Little Red Riding Hood and the Wolf – Translation
[Lupa]: Surely this has happened to you: you listen to an episode of this wonderful podcast and you think, “Oh my god, Randy would love this”. Or Joanne or Connie or Matthew. And then, “Ay, caramba! But with his two semesters of Spanish, my gringuito won’t understand”. Well, my lovelies, I have wonderful news: Radio Ambulante now has its own app for all the Matthews in your life. You can use these incredible stories to improve your Spanish. The app is called Lupa. There’s more information on the website. Be on the lookout. Chao, my lovelies!
[Daniel Alarcón, host]: Before we start today’s episode, a warning: this episode mentions sex. Discretion is advised.
Welcome to Radio Ambulante from NPR. I’m Daniel Alarcón.
There are several versions of what we’re going to tell you today, variations on a theme. But at the center of the story is a 12-year-old boy. He lives in Río Buenos, a small city in southern Chile. One day he goes to the library at his school, a public school, not too big, and there he finds a little book.
Its dust jacket catches his eye. It has a pink and white background, and there’s a very innocent-looking girl lying on the ground. It’s reminiscent of the ‘50s or ‘60s. She has her hand on her cheek and she’s looking thoughtfully into the distance. There’s a dialogue bubble coming out of her, and there’s the title: Little Red Riding Hood Eats the Wolf. They’re short c stories.
The boy opens it.
We don’t know which of the stories he read, but this, for example, is a fragment from the story titled “The New Adventure of Little Red Riding Hood in which She Eats the Wolf.”
[Voice]: “I stretched myself out like a cat and offered him my neck. Grandma, what a big nose you have. She leaned into him and took a deep breath: all the better to smell you with. I was narrowing the space between my lips and his, but I didn’t say “Grandma, what big mouth you have,” because I was the one who’d be doing the eating. I kissed him. I slid my tongue into his mouth like a serpent. I pulled back. I undid his robe and unzipped his jeans. I grabbed his…”
[Daniel]: OK, OK, OK, you get the idea of what comes next.
So, well, the boy, after reading this, was terrified, and he brought the book to a school administrator. And that’s when the situation started snowballing. The administrator read it and was scandalized as well. He decided to take it to the principal of the school, and he was so mortified that he brought it to the mayor of Río Bueno.
The mayor was in shock and decided to report it to the media.
[Mayor]: We are, eh, very shocked, concerned by the situation.
[Woman]: What is this?
[Commentator]: It’s a book that’s being distributed to children in the town of Río Bueno, and inside it contains a peculiar description of a situation in which Little Red Riding Hood meets the wolf, begins undressing the wolf, and who knows how that ends…
[Commentator]: And it could be, listen, it could be a version of 50 Shades of Grey, but a version that is second rate and degenerate.
[Journalist]: And scandal erupts in Chile over the distribution of a book with erotic content to elementary school students.
[Journalist]: The Chilean government distributed the erotic book Little Red Riding Hood Eats the Wolf in libraries of 283, listen to this, elementary schools in this country…
[Daniel]: Two hundred eighty-three schools.
Pilar Quintana, the Colombian author of the book, received a message from her editor in Chile not long after. It had a link to an article from the Radio Bío Bío website. The headline read:
[Pilar Quintana]: “Elementary school received a book with pornographic content from the Mineduc.”
[Daniel]: Mineduc, by the way, is the Ministry of Education.
Pilar, almost in real time, saw how the news went viral.
[Pilar]: Thousands and thousands of views. And the news also started spreading all over the world, so it began appearing in English, French, Dutch, and then in languages that don’t even have the same alphabet, and I said: “My god! What is this?”
[Daniel]: What is this? It’s a very good question, one that everyone had — from the 12-year-old boy to the mayor, all the way to Pilar herself. How did this Colombian book make its way to almost 300 public school libraries in Chile? Was it really a mistake?
Our senior editor, Camila Segura, tells the story.
[Camila Segura, producer]: Pilar has published five books. Little Red Riding Hood Eats the Wolf was published in 2012 by Cuneta, a small Chilean publisher. It’s six stories with one overlying theme…
[Pilar]: Which was atypical seduction and it also has some violent components.
[Camila]: This is Galo Ghigliotto, the editor.
[Galo Ghigliotto]: And they’re also quite crude as stories. Very dark. They give you a very unsettling feeling.
[Camila]: With stories that Galo defines as…
[Galo]: More than erotic, as pornographic.
[Camila]: On the back cover it’s clear that its content is sexual. It says, for example, that the characters…
[Pilar]: “Enjoy and desire, they satisfy their sexual appetites much sooner rather than later.”
[Camila]: When it was published in 2012 with a print run of 400 copies, she got elegiac reviews. It didn’t sell out quickly, but almost two years later, the publisher made a deal with a distributor. They were going to make sure that Cuneta’s books made it to bookstores, but they were also going to offer them to the Ministry of Education. Perhaps one of them would be chosen to go out to public school libraries at the elementary and middle school levels, which is how primary and secondary schools are divided in Chile.
[Galo]: The distributor was the one who sent reviewer copies of Little Red Riding Hood Eats the Wolf to the Center for Learning Resources.
[Camila]: A Ministry of Education program that is also known as Bibliotecas Escolares CRA [CLR School Libraries].
Galo found out that the distributor had suggested this book only when he received an order from the Ministry: 283 books. A huge order for a small publisher like Cuneta. Immediately he messaged Pilar on WhatsApp to tell her the news…
[Pilar]: And I said, “Oh.” And he said: “Yeah, weird. I made the same face as you must have made, but they must know, right?” And I was like: “Well, yeah, they must know.”
[Camila]: And, well, neither of them was going to say…
[Pilar]: “Hey, don’t buy that book, no!,” right? (Laughs). Because… because, well, we want people to buy them. And really, well, if the Ministry was buying them, it was because they must have evaluated the book, and it must have seemed it was right to buy them. It was a little surprising because, well, how weird is it that the Ministry is interested in buying a book that… that has so much sex.
[Galo]: I thought that the middle levels of education…
[Camila]: That is, teenagers from 14 years old and up.
[Galo]: Were trying to take on a broader array of subjects. In Chile at the time, there was a big discussion about the issue of the harassment, the issue of abuse of minors by the… the church as well as other institutions —we’re talking about sexual abuse of course. So, the topic of sex ed was very present.
[Camila]: Though Galo was also a little worried.
[Galo]: Because… I don’t know, it seemed like a book that requires careful treatment, right? I think that… a book like that does require attention from the teachers and requires a guided conversation.
[Camila]: And yes. It is a string book. Aside from a couple of very explicit stories about consensual sex, it has others that deal with very intense physical violence: in one, a married woman is beaten, and in another, one person’s eyes are gouged out and another person is castrated.
Perhaps one of the most troubling is a story called “Rape” and it describes a stepfather raping his 13-year-old stepdaughter. It’s told from the perspective of the rapist and, to him, the girl seems not to be bothered by being raped.
It’s very clear to Pilar that this is not a book for children, but in workshops with students who are 16 or 17, she has discussed stories like “Rape.” The idea is to broaden their imagination in terms of how rapes occur: much less often violently in dark parks and much more frequently they’re committed against girls, in their homes, by people who are close to them: their stepdad, their uncle, their grandfather, their father.
But, going back to the scandal, on Thursday, October 29th, 2015, the news blew up. It was covered by several media outlets in the country, and by the following day — Friday — the TV channel Chilevisión aired a 16-minute report on the topic. It was one of those morning shows with several commentators.
[Commentator 1]: But you know what is curious? Think about how they’re books that are recommended by Mineduc.
[Commentator 2]: And that now, effectively, they’re being distributed between eighth grade and the first year of middle school. And they’re ero… very erotic short stories and that even, well, the truth is it has a little surprise; it comes with… with a bonus track.
[Commentator 3]: We were on top of the report, the details about everything, you’re going to be surprised especially if you have school-aged kids…
[Camila]: At the start of the report, a journalist goes to the doors of a school where parents are dropping off their children. They show them the book and ask them to look closely at the cover, to read the title and try to guess what it’s about. The answers are all over the place.
[Woman 1]: Little Red Riding Hood Eats the Wolf: obviously I think of the children’s story.
[Woman 2]: I imagine that it may be because of a few words, a few sayings, because, maybe, Little Red Riding Hood has a lot of personality too, so, that’s why she’s the one who eats him.
[Woman 3]: Maybe it’s like… like you get a glimpse of a double meaning when you’re an adult. Maybe the children see it from another point of view.
[Woman 4]: If it’s the children’s story, uh, it’s backwards, since little… the wolf eats little red riding hood. This would be, I don’t know, a title for adults.
[Voice]: An evocative name for a curious book that was distributed throughout several…
[Camila]: Then the journalist opens to a page with erotic passages highlighted in yellow and asks the people to read it and give their opinions about the fact that this book is being given to children younger than 12 years old.
[Commentator]: These parents’ expressions speak for themselves.
[Woman 1]: How horrible!
[Woman 2]: Besides, I find it tremendously vulgar. The expression is too vulgar. I mean, I think there are ways to… to talk about certain kinds of topics that… that we all know we’ll have to confront with children at some point, but this isn’t the way. That is very vulgar.
[Man]: It’s also intense, I mean, it opens you to topics about sexuality immediately.
[Camila]: The news continued to spread. It was covered by dozens of newspapers, blogs, and websites all over the world. While researching this story, I found more than 50 links to the story in more than six languages.
The headline obviously was going to draw people in: pornography, schools, and children in the same headline. The media started to bombard Pilar.
[Pilar]: Every ten minutes my phone rang, and it was from Miami, Chile, Peru, Colombia, everywhere, asking for interviews. So, my phone… there was a moment when it died and at the time I was with my son. He was very small, and I was breastfeeding him and I was there with my cellphone giving interviews about my supposedly pornographic book.
[Galo]: For a week or ten days people were talking about it every day. It showed up on the radio. It showed up in print media. It showed up on the TV news. And of course, what’s on TV has a very, very big impact on people.
[Camila]: Galo suffered it in a very concrete way, after all, he was the one who had published the book.
[Galo]: Because something happened too, and it’s that the book became a kind of cursed book. We were also a little demonized by the issue because they were saying that we were like… like those dealers that show up at schools selling candy but they’re actually selling LSD. And that in effect our book was a kind of poisoned package and what we wanted was to poison the minds of children with our pornographic content.
[Camila]: The publishing house received many emails. He remembers in particular one that a man sent.
[Galo]: That, well, talked about Pilar as if she were the Whore of Babylon. And as if we were Satan’s henchmen.
[Camila]: One of those days, she went to drop off his son at school, and a teacher asked him:
[Galo]: “Did you see what happened with this book? And so on…”
[Camila]: Galo said yes, and he told her that he had published it.
[Galo]: And she looked at me in horror and said: “No!” I said, “Yes.”
[Camila]: Obviously he explained that he hadn’t published it thinking that 12-year-olds were going to read it.
[Galo]: But she had that idea. Deep down, what had made it to her was that a quasi-terrorist group had created a book —a device in the form of a book— to corrupt the minds of the youth of Chile.
[Camila]: The whole scandal also coincided with the Santiago International Book Fair where Galo had a stand for his publishing house and where they were selling Pilar’s book. He told me that one day he was tending the stand and a group of high school students came up.
[Galo]: They were about 15 years old. And all of a sudden one says to the other. “Look, there’s the book that was on TV.” And in unison, the girls responded: “Yuck!” And they ran off.
[Camila]: Or the time it was a couple…
[Galo]: They were Chilean elites and the woman says to her husband: “Gordo, look there’s the book that was on TV.” And then Gordo —who wasn’t fat, which here’ it’s used as a term of endearment— looks and says: “O, how yucky.” In other words, how atrocious.
[Camila]: And he leaves. But the woman stays behind, and…
[Galo]: Once her husband is far away, she asks the price of the book and buys it.
[Camila]: And she hides it from Gordo.
[Galo]: Exactly. And reads it in secret (laughs).
[Camila]: In the bathroom.
[Galo]: In the bathroom.
[Camila]: And it wasn’t like they were selling a ton either, only about 150 more copies.
Unlike Galo, Pilar didn’t get off so badly…
[Pilar]: Generally, the news didn’t criticize me. It was like the harshest criticisms were aimed at the Ministry. Like, how could this have happened?
[Camila]: Because, of course, aside from being an unusual incident, it became a political issue. Since it had the Ministry of Education’s seal of approval, it was directly linked to Michelle Bachelet’s socialist government. Bachelet, who had been elected for the second time in 2014, assumed office wanting to make a lot of changes in the country. This is Galo again.
[Galo]: Among those changes, she was demanding that actions be taken on issues dealing with children, women, and women’s reproductive rights. But there’s an opposition in Chile that is closely tied to hard-core conservativism. There’s an extreme right that is opposed to any kind of modification or progress dealing with certain things that might offend their morals and norms.
[Camila]: That’s why it’s meaningful that the mayor of Río Bueno, Luis Reyes —the town where the book was found, and the man who reported it to the media— belonged to the Unión Demócrata Independiente party, the UDI. According to Galo:
[Galo]: In other words, the Chilean extreme right.
[Camila]: A staunch opponent of the Bachelet government. The mayor spoke on several occasions to different media outlets, criticizing the situation, and he said that a book like this is very dangerous for a rural community where there are vulnerable children. He called on the government to explain what had happened.
[Luis Bueno]: And as mayor, as someone who supports this community and as a teacher, there is no doubt that I must bring to light, expose, question, and call forth the authorities at the Ministry of Education. Because of what it means to make available…
[Camila]: Politicians from other parties also spoke out, like this man, Iván Flores, a representative of the Partido Demócrata Cristiano.
[Iván Flores]: I think it’s a trash rag that flies in the face of morals and good manners. This is a deviant book, definitely. I’m not a moralist prude. I don’t think this was just a mistake, I think there was negligence here.
[Daniel]: Error and negligence: that was the idea people had in mind. Like this man who was interviewed for the news on Chilevisión who imagined a very clear scene of what happened.
[Man]: Someone there made a mistake. The books come to the library, someone gives them as a gift or donates them, and they read: “Little Red Riding Hood Eats the Wolf.” And they thought it was the… the most wholesome thing there could be. I mean, they didn’t know about Pilar Quintana’s career, they didn’t know about this girl from Cali, a very… very nice girl, but all of her books are about a very exacerbated sensuality.
[Daniel]: I don’t know how those things are measured, honestly. But well… this man concludes with something that everyone agrees on: Little Red Riding Hood Eats the Wolf is not for kids.
[Man]: This kind of literature isn’t suitable for children. It’s for smarmy adults.
[Daniel]: After the break: What happened? Was it a mistake? Or did they know what they were sending?
We’ll be right back.
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[Daniel]: Before the break, we were in the middle of a media scandal in Chile. After 300 copies of the book Little Red Riding Hood Eats the Wolf were distributed to public schools, Mineduc was flooded with criticism. The publisher and the author, Pilar Quintana, weren’t safe from it all either.
In any case, the Ministry moved fast, and the same day the news broke, it issued a press release. Alejandra Arratia, the coordinator of the Curriculum and Evaluation Unit of the Ministry of Education gave a statement announcing that the Ministry had decided to recall the book immediately…
[Alejandra Arratia]: Given that it does not have the adequate educational evaluation for students. And in addition, we will review the texts that are part of the CRALibrary catalog to determine if there is any similar book that needs to be wi… withdrawn.
[Daniel]: In the press release, they said they were also going to investigate how the book came to be included in the catalog.
Camila continues the story.
[Camila]: To figure out what happened, I tried to speak with someone who currently works at the Ministry or someone who worked there in 2015, when this all happened. I contacted several people, but I was very surprised to find that most of them either didn’t respond to my messages or, as soon as I mentioned the book, stopped responding. Several declined to respond and there was even one person who told me they were afraid of reprisals if they spoke with me openly about the issue.
It was a mystery to me that this, an anecdote that took place nearly five years ago, was such a taboo topic. But in the end, I managed to speak with this man.
[Carlos Alcalde]: My name is Carlos Alcalde. I worked at the CRA school libraries in 2015.
[Camila]: Carlos was the person in charge of relations between CRA libraries and outside organizations. In other words, he was part of the 12-person team that experienced the scandal firsthand. He remembers that day well.
[Carlos]: I came in one day, in October. It was a nice spring day with the sun shining, and you know. And someone said… that, in good Chilean, they said: “This is fucked.” And I started looking into what had happened.
[Camila]: They told them the whole story, and he remembers that one of his coworkers, Gabriela Jara, the person in charge of the evaluations was there that whole day…
[Carlos]: Working on trying to contain, you know? that mayor’s pressure and, taking his call and trying to answer his questions.
[Camila]: Trying to put out the fire. And that was when Carlos found out that…
[Carlos]: Well, the book has been approved. The assessment is clear. Someone read it and gave it a good rating with a clear recommendation for students older than 16.
[Camila]: And yes. As a result of the scandal, a citizen made a transparency request, and the document was published about a month later. He asked for a copy of the purchase order. He wanted them to tell him who ordered the books and what was their reasoning for doing so.
The response gives a detailed account of the evaluation timeline and the purchase. But what is most relevant here is that they clarified that they hired 13 external evaluators and a person named María Lyon was the one who evaluated the book and gave it a rating of 3.3 out of 4. In other words, a rating that recommended purchase.
It also clarifies that this book belongs to the category of Latin American stories for middle levels education, and was classified specifically for students above the age of 16, in the third or fourth year of school.
I looked everywhere for María Lyon. I wanted her to tell me what her evaluation criteria were, why she thought it would be worthwhile for these students to read the book, but she never answered my messages.
The fact of the matter is, according to Carlos, approving the book caused a lot of problems, because, after this, there began…
[Carlos]: A game that’s a little… a little disgusting, I would say. Since we felt betrayed, you know, because the Ministry itself pull… pulled the rug out from under us.
[Camila]: Carlos is referring to that statement given by the coordinator of the Curriculum and Evaluation Unit at the Ministry, Alejandra Arratia when she appeared in the media saying that the book…
[Alejandra Arratia]: Does not have the adequate educational evaluation for students.
[Camila]: The way Carlos sees it, one of the issues is that the coordinator went out to give statements very prematurely. She didn’t meet with them first to see what exactly had happened. She also failed to make…
[Carlos]: A contingency plan for… for facing all these conservative mayors who wanted… who wanted to go out and burn books.
[Camila]: Carlos thinks that the Ministry’s response should have been something like…
[Carlos]: “Well, here we have the issue of censorship. We can’t act as a censor.” This book has a clear recommendation for reading, but… but for some strange reason the Ministry of Education —which was in a socialist government that you’d hope would be a little more open— threw us under the bus. Which was the easiest way out, but also the most damaging way out.
[Camila]: Well, here I should add that I tried to speak with Alejandra Arratia through various means on different occasions, but she never responded to my message.
But, well, when he says, “the most damaging way out,” Carlos is referring to the fact that after the scandal, a lot of things changed. He describes it radically…
[Carlos]: There was a unit of school libraries that worked very well, that had a history of 20 or more years and after that, it was dismantled.
[María José González]: The consequences aren’t proportional to the event. Not at all.
My name is María José González. I was born in Chile, but I spent the first 20 years of my life in Colombia.
[Camila]: María José is a journalist, she studied literature and is a specialist in books for children and young adults. For more than 10 years she has been deeply acquainted with the way CRA libraries operate. She’s served on book evaluation committees like the one that was done for Pilar’s book and she has worked with them as an internal and external advisor, especially evaluating bibliographic resources. That’s why I spoke with her and because…
[María José]: Since I worked with them, I had access to the details of the whole later scandal. Which really surprised me because to me it didn’t seem like such a big deal.
[Camila]: When the news came out, her husband was very sick, and she didn’t hear about it from the media. But at that time, she was in charge of the school library program for a non-profit and worked very closely with CRA libraries. And there she started to get some sense of the consequences.
[María José]: I got acquainted with the whole scandal because the entire school library program started working poorly.
[Camila]: They started losing resources, and fewer books were making it to the schools.
[María José]: Before, there were… there were regional and national meetings of the heads of school libraries, and they weren’t doing those anymore. They used to send the school subscriptions to journals, magazines, daily newspapers, and that stopped. And not long after, Constanza Mekis resigned.
[Camila]: Constanza Mekis was the person who founded the Center for Learning Resources in 1994, and had served as the National Coordinator for CRA School Libraries for 22 years. She ended up resigning in February of 2016 after all this. A month before her resignation she had also fired the person I mentioned before, Gabriela Jara, the second in command and person in charge of evaluations. And it was the same here: I tried to speak to both of them, but they didn’t respond to my messages.
But María José, who was Mekis’ personal assistant in 2007, told me…
[María José]: I think that… I mean, she resigned because… because they cut her budget. They took away all of her operational autonomy.
[Camila]: And yes, according to Carlos, they changed their processes, and put a lot of limits on them. They limited, for example, the smooth and direct contact they had with librarians all over Chile. Now all communication had to be filtered through the coordinator…
[Carlos]: Which is very… very bureaucratic, very… very, well, I don’t know, like Phillip II, right? From the Spanish Colony.
[Camila]: To María José this all seems very disproportionate, especially because, according to her, that was one of the most successful programs the Ministry has ever had: they managed to outfit 10,000 public school libraries, they only had 1,000 to go.
[María José]: And the one who did that was Constanza Mekis, who in the end was the person people blamed for this… for this issue. So, in light of that extraordinary work she did for school libraries, it’s very odd that a program should be condemned for such a minor failing, which is that they let through a book that wasn’t age appropriate.
[Camila]: But, besides, the whole story about the book seems a little suspicious to her.
[María José]: Look, if you look at it, a lot of very odd things happened.
[Camila]: For example, the fact that Pilar’s book had been able to go unnoticed through so many filters. Because, on the one hand, even though María Lyon is the only evaluator mentioned in the transparency request document, María José made it clear to me that…
[María José]: At least two people read the book, and then you meet in a few committees and discuss it.
[Camila]: After these evaluations, they go to the Curriculum and Evaluation Unit, and they’re the ones who make the final decision. In other words, there were a lot of people involved.
But also because of how careful they are about the selection process at CRA. Not just with rigorous criteria for the quality of the book, the content, and the literary value, but also, most of all…
[María José]: When there were topics that were more controversial, at the CRA, they would steer clear of them. It was very clear to them when a book had the potential to generate some kind of backlash, and that was recorded in the evaluation.
[Camila]: For example, once she had to review a graphic novel about euthanasia.
[María José]: Which, despite the fact that we evaluated very positively in terms of literary and editorial quality, they told us that most likely that book wouldn’t make the cut because it dealt with a controversial topic.
[Camila]: And it’s true, it didn’t. A graphic novel about the Allende years didn’t either, because it was about a political topic, nor did a book called La composición, by Antonio Skármeta. In this last case, despite the fact that the evaluators agreed that it was very good and it got a high score, they never bought it.
[María José]: Why? Because La composición deals with the dictatorship and the military’s intervention in schools encouraging reporting among children.
[Camila]: It’s the story of a boy who’s forced to tell the military what his parents do at home. The editor of the book told María José that when she found out they weren’t going to buy it, she asked the CRA why.
[María José]: And they told her it was for obvious reasons.
[Camila]: That was the answer. Obvious reasons. And the obvious reason was that the book was about the dictatorship. It was direct censorship.
This is a topic that María José has reflected on very much, because she works in the cultural and educational field.
[María José]: Almost every day, I come across issues related to censorship, but mostly self-censorship. The topic of censorship and self-censorship is a topic that has been touched upon very little since the return to democracy, and it continues to be very present in the media, at universities, at publishing houses.
[Camila]: According to her, the topics that are most censored are…
[María José]: The dictatorship in any way at all, homosexuality —that is, all topics related to LGTB issues — abortion, euthanasia.
[Camila]: And, of course, sex.
[María José]: There is a lot of censorship. Especially in topics about values that the Church deals with.
[Camila]: For María José, Carlos and Galo, this whole mess has a political component.
[María José]: Anything that would help the opposition discredit the government could work.
[Carlos]: Of course, if… if you’re a conservative politician in Chile and you want to damage the socialist government, that’s the best thing that could happen to you.
[Galo]: I think it gave them an opportunity to insult the administration and the truth is that it worked.
[Camila]: The only thing that seems clear is that something that could have been an anecdote ended up crippling an educational program that had worked very well.
Producing this story has taken me longer than normal. Mostly because of what I’ve already mentioned several times: how difficult it was to find voices and sources, coming across so many people who refused to speak with me, who didn’t even respond saying no, the silence that took hold after mentioning the damned book. It seemed almost like a joke.
That’s why I asked María José what she thought about this.
How would you explain all the silence and mystery surrounding this phenomenon? What’s your take?
[María José]: Look, I… I think that… Let’s see, Chile is still… still very afraid of censorship, of the authorities, and in particular, working for the State is where you have the worst job security. People who currently work at the Ministry don’t even have contracts. So, of course, I’m not surprised that people there don’t want to talk because they can be fired for no reason at all.
[Camila]: And, yes, in that case, I understand why some officials are afraid. The possibility of ending up without a job is frightening. That was what one person had hinted at. And for the people who were high up and remain connected to the sector in general, it’s not in their interest to put themselves back into a negative spotlight. And, as María José told me, this field is small in Chile: the odds of finding yourself in different projects again is high. It’s uncomfortable, then, to have to work with someone who spoke negatively.
But all of this points to the censorship and self-censorship María José is talking about. A broader kind of censorship that affects not just Chile but also many other countries and societies. Societies that still don’t have the courage to talk about certain topics, but have no problem talking about others. Because we should say that the thing that was scandalous about Pilar’s book was the sexual content, not the violence.
This is Pilar again.
[Pilar]: I was surprised that no one in the media asked me: “It’s not just the sex, there’s also terrible violence.” That got caught my attention, and it raises the question, why is sex censorable but violence isn’t? Why do we find it more normal for our children to consume videogames where they’re shooting and blowing the heads off little dolls, but we think it’s bad for them too read a book that has sex?
[Camila]: Pilar has an explanation.
[Pilar]: It seems that violence is more naturalized than sex.
[Camila]: More normalized because it seems that it’s more troubling than desire, in part because…
[Pilar]: It shows us that we aren’t such decent and put-together people if sometimes we act out of instinct, like animals. And I think that’s also why it can be so shocking. The book makes people uncomfortable because it shows us our own desire, and sometimes it can be a mirror showing us something we’d rather not see reflected in ourselves.
[Camila]: An uncomfortable book, that upset a lot of people. A book that perhaps represents, in a conservative country, an overly progressive bet for education. A bet that didn’t pay off.
I asked Galo where he imagined the books the Ministry recalled could be.
[Galo]: Maybe, uh, they shredded them. Or maybe they’re stored away in a warehouse, along with some meteorite and an alien cadaver at a secret government office.
[Camila]: I don’t think I’ll ever know.
[Daniel]: Camila Segura is the Editorial Director for Radio Ambulante. She lives in Bogotá. This story was produced with help from Victoria Estrada and was edited by Luis Fernando Vargas and me. The music and sound design are by Andrés Azpiri and Rémy Lozano. Andrea López Cruzado did the fact-checking.
On the landing page for this story, you can listen to the recording of an essay Pilar Quintana wrote about all this and an experience she had when she was invited to a writer’s residency in Hong Kong.
The rest of the Radio Ambulante team includes Lisette Arévalo, Gabriela Brenes, Jorge Caraballo, Miranda Mazariegos, Patrick Moseley, Laura Rojas Aponte, Barbara Sawhill, Luis Trelles, David Trujillo, and Elsa Liliana Ulloa. Carolina Guerrero is the CEO.
Radio Ambulante is a podcast by Radio Ambulante Estudios, and it’s produced and mixed on the program Hindenburg PRO.
Before we finish, we want to ask you a favor. We’ve found that a lot of new listeners of Radio Ambulante came to the podcast thanks to recommendations from friends and people they trust. In other words, thanks to you. So please, keep listening to and recommending Radio Ambulante to the people close to you. It seems simple but that word of mouth is the biggest factor in helping us grow. Thank you very much.
Radio Ambulante tells the stories of Latin America. I’m Daniel Alarcón. Thanks for listening.
In the next episode of Radio Ambulante: a checkpoint on a highway in Guatemala…
[Emma Molina Theissen]: Then I got off and they put us in line. And that was really strange because they never did that, they checked the clothes of the women too. And when I see that, I start to panic, because I said: “They’re going to find this on me.”
[Daniel]: Would be the start of a four-decade-long nightmare for the Molina Theissen family. Their story, next week.