A Miner's Song

Wednesday, August 25, 2010 - 09:06 AM

Every Chilean knows these words:


I go                           Voy

I come back                Vengo

I climb up                   Subo

I climb down               Bajo

What’s it for               Todo para qué

Nothing for me            Nada para mi


They are from “A Miner’s Song” written by political martyr Victor Jara in 1961. It’s now the anthem of the 33 miners trapped below ground in that copper and gold mine in Northern Chile. They can’t be freed for months and are subsisting on morsels of food and rationing their minds in a regime of self imposed tasks, cleaning, walking, talking. Trying to create a structure to a life in the dark below ground. The song has a famous, if sobering, stanza: I am a miner, I go to the mine, I go to death, I am a miner. “A la muerte voy.” The people of Chile know what is at stake here and it’s partly why the whole nation is down by that mine imagining what they might be doing if they were in this dark place cut off from everyone they love, from life itself.

In a way the miner’s predicament is a metaphor. The literature of Chile is full of metaphors and elaborate allegories to history and destiny so it would be natural for all Chileans to look to these miners as surrogates for their own national narrative. As the bicentennial approaches for Chile in September people tell us that the fate of the miners is a parable for Chile’s history. All Chileans understand this story of a period of darkness where people had to rely on themselves to survive only to emerge into the light joyful, but always mindful of where they came from. It’s a story you could easily imagine in a book by the late novelist Roberto Bolano himself.


I am a miner                Minero soy

I go to the mine          A la mina voy

I go to death              A la muerte voy

A miner am I               Minero soy

I am a human being      Humano soy

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