Thursday, May 23, 2024

Guest Blogger: Robert Valencia “Chilean Movie ‘No’ Teaches A Lesson to Progressive Latinos”

Robert ValenciaChilean Movie “No” is the only Latin American film vying for an Academy Award in the Best Foreign Film category this year. Starring Gaél García Bernal, “No” recounts a story of actual events behind two opposite advertising campaigns during the 1988 plebiscite, which requested the Chilean citizenry to vote on the continuation of the then-Augusto Pinochet regime until 1997 or to end his dictatorship, just by voting “Yes” or “No.”  The film masterfully crafts the message framing from the opposition that supported the “No” and the “Sí (Yes)” spearheaded by the regime. Progressive Latinos today have a lot to learn from the message showcased in “No.” A whole lot.

The movie portrays the pessimism among the “No” coalition. Despite the mounting international pressure over the Pinochet regime that forced him to call to a plebiscite in 1988, the “No” cohort believed that the plebiscite was rigged since its inception in the 1980 Constitution. In addition, both the “Yes” and “No” campaigns are granted 15 minutes of airtime to present their viewpoints within 27 days.  At first, the “No” coalition is rife with daunting memories of the 1973 coup and the thousands of deaths and missing people under Pinochet’s iron fist. In remembrance of human rights violations, the “No” cohort initially wanted to broadcast gory images of brutality and violence perpetrated by the military regime, in order to convince the population that they should nip the dictatorship in the bud.

But rather than showing the regime’s atrocities, the “No” framed a message of prosperity and democracy in a post-Pinochet era.  The movie seamlessly shows real footage of a commercial on which men and women of different ages and social strata are zealously performing their everyday duties under a happy mantra called “Chile, la alegría ya viene  (Chile, happiness is coming)”:

Conversely, the “Yes” coalition’s ad campaign utilized elements of terror management, that is, it kept reminding the population of a possible comeback of hunger, misery, and totalitarianism. At one point, the movie shows the “Yes” advertisement of a road roller crushing everything standing in its way, from a TV set to a lamp, and it reaches a point where it’s about to smash a girl sitting on the road. The road roller served as an analogy of the “No” coalition, which meant that it would destroy the country should it defeat Pinochet. Even though the “Yes” cohort employed terror management and negativity in its ad campaigns, it was the “No” coalition that successfully managed to have an inclusive, pluralistic outlook. The “No” crew used a rainbow as its logo. By including all colors of the rainbow, the “No” coalition’s message was that all Chileans, including those who were in favor of Pinochet, had an unyielding commitment to foster democracy in Chile.

What should, then, Progressive Latinos draw from this film? Simply put, a forward-looking message that showcases the positive input of the Latino community in America. We are faced with distorted messages from mainstream media that portray immigrants as a burden to our country, and too often we find ourselves debunking these claims and other myths, which in turn deepen the counterparts’ message framing in people’s minds. For instance, in the wake of Arizona’s S.B. 1070 in 2010, progressive think tanks and nonprofits started a swath of “Myth vs. Reality” documents and articles in an attempt to show the virtues of immigration matters like, say, the DREAM Act. As they presented “myths vs. facts” (Myth: “The DREAM Act rewards illegal behavior” vs. Fact: “This is not amnesty”) the use of keywords “illegal” and “amnesty” had more resonance in people’s psyche than the positive outcome of a fixed immigration system. A 2010 article from The Daily Beast showed that Americans, in the end, believed “illegal” immigration hurt the economy.

That is exactly what occurred in the movie: the “No” campaign was so successful the “Yes” advertisements sought to demystify their message by conflating terror management and mockery of their TV commercials. Such cognitive dissonance had a counterproductive effect, as more Chileans seemed to like the “No” alternative more and more. Consequently, the “No” coalition won the plebiscite, forcing Pinochet to surrender all executive powers in 1990.

Latino immigrants offer unparalleled benefits to this country, both socially and economically, as more and more Latinos are actively participating in decision-making processes, such as presidential and local elections. As we enter a new threshold of an immigration system, we should frame our own message and not of our counterparts. Several progressive organizations offer talking points and policy solutions that focus on promoting family unity, fair treatment, a fair roadmap to citizenship, and labor rights.

Perhaps the rainbow logo, as portrayed in the movie, is the perfect analogy to frame the message that, as immigrants, we are an intrinsic part of the American mosaic–in tandem with other ethnicities and races.

Robert Valencia is a Research Fellow at the Council of Hemispheric Affairs and is a contributing writer for the World Policy Institute and Global Voices Online. His research on U.S-Latin American relations, conflict resolution, U.S. Latino issues, human rights, and government accountability have been cited by Al Jazeera English, The Atlantic, Yale Journal of International Affairs, The Coalition for the International Criminal Court, the Henry Jackson Society, and the Center for American Progress.  His comments are his own.