Two events gave birth to this play: the 1998 arrest of Augusto Pinochet by the spanish courts and the 1995 death of Aguirre’s uncle, who drank himself to death on Vancouver’s skid row, never living to make a victorious return to his country. It has taken decades of silence for Aguirre to understand and come to terms with her family’s experience as refugees and exiles: ?The few times we spoke about it to other people, we were accused of being pathological liars and being crazy,” she says of those years. ?We learned never to talk about what was happening in Chile. From the moment when I told some classmates very matter-of-factly in grade two that my stepfather and some of my family members had just come out of a concentration camp that was the national soccer stadium, I was Crazy Carmen.”
Laid bare in the ?ctionalized autobiographical details of The Refugee Hotel are the universal truths the victims and survivors of political oppression continue to experience everywhere: the terror of persecution, arrest and torture; the exhausted elation of escape; the trauma of learning to live again with the losses, betrayals and agonies of the past; the irrational guilt of the survivor?even the tragedy of surviving the nightmares of the past only to have them return to challenge any hope of a future.
Set in a run-down hotel in 1974, only months after the start of the infamous Pinochet regime, eight Chilean refugees struggle, at times haplessly, at times profoundly, to decide if ?eeing their homeland means they have abandoned their friends and responsibilities or not.
More than a dark comedy about a group of Chilean refugees who arrive in Vancouver after Pinochet’s coup, this play is Carmen Aguirre’s attempt to give voice to refugee communities from all corners of the globe.