Women of Vancouver: Carmen Rodríguez

Chilean-Canadian bilingual writer Carmen Rodríguez has been nominated for the YWCA Women of Distinction Award this year under the Arts, Culture & Design division for her trailblazing work in the field of literature.

Rodríguez spent her early childhood in both the southern Chilean city of Valdivia where she was born in 1948 and in the port of Valparaíso.

She recalls her mother reciting the verses of various female poets at family gatherings when she was young. These poets’ words made her realize the world was dominated by men and that women’s preoccupations could and did go beyond the domestic domain. From her father, she learned the power of narratives and storytelling.

Growing up, Rodríguez enjoyed writing poetry and short stories, but was involved in myriad other activities so she never thought of herself as a writer. In March 1973, her short story Acuarela won an Honorary Mention in a contest by Paula Magazine, but even then she didn’t consider herself to be a writer.

Writing and activism

September 11, 1973 marks a painful but important day in Chile, as on this day, General Augusto Pinochet headed a military coup that overthrew democratically elected President Salvador Allende. What followed was a seventeen-year dictatorship. Fearing for their lives, Rodríguez and her family fled Chile and came to Canada in 1974.

Carmen Rodriguez has been nominated for the 2020 YWCA Women of Distinction. | Photo courtesy of Carmen Rodriguez

Rodríguez’s next few years in Vancouver were marked by political activism and it was not until 1989, when the Chilean dictatorship was replaced by what she deemed a lukewarm democracy, that she began to write again as a way of giving voice to her own stories of exile and resistance and those of her community. For Rodríguez, writing has always gone hand-in-hand with activism and she will continue to use it.

“[L]anguage is not a neutral tool of communication, but a weapon that the oppressors have used to justify their actions, and that the oppressed can use as a tool for liberation,” says Rodríguez. “…to protest, remember, bear witness, denounce, provoke and propose.”

In 1992 Rodríguez published Guerra Prolongada/Protracted War, a volume of bilingual poetry; a few years later, De cuerpo entero/and a body to remember with, a collection of short stories, was published. With a break of fourteen years, her novel Retribution was released in 2011 and next year she is set to publish another
novel, Atacama.

“So, I am a writer after all!” she exclaims.

Contribution in other fields

Rodríguez obtained a B.A. and teaching certificate from the University of Chile, studied in the UBC master’s program in Spanish language and literature and earned a second master’s in education from SFU. Her work in education has spanned many fields: adult literacy with First Nations communities, teacher training, languages, literature, cultural studies and creative writing.

She has also worked as a journalist. Between 1990 and 2012 she was Vancouver correspondent for the Latin American section of Radio Canada International and in 1988 she helped found and became a member of the editorial board of Aquelarre, a bilingual magazine published in Vancouver between 1988 and 1997. Aquelarre brought together Latin American and Canadian women of all ancestries and showcased the cultural and literary work of Latin American women in Latin America, Canada and the diaspora, while also offering a platform for in-depth analyses of social issues affecting all women.

Rodríguez is an elected member of The Writers’ Union of Canada’s national council, where she has given voice to traditionally marginalized writers and advocated for more equitable policies for the literary community as a whole.

For further information on Carmen Rodríguez go to www.carmenrodriguez.ca

To learn more about the YWCA Women of Distinction Awards 2020, visit www.ywcavan.org/2020-ywca-women-distinction-nominees/arts-culture-design