Carmen Aguirre is something fierce

Download Flash Player to view this content.


First aired on George Stroumboulopoulos Tonight (3/5/12)

In 1979, when Carmen Aguirre was just 11 years old, she had a life-changing conversation with her mother in the Los Angeles airport. Over a McDonald's Big Mac her mom explained that Carmen and her younger sister weren't going on vacation, like they had been told. Instead, they were headed to Peru, to join the Chilean resistance against the dictator Augusto Pinochet. For the next 10 years Carmen led a dangerous and secret double-life: balancing the typical interests of a teenage girl — boys, clothes and pop music — with the uncertain and underground life of a revolutionary — harrowing border runs, codes of silence and military interrogation. She chronicles it all in her first book — and reigning Canada Reads champion — Something Fierce: Memoirs of a Revolutionary Daughter.

Aguirre believes that Something Fierce is the story of a complex mother-and-daughter relationship, set against the backdrop of revolution. However, not everyone sees it that way. Her mother can be read as reckless, bringing two young girls into an underground resistance, placing them in harm's way and expecting them to keep secrets from their friends and family. Aguirre says that her mother was many things — a radical feminist, a freedom fighter and a young mother — but she has no regrets about her upbringing, telling George Stroumboulopoulos, "I never doubted that my mother loved me and my sister more than anything and that's why she took us with her."

Another interpretation of the book — one that made waves during the Canada Reads debates in February — was that Aguirre, who chose to return to South America and participate in the resistance when she turned 18, was a terrorist. Panelist Anne-France Goldwater said as much during the debates. But this doesn't faze Aguirre. She believes that Goldwater was discussing the woman in the book, not the playwright, actress and mother Aguirre is today. Besides, she wasn't the first political activist to be called a terrorist. "Many of the people I have admired in history, whether it be Latin American or world history, have been called terrorists," Aguirre said. "So if I'm in the same league as Mandela, that's a very big compliment."

But why go back in the first place? Why willingly subject yourself to the constant fear and danger she saw her mother go through? Aguirre did it simply because she felt she had to.

"I knew that if someday a grandchild of mine asked me, 'Hey, I just read about this Pinochet guy. What did you do during those times?', I can look my grandchild in the eye and say, 'This is what I did.' Right or wrong, it doesn't matter. This is what I did. I didn't run away screaming into the night."

Related links