Florencia Orlandoni writes about her recent experience at the 2020 Women’s March in San Francisco performing the Chilean anti-rape anthem “Un violador en tu camino.”
By now, you may have seen the videos of crowds of women chanting the Chilean anti-rape anthem “Un violador en tu camino.” Feminist collective Las Tesis wrote the piece as a response to national police violence during the protests that began in Chile in October 2019, and women all over the world have identified with its stance against machismo and rape culture.
Las Tesis also wrote it in response to the work of feminist writer and sociologist Rita Segato, but confessed that they never intended for it to be a protest song. After their street performance in Valparaíso was uploaded to YouTube, it struck a chord. As of today, “A Rapist in Your Path,” also known as “The Rapist Is You,” has been performed at demonstrations in 200 cities.
Last November, I was invited to perform the anthem with activists in San Francisco, and this is how I came to participate in a series of street performances at the Embarcadero, Dolores Park, The Mission. Later, in January, we were invited to perform at the 2020 Women’s March.
In the videos, it is evident that the performers have a profound connection with the piece, with the audience, and with each other. I knew that in order to honor that experience, I needed to attend practice a couple days before our first performance.
When I first walked into the room, the mood was familiar and celebratory. There were women of all ages talking loudly in Spanish, I noticed most were from Chile. They all welcomed me with a kiss on the cheek, and I introduced myself as a teacher and grad student from Argentina living in the United States.
I chatted with a mother-daughter duo before practice started. They were new to the United States, originally from provincial Chile, and shared that they loved having the opportunity to do this together. I imagined my mother there with me. She was a victim of assault as a teen, and it had taken her years to open up about it. Growing up, I had also witnessed her being catcalled countless times. I wondered what mami would feel as she chanted about el patriarcado, as she raised her left fist and screamed that the oppressive state is a macho violador. Would it heal her if she could chant over and over that it wasn’t her fault, regardless of where she was or what she wore? Would it ease her rage if she could point her left finger at the crowd and declare “the rapist is you”? Would it help if there were other women next to her to support her?
We began practice by forming a circle and taking a seat on the floor. The organizers talked about the importance of staying true to the original piece by performing the original Spanish version, but also being able to share the message of the anthem in English. That is why they had taken it upon themselves to translate the piece. One of the participants said, “We are from there, and that is a huge part of us, but we are also here, and people here need to know what’s going on.”
Then, it was time to practice the chanting and choreography. The organizers explained that at the beginning of the piece, the words must be delivered with anger and determination. In the middle, when we chant “it wasn’t my fault,” it is a moment of joy and freedom. At the end of the piece, when we quote the National Police’s hymn, we take an ironic and accusatory stance against state violence and it has to show in our bodies.
At the end of the practice, I was left with a feeling of dissonance. As a group, we had reached into the angriest and most joyful parts of ourselves. On the one hand, I felt the excitement of being together in this group of Spanish-speaking trans-generational Latin American women, but I also felt a somber mood of respect.
We understood that during the moments of the performance, we were responsible for the words and memories of others.
When protests began in Chile on October 18th of 2019, the world witnessed as the Carabineros de Chile, the Chilean National Police Force, used excessive force to suppress civilians. We witnessed the Carabineros beating young people to the ground, aiming lead pellets at protesters’ eyes, utilizing tear gas indiscriminately against unsuspecting crowds, and dragging bleeding men and women into the backs of vans.
Currently, The National Chilean Institute for Human Rights (INDH) is investigating 1,445 cases involving the Carabineros and Chilean Military that occurred during the October protests. According to the INDH report, 80% of the crimes involved torture and there were 191 instances of sexual violence. 158 people reported sexual abuse at the hands of the Carabineros, including cases where the women were insulted, stripped of their clothing, fondled, threatened, and, in four cases, raped by Chilean National Police.
The day of the Women’s March, I rode the BART to the city with a friend who I’ll call S. It was her first time performing, so we practiced and discussed the lyrics on the way there. She is Latinx, studied abroad in Chile, had come across videos of the performance, and felt called to be a part of this growing movement.
I handed S a piece of black lace that she could use to cover her eyes. We talked about how it represented the Chilean youth that had lost their vision when the Carabineros aimed lead pellets and tear gas canisters at their faces. We both knew the Carabineros require women to squat when they strip-search them, and that was the reason we squatted after we said the words “femicide,” “impunity for my killer,” “disappearances,” and “rape.” We spoke about the lyrics of the Carabineros’ hymn, which is called “a friend in your path,” and we spoke about its cynicism, about how it preached protection of an imagined innocent little girl while perpetuating a moralizing violence against the bodies of countless others.
I told S about the first time I heard “Un violador en tu camino.” I told her that my favorite part was when the women chanted “y la culpa no era mía, ni donde estaba, ni como vestía,” / “and it wasn’t my fault, where I was, or what I wore.”
I said, “You know, so many of the women in my family and my close friends have been assaulted, molested, and raped.” I said, “I am over being silent.” I told her I have been harassed countless times, followed down the street by strangers, fondled, and that this all started when I was still a child.
Then, it happened, the thing that often happens when women open up about past sexual trauma. S shared that she had been raped when she was a teen. She had spent years fighting the voice in her head that told her it was her fault.
When we performed the piece in San Francisco, I had a feeling of being watched as though we were something of a foreign spectacle. It seemed like perhaps the spectators did not believe that rape and sexual assault are as intimately connected to the state in the United States as they are in Chile. The Chilean women were there to represent a problem happening in a third world country, a problem that the spectators had no immediate need to protest.
I have this experience every time I go to protests in the United States. The people watching never seem to think it has anything to do with them, when in fact, people living in U.S. territory are not immune to abuses of power at the hands of the state. We just haven’t acknowledged it yet.
In the United States, migrant women report being assaulted by border patrol agents, and transgender women and transgender women of color report elevated levels of police violence. But the State is not only police officers and border patrol agents, it is also a broken justice system where perpetrators of sexual violence are less likely to go to jail or prison than other criminals. In the United States, one in six women has been the victim of an attempted or complete rape, but only 230 out of 1,000 report it to the police. In the United States, 66% of rape victims are 12 to 17 years of age. Do we have enough support built into the system? That is also within the purview of the state, and when it is not doing what is necessary for rape victims, the state is also perpetuating rape culture.
I am not saying that more women from the United States need to go out and learn the choreography and lyrics to “Un violador en tu camino,” but we do need to learn to be more intimately connected to protest and activism. There is no shame in caring for others, and, ultimately, caring for others is the reason we protest.
There is a moment at the performances when we are dancing to the rhythm of our chanting “and it wasn’t my fault, where I was, or what I wore.” We jump, we watch each other dancing, smiling, being free. Every time I perform, I anticipate this moment that I catch the joy, the healing, in other women’s eyes. I like to hype them up and cheer them on. In these moments, amongst the other women, we truly do live in a world where we get to wear what we want to wear and do what we want to do. We don’t have to carry the shame and stigma of harassment, sexual assault, gender violence, and rape. It isn’t our fault.