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Unknown Voices from ArgentinaPhoto from "Tierra Adentro" (Inland) courtesy of Patrick Liotta

Unknown Voices from Argentina

Photographer Patrick Liotta and Mapuche Indian performer Beatriz Pichi Malen tell of the Mapuche people's bravery and determination in confronting wars, poverty, and domination by various groups.

Malen encourages young Mapuches to pursue careers in teaching and other professions. "We need docents, lawyers, and doctors to take care of our people,"

By Cristina Pons, Claudia Salguero, and Diliana Peregrina

PATRICK LIOTTA, an Argentine professional photographer who has lived with and recorded the customs of indigenous communities, and Beatriz Pichi Malen, a Mapuche Indian artist and award-winning performer of ancient songs, gave an astonishing presentation on Tuesday, Nov. 7, 2006, at UCLA’s Young Research Library. In the images and vivid captions of his book project Tierra Adentro (Inland), Liotta has captured stories of struggle and survival from the land of the Mapuche and Wichis peoples of southern Argentina.

Liotta said that he felt a "calling" to tell the real history of these cultures as Latin Americans in the 1990s publicly reevaluated the meaning of Oct. 12, 1492, the so-called discovery of America. Liotta and Malen began a journey to teach others about the Mapuches' bravery and determination in confronting wars, poverty, and domination by various groups.

Malen enchanted us with her beatific voice, singing and performing as Mapuche traditions instruct her. Her voice and movements seemed to take the audience to their earthy selves. Born in the city of Los Toldos in Buenos Aires Province, Malen has dedicated her life to the preservation of the Mapuche. She enlightened the UCLA audience with her knowledge of the challenges faced by the Mapuche, and with pictures, dances, songs, poems, textiles, and narratives.

History books do not tell the whole story: "Probably a page and a half is dedicated to our people," said Malen. Yet their spirits are intact.

One of the challenges that Mapuches face today is governmental neglect. Mapuche communities often fall below the poverty line in Argentina. Non-profit organizations and people like Liotta have, through various venues, sponsored these communities. One-third of the proceeds of Tierra Adentro, for example, will be donated to Wichis communities.

Malen encourages young Mapuches to pursue careers in teaching and other professions. "We need docents, lawyers, and doctors to take care of our people," she said. She wants educated Mapuche representatives at negotiating tables where indigenous rights are being discussed.

She ended her presentation with an inspiring quotation from her mother: "We face struggles each day, and we live through them with dignity, something that can never be negotiable."

Also present was Fernando Brun, Deputy Consul of Argentina in Los Angeles; he acknowledged the importance of conserving the culture and traditions of Argentina’s native peoples. The event was organized by the UCLA Latin American Center’s Program on Argentina and co-sponsored by the Department of Ethnomusicology, the Young Research Library, and the Consulate General of Argentina.

The writers are affiliated with the UCLA Latin American Center. Professor Pons chairs the Program on Argentina, Salguero is LAC assistant director, and Peregrina is an administrative assistant.

Latin American Institute