesses to the day’s renewed promise of the barrio’s future.