The Little Fence (La rejita)

Song by:
lyrics: collective creation; music: “Jálame la pitita” by Luis Abanto Morales (Peruvian polka)
Testimony by:
Lucía Chirinos
Experience in:

Let’s get going, would say “the lizards”, as we called the policemen because they dress all in green. I looked and looked so I wouldn’t forget anything, because I didn’t know how many years I would be locked up for. I was emotional too: one gets frightened. Against the traffic, they turn the wheel.

I had read about the death of some comrades. What do you think? That they are going to kill you. I thought: I won’t abase myself, I won’t shout “no please”. I hadn’t been submissive even to my mum or my dad. The lieutenant turns around and says “blindfold the lady”. He smelt of blood, of vomit, ugh! But still some vanity in me. I thought: “What am I going to I say before I die?” I need to say something that will hurt them. I fancied myself a Paula Jaraquemada (*).

When they stripped me I had an attack of sobbing with hiccups. “Alright, let her get dressed”, said one of them. But another one arrived and said “no, all the same she should fucking undress. If Allende was a degenerate all these are prostitutes”. When you are arrested, you stop being a person. They kill first, they ask questions later. That’s what you hear from the women who are in the know. The decay wafts over from the barracks. The sickening smell doesn’t go away, despite the enforced disappearance of people.

In Buen Pastor, there were some fellow inmates from the countryside. They couldn’t read or write: they had eight or ten children, roaming neglected around the fields. And their husbands detained or executed.

The political prisoners would sing “La Golondrina” in two voices. Valentina Gálvez would sing the solo and we would produce a kind of murmur. We entertained ourselves with this. For Christmas the nuns sent us an omelette and we sent a brick in return. You had to make a speech and sing. I sang “Alfonsina y el mar”. Just then, the representative of the International Red Cross arrived. He was blond, blue-eyed and well tanned. I had seen on him on the television when he visited Pisagua. In Buen Pastor there was a place we called “the pigsty” because the prisoners were all dirty, in their nighties or petticoats. They were all crying inconsolably.

It was a mess: the pairs of shoes were mismatched. When we opened the door, the smoke was so thick you could cut the air with a knife. “Come on, girlies, you can’t be like this”, I said to them.

Someone thought of singing “Jálame la pitita” (‘Pull the little cord’). It then got changed to (“Ábreme la rejita” (‘Open the little fence). Lina Maldonado and María Gómez did the first verse which said “I remember when I was a young girl / I was arrested for acting foolish / As part of a group of good-looking women / who knew how to sing”.

After singing “La rejita” in Mass, the squaddies of the Regiment and the priest asked us to sing it again. It became an anthem - a hit.

(*) Paula Jaraquemada (1768-1851): Chilean heroine of the struggle for independence from Spain.

Published on: 25 September 2016

I remember when I was young girl
I was arrested for acting foolish
As part of a group of good-looking women,
who knew how to sing.
And to make our lives more beautiful
we’d go out and sing
a lovely little song that sounded
like a heavenly song.

Open for me the little fence, the fence, the fence,
open the little fence, don’t close it anymore.

And when they took us to see the prosecutor
we started to tremble
to see so many angry soldiers
that made us shiver.
And returning to Buen Pastor (Prison) is something else
because we can count on
the good mother "Doña Eufrasia"
who comes to comfort us.

Open for me the little fence, the fence, the fence,
open the little fence, don’t close it anymore.

If we ever get out of this somber fix
We promise them we’ll change
We’ll help the military junta
with our modest work
And we will be like brainless birds
without speaking, without thinking
to make this land more beautiful
helping to patrol it.