Despite the title, this article is not about food. Despite the longstanding links between Chile and Mexico, the taco is not really part of the Chilean diet, and the country’s misleading name itself has nothing to do with the spicy peppers that give Mexican food its character (even if, in fact, you can find pretty good Mexican food in Santiago, less so elsewhere in the country).
For reasons that, as a nonnative Spanish speaker, I have never been able to fathom, taco has two separate and utterly unrelated meanings here. In one usage, a taco is a traffic jam (¡un tremendo taco!). I’ve seen many of those in Santiago (though I generally get around public transportation here, I did have to drive yesterday and found myself briefly bumper-to-bumper at rush hour).
At the same time, tacos (in the plural) mean a woman’s high heels (tacones of four or five inches are not unusual) and, if Olympic competitors had to wear them, Chilean women might bring home more gold than has ever come out of the country’s mines. In general, urban Chilean women wear high heels to work, but I’ve seen them in the most unlikely places - once, for instance, I met a small group who were trying to hike the coast range summit of Cerro La Campana in shoes more suitable for the boutiques of nearby Viña del Mar.
In another instance, in Santiago, I saw a woman on high heels while using crutches - perhaps the ultimate example of “unclear on the concept” - to get around the city’s infamously uneven sidewalks, which can be treacherous enough for those with sensible shoes and total orthopedic health. In fact, at one time, even Carabineros policewomen dressed in skirts and (relatively low) heels that would have made it difficult to run down a malefactor - not to mention their disadvantages in a hand-to-hand scuffle. According to Carabineros lieutenant Guisela Soto Valenzuela, “We have used trousers since the year 2000, thank God, because for women in operative units it was difficult to run with skirt and heels.” Now part of the security detail at the presidential Palacio de la Moneda, the 25-year-old Soto Valenzuela adds that, “In any event, the default option in the palace detail is trousers and boots.”
There are signs, though, that the everyday default option of heels continues to change. According the daily Última Hora, the Asociación Chilena de Seguridad (Chilean Insurance Association) and Sernam (the national women’s service) have begun a campaign to get Chilean women out of their heels and into sneakers, at least to get to work. Their statistics tell them that heels cause 800 multiple contusions, 830 hand and wrist contusions, 1,400 knee contusions, 3,600 ankle sprains, and 7,000 accidents en route to or from work, at a cost of 32,600 lost work days.
Frankly, that doesn’t seem a huge number in a country of 16 million citizens, even if only half of them are women and many of those women would have no need for them (I’m discounting the handful of men who might wear heels). Yet the warnings are clear: yesterday, leaving Estación El Golf on Línea 1 of the Metro, I photographed the above warning: “Walk Safely. Walking is Good for You. Wear Sneakers on Your Way to and From Work.”
Lately, though, Sernam has sparked a far greater controversy with the language of its recent campaign publicizing the issue of violence against women. Common on buses and Metro trains, these display images of men such as the soccer referee depicted here, who says that “Every weekend I get called ‘faggot’ at the stadium.” Then, continues the ad, “A faggot is someone who mistreats a woman. Let’s say it to those who deserve it.” The campaign’s pejorative language has engendered strong condemnation from gay organizations in the country and, at the very least, it's clumsy - if not reprehensible - to try to equate wife-beaters and homosexuals.