A historic sector of Chile’s capital honored in new museum

Santiago’s famed Barrio Yungay to be immortalized in a community museum aiming to capture its rich, cosmopolitan history.

Residents, academics and hobbyists are getting excited about a new project to document one of the most lively, varied corners of the Chilean capital and its intriguing history of immigration and community.

“The history and memory of more than 60,000 Santiaguinos who live in this sector of the capital, which was founded in 1839, will be contained within its walls” explained José Osorio, head of the Barrio Yungay Cultural Center, as he described plans to create a community museum to preserve the spirit of the historic neighborhood.

The museum will document the history of Barrio Yungay, one of the city’s oldest neighborhoods, its rich 19th century architecture, lively cultural scene and the generations of people, many of them immigrants, who have settled in the area.

The idea first surfaced in 2009 when the neighborhood was named a “Traditional Zone.” Little progress was made for several years, however, until late last year when the project received a grant from the Fund for Culture for around US$ 18,000.

“This was the first push to complete the work of cataloguing, investigating and documenting each object on film as well as preparing the exhibition space,” Osorio told La Tercera.

Around the same time the project received another huge boost: Its first donation — a rich collection from a figurehead of the community who had lived in Barrio Yungay for more than seven decades.

Before passing away last month, María Sancifrián lived on the street Compañía, in the heart of the neighborhood. She had arrived at age 8 alongside her family who had fled the Spanish Civil War.

“She never had children so for her the neighbors were her family,” Rosario Carvajal, herself a Barrio Yungay resident for more than 40 years, said. “She was a very sociable woman, a great reader, a friend of my mother … The neighborhood was her world.”

Luis Alegría, professor at the Faculty of Heritage at Universidad SEK and part of the team behind the project, said the museum takes its inspiration from other community exhibitions in Mexico, Argentina, Peru and the Anacostia, an African-American neighborhood in Washington DC.

“It will be an open and dynamic space in which the support of neighbors will be vital,” he said. “The novel thing about these museums is that it’s the city that tells its story within its own voice and not through third parties.”