Pelusa – ‘I am Alive. I Lived. I was Lucky’ by Julia Hall 2024

(Pelusa, Chile – 115 x 85cm)

Ana Maria arrived in the UK in September 1974, aged 30, with her four young children. Pelusa is her political nickname, it means a mischievous urchin from the shanty towns. As a member of the Revolutionary Left Movement, she was arrested following Pinochet’s coup in Chile. After being released from a torture centre (she has no idea why) and escaping house arrest, she went on the run and ultimately was given refuge by the British Government. Initially the British refused to take refugees from Chile, but that changed when Harold Wilson became Prime Minister. She and her children were in the first group of 11 people to be brought to the UK, after making their way undercover in a dangerous situation to the British embassy in Santiago.

Her family arrived with only the summer clothes they were wearing. It was so cold. They were given a council flat on an estate in Deptford – she was so happy to know they would have their own home, but the estate was a stronghold of the National Front in the 1970s, and an extremely racist environment. Some neighbours sent a letter to the management asking why they were housing a communist family. It took at least 10 years before anyone said ‘good morning’ to her. Pelusa felt an unbearable sense of survivor’s guilt, she reached a low point and realised she had to get out and tell people what was happening in Chile. After looking in the meetings advertised in Time Out magazine she went to one on women’s rights. Despite her basic English, she spoke at the meeting, talking about women in Chile. The women were so kind and patient with her, and she created a group around her so she wasn’t lonely any more. At first she couldn’t understand feminist issues – her fight was a class struggle, but she began to realise the demands were valid. Pelusa was a member of the women’s movement, Chilean Women in Exile, the National Organisation of Chileans in Exile and the Chilean Trade Union. Fighting on all fronts was part of being herself. When I met her at the age of 79, she was embroidering banners to protest outside the Chilean embassy on the 50th anniversary of the coup. She told me: “I feel a strong responsibility to do something, and to get justice for the young people who disappeared in 1974. How could they kill a whole generation? I cannot sit back and have an easy life. I am alive. I lived. I was lucky. I came to the UK with my children, who had an education and went to university. That’s why I have to fight for refugees now. Coming here we ended up with nothing – we left everything”.

SKU JU/HA009 Artist

Additional information

Dimensions 115 × 85 cm


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