LETTERS FROM AROUND THE WORLD
For my sadness, blue violet
Red carnation for my passion
And to know if you care for me too
I’ll pull the petals from a white daisy.
Whether you love me a lot, a little, or not at all
my heart remains peaceful.
–from “La Jardinera” (The Gardener)
Words and music by Violeta Parra (1954) 
In the life of the Chilean poet, folk singer, and artist Violeta Parra, the intimate space of a tent was synonymous with imaginative expression, her life, and perhaps even a cross to bear.
The renowned troubadour of Southern Chile began her artistic career in the small circuses that took their magic to the farming town of Chillan, the region where Parra spent her childhood. Although Chillan is located within the center of the agricultural region in Chile, its microclimate can turn hostile to the farmer’s life.
Before she reached adolescence, Parra, as a means of self-support, composed her first tunes. Once transplanted to Santiago, she never abandoned the satisfaction she found in her creative endeavors.
In 1952, she set a goal for herself: to rescue the Chilean cultural tradition by traveling throughout rural areas, campamentos (poor neighborhoods in the city) and popular bars to compile the songs, poetry, and the oral tradition of the country’s people.
Parra committed herself to the cultural legacy of the weakest voices, leading a fight with women, peasants, and the popular classes against colonizers.At that time, the Chilean establishment valued European works over its own national voices. The tastes of ordinary Chileans were thought of as irrelevant. Within this context, Parra dedicated her life to gain appreciation by the establishment for her work and that of other artists, folk singers, and artisans with an ambitious ideal to end with stereotyped views of Latin America.
Her body of work, which includes poetry, music, ceramic and embroidery, sought to integrate the elements of a simple and quotidian life as it represented the happiness and pain of ordinary people.
Through her work, Parra gave birth to a cultural movement that still exists. Yet, it is difficult, perhaps impossible, to end the stereotypes. Folklore, traditional narratives and the work of artisans continue to occupy a comparatively small place on culture’s shelves.
One of Parra’s most admired works is no doubt her ode to life, “Thanks to Life,” which has been interpreted by countless musicians, including folk singers Mercedes Sosa and Joan Baez.
For the casual listener, the song simply expresses the intense love of a woman for her partner.
Thanks to life which has given me so much,
It gave me two eyes that when I open them,
I can distinguish perfectly black from white,
And in the high heaven its starry background,
And in the multitudes the man I love.
Thanks to life which has given me so much,
It’s given me sound and the alphabet,
And with it the words that I think and declare,
Mother, friend, brother, and burning light,
The route to the soul of the one I am loving. 
The patriarchal reading of Parra’s ode seems thin under deeper analysis. As the Chilean researcher Susana Münich suggests, this ode is also a tribute to the author’s own capacity for devotion and creativity.
Parra begins her song by making allusion to the luceros, or brightest stars, a Spanish word that in the peasant language of her time represented the eyes of children. It is with these eyes that Parra, as a girl, is taught to discern what is right and find pleasure in nature.
And it is exactly this capacity within Parra that allows her to see the man, amidst the crowd, who would be the depositary of her emotions.
In the final verses, Parra reflects on human achievements through intelligence, and general kindness, which seems to elicit inner responses as strong as those she feels from her lover’s gaze.Each verse follows a similar structure: Parra thanks her own ears, the words she learned from her mother, her own traveling through cities, mountains and fields; all tools the author uses freely to seek a lover, to hear him and follow along in his steps.
Münich believes this language does not fit with the traditional romantic expression of a woman. Why should Parra think of intellectual talent and altruism in its broadest dimension if her aim is to touch the soul of only one man?
It is also possible that words were simply insufficient – as they continue to be for lovers – to express the magnitude of such delicate sentiment nestled within her. As Petrarch declared to his Laura in 1348, “To be able to say how much you love is to love but little.” 
The amorous connection makes it impossible not to think of humanity and transcendence, whether understood as religious illumination, inevitable fate or the simple perception of that human-animal dichotomy.
In “Thanks to Life,” Parra finishes by thanking all the elements of which her song is composed, a song that she shares with all her people, and the immense Latin American community to which she belongs.
The tent continued to have such meaning for Parra that in the mid-sixties, the artist obtained a permit to install and gather Chilean popular artists under a circus tent in Santiago. Inside this den, traditional artists would cultivate a space in which to create new forms of expression. The ambitious project was another manner in which Parra chose to express her resistance to the establishment’s indifference.
Instead of accepting the reality of her peasant life with harsh work that went ignored, Parra continued to fight for the approval of the cultured society. She did not give up on her dream that the Chilean establishment would one day welcome the wisdom of the popular classes.
In the end, her last great project failed. The tent was put down along with the dreams and sacrifice of a woman who had decided, “to strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield,”  while dedicating her life to the solitary task of rescuing popular tradition.
However, besides being alone at the time of her abrupt death, Parra was also living under extreme poverty and still unable to sense an appreciation for her work and group she represented (at least in practical terms) within her own country, despite having obtained it overseas on numerous occasions.In 1967, at fifty years old, the author of that great ode to life decided to end her own. Traditionally, her decision is explained once again in patriarchal terms, as a consequence of a man leaving her at a time when Parra could not see herself as a desirable woman.
Despite the author’s intensity, perhaps the frustration and exhaustion of such fervor had already begun to extinguish the creative source, which alone could truly conquer Parra’s soul. 
CREDITS AND USEFUL LINKS:
Vicky Santibanez is a Spanish translator and currently teaches Spanish at Colorado Free University. Over the years she has provided linguistic support to a variety of companies including publishers such as Bloomberg and the Courier-Post.