Paula Sanchez describes her spirit as “Latin American” but this internationalist activist is well connected to struggles all over the world. A nurse educator, activist, mother, PhD and the go-to person for so many, Sanchez told the Kurdish International Women's Day (IWD) gathering in Blacktown on March 12 that “IWD is not just for one country, it’s an international day — for women and men — because equality is something we all have to fight for”.
Sanchez was born in Chile. After the democratically elected Unidad Popular Coalition was overthrown in 1973 by the military dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet, Sanchez, a high-school student, became involved in the protest movement.
“Thousands of people were murdered, tortured and put into jail,” Sanchez told the Kurdish function — including herself.
The dictatorship lasted 17 years but, she said, successive governments were “not really democratic because the repression continued”.
Sanchez said high school students started the latest social movement in the mid 2000s, first demanding free education. “Those same people continued to be politically active at universities and managed to get everyone else united around fighting against the more than 40 years of repression."
Chileans in 2020 overwhelmingly voted to replace the Pinochet-written Constitution and a new one is being written now. “We just voted for a new President and last night many of us were watching TV until about 3am because the new president — the youngest in our history — was being inaugurated.”
Sanchez told the room of Kurdish-Australians she “understands your struggle very well, because we have lived them".
“Women were the first to fight the military regime in Chile, on the streets. The same happened in Argentina — the mothers who lost their husbands and children — the mothers of the Plaza de Mayo — were the first ones on the streets fighting to get their children back from the dictator.”
Sanchez said when she first came to Australia she wondered how she would be able to continue fighting for justice. Over time, she said she realised that “when we believe in justice, we can do it anywhere — in our country and in Australia”.
Sanchez is running for the New South Wales Senate for the Socialist Alliance because, she said, the party “believes in justice and struggling for what’s right”.
“Today I celebrated IWD with the Chilean community, and they said they would support my campaign because they have seen me on the streets for 34 years.”
After Sanchez finished her remarks she led the room in singing ¡El pueblo unido jamás será vencido! The people united will never be defeated, a song by Sergio Ortega and Quilapayún which emerged from the Unidad Popular Coalition in Chile between 1969 and 1973, prior to the overthrow of the Salvador Allende government.