2020 Creative Writing Award Recipient: Camila Soto Espinoza

Camila Soto Espinoza is the proud daughter of Ruben and Alicia, the proud sister of Priscilla, and proud aunt of Diego. She is also a Chilean Midwife who graduated with high honors from the University of Concepcion in 2015. She is a first-year Midwifery and Women’s Health student, and a Yale Global Health Fellow at UNICEF. She also has 4 student jobs and gets involved in as many research studies and global health opportunities as she can. Needless to say, Camila is also perennially tired and always late. She can often be found in some meeting talking about equity, diversity, and inclusion of first-generation, low-income students, just like her.


My mind wanders. 

Focus. I tell myself, as I see my attention drifting, flying away and out of my reach

Focus. There are disease processes to study, guidelines to memorize, convoluted names of treatment options waiting for my attention. The A1C levels of my future diabetic patients depend on my capacity to make sense of these words, in these slides, of this one presentation, of this one teacher that told us in this one class that we’d probably be tested on it. 

Focus. You just need to retain these normal values for the few hours between now and your exam. 

Focus, I tell myself. But I can’t.

I look around me, at the normalcy of a day that transpires uneventfully, and I feel out of place, because the world, my world, is crumbling, and the wreckage is deafening. 

Wars are unfolding, history is being created and written in the walls of streets that burst at the seams with exhausted and desperate multitudes left with nothing more to lose, and somehow everything around me looks the same: collected, undisturbed. A picture-perfect, almost staged representation of higher education. 

In the ominous silence of a library that feels as old as life itself, I can hear the chaos. The sound of gunshots rings in my ears. I can hear sirens in the distance. Screams of pain compete with the deafening clamor of millions and millions of people crying, and fighting, and dying for dignity. 

What are these sounds?These are the sounds of my people calling me back to Chile. 

Chile. The land that gave birth to me, that raised me, that gifted me with the 46 chromosomes that now ache to march in pairs with the sounds of the Chilean revolution, the sounds of civil disobedience, the sounds of public riot. The soundtrack of battles being fought, of human pain and misery, all for the most basic of rights: the right to live with dignity.

Chile, my motherland, hugged me goodbye two years ago and sent me away with nothing more than whatever I could carry in two suitcases, and 27 years of life did not fit into my luggage despite my most insistent efforts, so I had to leave some things behind.

My heart, for example, was too heavy to move, so I left it back in Chile, tied up to my mother, my sister, my father, my nephew so it wouldn’t get lost. Little did I know that hearts beat in synch when at close proximities, so even when I’m here, thousands of miles away, I can still feel the echoes of their fear, their panic, constricting their chests every time they get caught in the line of fire of massive protests that happen every day; protests that have the police with their tanks and their guns on one side, and on the other, civilians armed with nothing but pots, and wooden spoons, and guitars to sing the anthems of Violeta Parraand Victor Jara

I had to leave my lungs behind since they took too much space in my suitcase. So, I left them hanging from the palm-trees near the beaches in my hometown where I learned how to swim before I even learned how to walk, all in the hopes that I’d still be able to smell the ocean breeze if I took a really deep breath. But that is not what happened, because not even the ocean can fight the blinding white clouds of tear gas that is used against high-school and college students, reunited in peace to fight for their rights and the rights of their parents. They suffocate and gag, as they try to run away. Unfortunately, only the fastest ones make it out. The rest are beaten, shot, and left forgotten, blind, contused, comatose, dead, with their skulls fractured and their bodies full of holes. And so, ever so often, I find myself unable to breathe. 

I had to leave my eyes behind, they were too delicate to toss into my luggage. I left them in the tallest shelf, in the living room of my grandma’s house, pointing at the dinner table that is the center point for all the family gatherings. So I was able to see my family dragging an old TV and sitting in silence as the media covered the news and the collective roar that awakened a whole nation spread like wildfire. 

We finally saw all the abuse and the mistreatment, we finally found the courage to do something about it, only for the government to declare us subversive when we refused to remain submissive. We saw the guns pointed at us; we saw the police turning against their own neighbors, trying to blind everyone with the sheer power of flying bullets pointed at hundreds of eyes that exploded from the impact. 

My motherland is crying in a corner at the end of the Americas, as her children are being tortured, oppressed, mutilated, murdered. 

And here I am, tied to freedom, to safety, only to be a distant witness, a useless bystander of the danger that haunts the everyday life of everyone I love, while I try to focus and learn to care for strangers that will need me in the future. 

And to think that something so big has such humble origins. It all started with 30 Chilean pesos, a 37 cents increase in public transport that unveiled 30 years’ worth of injustices. The corruption of a president that has been selling the motherland by parts to the highest bidder. Years of trafficking, and abuse and neglect of orphaned children under the care of the state. Fraudulent documents that hid the names of hundreds of thousands of people that died awaiting treatment. Stories of the elders who were poor while working and became poorer when they retired because the government took their money to put it in the pockets of the one percent.

But I need to focus. Did I have to ask for lidocaine with or without epi to suture a vaginal tear? What was the first-line treatment for migraines? What were the lab values for people with subclinical hypothyroidism?… Did my mom get home safe from the mall before the government-imposed curfew started? Did my dad get home safe from work before the military started patrolling the streets for the night? Did my nephew, my cousin, my sister, decide to go to the protest that was going to take place earlier today? Did my friends get shot again? Did they hit a vital organ this time? Were they taken by the police, raped by the police, tortured by the police as so many others have been?

Focus. This exam is urgent too. And the one after that also requires your attention. I have jobs to get to. I have a paper to write. I have classes to pass. I have a whole family to support. People that I had to leave behind still have me, still need me. I can change their lives only after this degree changes mine… 

I look at the clock and jump to a stand. Where did the time go? I have to run to class if I don’t want to be late for my exam. I can cram while I’m on the bus until my brain is overflowing. I can cram while I run to the classroom, once I take a seat, while people try to engage me in conversation. I can cram while my body waits, frozen in panic, for the text messages that will tell me my family is safe, at least for today. 

“You look distracted,”someone tells me. “Yeah,”I respond with a smile and a shrug, “I just have a lot on my mind.”