Words for Julia (Palabras para Julia)

Song by:
José Agustín Goytisolo (lyrics) and Paco Ibáñez (music)
Testimony by:
Amelia Negrón
Experience in:
Campamento de Prisioneros, Tres Álamos, 1975 and 1976 until Tres Álamos was closed on 28 November 1976

There were so many of us women prisoners. Despite the circumstances we had managed to invent our own world, one with our rules, according to what we thought and wanted for ourselves, our families and all the Chilean people. One might think we were ambitious women, and yes, we certainly were. Most of us remain so, and surely will continue to be until the end.

One idea after another, one experience after another, and with so much enthusiasm, we created a way to sustain ourselves without depending on anyone else. The situation outside the prison was variable, from good to more or less, from more or less to bad, from bad to worse, and also from really good to bad. Conversely, in those sad years it was all very difficult unless you belonged to the other side. And that was how the workshop in which all of us took part was created and grew, and which with much imagination we called the “Labour Workshop”.

We had organised ourselves in such a way that work was shared according to the skills and abilities that each had. There were those of us who embroidered as skilfully as nuns and others who did not , but at least they tried. Others who knew how to cut and sew, would cut and sew the blouses and dresses that we produced and then sold.

The artists worked in the "Creative Department." They designed the drawings and chose the colour combinations of the threads that were going to be used for the embroidery. Their task wasn’t easy: we had to use and take great care of the resources we had, because if we ran out of one of the colours we wouldn’t be able to replace it for at least 15 days. Thus we had to make new combinations with the colours that we had in stock, and, decidedly, the blouses and dresses had to be beautiful.

There were also women who worked like an arrow crocheting: they made the borders to the blouses and dresses, putting the finishing touches. And there were also the little spider weavers. Their knitting needles produced beautiful jackets of wool and linen, in purl stitch, beehive stitch, fretwork, with and without caps, with and without pockets, open jackets, sweaters, turtle necks or V-necks, with braids, fretwork, using colours or plain.

And so, every morning we would wake up very early, take a cold shower and have a quick breakfast and by 9 we were all set to go, with sewing and knitting needles, scissors at the ready, sewing, knitting, or embroidering. We would take turns reading aloud from the newspaper, and articles from weekly publications: we needed to be informed to make our own analysis and to to plan for the short and long-term future. In the meantime we worked hard, at full steam, Monday to Friday, morning and afternoon.

After a short while we were self-sufficient. And a little later on we began to help our families. Later we were capable of taking on greater responsibility: many of us were able to maintain our families on the outside.

National and international solidarity networks helped us to "market" and sell our products. It was a successful venture.

As human beings are never that strict, during the working hours and when we lacked newspapers, we would sing. And little by little, and through repetition, we would learn and grow fond of the lyrics.

One song went like this: “La vida es bella ya verás, como a pesar de los pesares, tendrás amigos, tendrás amor, tendrás amigos. Un hombre solo, una mujer, así tomados, de uno en uno, son como polvo, no son nada, no son nada.” (Life is beautiful you'll see, despite everything, you’ll have friends, find love, have friends. A man alone, a woman alone, are like dust, are nothing, are nothing.) And in low voices we remembered our beloved comrades who, on the outside, were still struggling in the shadows against the dictatorship, watching their steps, their words, their gestures, and supported by other brave people, like those who had helped us before. And we kept a strong hope in the depths of our hearts, that our workshop would receive no more new workers. We knew that in this struggle we were not alone.

The workshop was our work and our blouses and dresses fluttered free in London, Amsterdam, Berlin, and throughout Latin America. The caring people of the world were astonished. Those bright colours, cheerful combinations, beautiful designs, the nearly perfect embroidery, had all emerged from the bowels of the notorious hellhole called Tres Álamos.

They had been made by women who were political prisoners, they would say to each other; they knew our names, knew of our struggle, our resistance against torture, and could not believe that from those confines we had succeeded in conveying our joy of life, to move forward, to silently shout here we are, and we’re still here. And so they bought our goods, for themselves, to give to their daughters, friends and mothers.

Meanwhile, we continued in the middle of the belly of the beast, embroidering, and singing our song which later, much later, became our anthem: “Otros esperan que resistas, que les ayude tu alegría, que les ayude tu canción, entre sus canciones. Nunca te entregues, ni te apartes, junto al camino, nunca digas no puedo más y aquí me quedo, y aquí me quedo” (Others expect you to resist, that your joy helps them, that your song helps them among their songs. Never give in or turn away, stay on the path, never say I can’t go on anymore, and here I stay, here I stay).


Published on: 10 February 2015

Choir of ex-political prisoners Voces de la Rebeldía. Launch of Cantos Cautivos archive, Museum of Memory and Human Rights, 2015.


You can’t go back
because life is pushing you ahead
like an unending howl,
unending.

You’ll feel caged,
you’ll feel lost or alone,
perhaps wishing you’d never been born,
never have been born.

But always remember
what I wrote one day
thinking of you, thinking of you
as I am thinking of you now.

Life is beautiful, you’ll see,
despite its sorrow,
you’ll have friends, you’ll have love,
you’ll have friends.

A man alone, a woman alone,
each one taking the other,
are dust, are nothing
are nothing.

Therefore you should always remember
what I wrote one day
thinking of you, thinking of you
as I am thinking of you now.

Never give in, never stray,
by the side of the road, never say
I can’t go on, I’m staying here.
Here I stay.

Others expect you to resist,
your happiness to help them,
your song among their songs
to help them.

Then always remember
what I wrote one day
thinking of you as
I am thinking of you now.

Life is beautiful, you’ll see,
despite its sorrow,
you’ll have friends, you’ll have love,
you’ll have friends

I don’t know what more to say to you
but you should understand,
that I am still on the road.

But always, always remember
what I wrote one day
thinking of you, thinking of you
as I am thinking of you now.