GETTING TO KNOW YOUR INNER-WEST COUNCILLORS

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Recent council elections offered up what felt like a Melbourne cup field of choices in each ward, and so it was inevitable we would see some new and unknown faces representing us across Brimbank, Maribyrnong and Hobsons Bay. The Westsider’s editor Derek Green has a plan to seek some of these folk out over the coming months and find out more about them. Here’s the first instalment.

Jorge Jorquera – Maribyrnong City Council (Victorian Socialists)

So you came to Australia at a young age under difficult circumstances, what can you remember about your life in Chile and the concept of having to suddenly flee?

I remember the day of the military coup vividly. My father didn’t come home after work as usual. Like thousands of Chilean workers he stayed in his factory. Many hundreds of workers defended their factories to the death, aiming to hold on to a little piece of the economic gains and dignity they had won during the Allende presidency. After that night everything changed. I remember my father coming home. I remember looking in through the gate of what I later found out was the Mexican Embassy, where my father had helped one of my uncles escape into one night. We didn’t get to go in to visit him but the memory of seeing lots of people in that space is something I still keep. Likewise I vividly recall the prison I visited another one of my uncles in. I remember the little presents he gave me, trinkets he had made while in prison. He was very badly tortured in that prison but finally managed to get exile with his family in France. I am still very close with that part of my family, especially my two cousins. Like all such children of Chilean exiles we have in common a commitment to justice and a dedication to do something about it.

The inner-west is home to many cultures and backgrounds, did being from ‘elsewhere’ give you a special insight into their challenges?

The West of Melbourne has been the most welcoming place of all those I’ve lived in since arriving in Australia. My family arrived in Brisbane and the first school I went to I immediately experienced the racism that I later came to realise was deeply embedded in the history of this country. I then moved to Sydney for a short while and later arrived in Yarraville in the early 90s, when it was a very different but no less welcoming place. Apart from the times I have lived overseas with my family, including in Chile and Cuba, the West of Melbourne has been my other home. Footscray Markets always seemed like it was the sort of place that you could visit anywhere in the world, a little something like the street markets in Santiago. But it’s not the food, restaurants or anything like that that defines us culturally. For me it’s the deep cultural interchanges. The things that happen when kids from different cultural traditions and languages play in the same school playground and soccer team. The years of primary schooling our two boys did in the Footscray Primary School Vietnamese Bilingual Program, where they made friends they may have never connected with otherwise. I love that every soccer team I’ve coached in the West has had Greek, Latino, Vietnamese, Burmese, Sudanese, Italian and kids from so many other cultures. I love hearing kids speaking to each other in matches in their own languages. This is the West for me. When I coached at Laverton Park Soccer Club, which has a long history as a migrant club founded by the Chilean community, one of the junior teams had a tradition of finishing every match they won with a chant, “Chi Chi Chi, Le Le Le, Viva Chile!” So it’s not just the challenges facing migrant families and working class people in the West that I focus on, but also all the contributions they make every day, making our community so much richer for it. Despite the racism, economic challenges and inequities faced, our migrant and working class communities are the heart and soul of the West.

We’ve seen your face on posters, but for those that don’t know you what can you tell us about Jorge the man?

I have a whole family, immediate and extended, with whom I share the same indignation about the injustices that prevail in so much of the world, and similar aspirations about changing it. My father, four of my five brothers, my sister and their families all live in the West. I think our life experiences as a clan have made us educated world citizens that fit in well in the West of Melbourne. I have spent my life meeting people involved in struggles for a better life throughout the world, reading as much as I can, organising political movements, working in education and playing and coaching futbol. There’s nothing too complicated about my likes and dislikes.

Last year was a big one for yourself and your family – a world trip taking in multiple continents. What outcomes did you hope for and what were some of the highlights?

My partner, our kids and I chose long ago never to buy a house but rather to spend whatever earnings we made in travel. Our two boys have been lucky enough to have done schooling in both Footscray and Santiago, Chile. Our eldest spent a lot of his second year of life in Habana, Cuba. Both of our boys visited Vietnam with their school’s Vietnamese Bilingual Program. In short, we are gypsies of sorts. Our trip last year was beautifully special. We started in Chile and apart from visiting family and old friends in Santiago, we were really lucky to spend some quality time with our Mapuche family in the south of Chile, where we got to see the amazing work they do in running an indigenous health clinic. We then went over one of the Andes land crossings from Chile into Argentina, where we met some fantastic comrades involved in various union struggles and social movements. Buenos Aires of course was a highlight, especially visiting the stadium of Boca Juniors and paying homage to Maradona and Che Guevara. We then travelled by land through Argentina and into Bolivia, where we were able to see how much positive change had been made under a progressive government. Compared to the last time we had visited, there were visible improvements in the standard of living for the poor majority. We kept going by land into Peru and made our second visit, first for our youngest son, to the old Inca city of Machu Picchu. We then flew into Toronto to meet up with old family friends from our last time living in Santiago. After travelling through a bit of North America we made our way from New York across the Atlantic – by sea; fulfilling an old life dream of mine. If there was any other life path I might have taken, it would have been to travel the oceans. In Europe, we visited a lot of old ancient sites, as my youngest son is a bit of an ancient history buff, and of course we visited various sites of futbol glory, including Napoli (where Maradona made his biggest mark), Camp Nou in Barcelona, Old Trafford, Anfield, Emirates Stadium and others. And we spent an especially beautiful time with our family in southern France, connecting over memories and our shared struggles, histories and political convictions.

You’ve been involved at Yarraville Glory, and soccer coach to the kids of a few friends of mine, how did you get into that gig?

I love futbol, “this open-air kingdom of human loyalty”, as the famous Marxist philosopher and political activist Antonio Gramsci once called it. I started coaching at the Chilean club Laverton Park, then later at Yarraville Glory, and am now coaching a senior reserves team at Maidstone United. I especially love working with children and young people in sport. Of course I am not blind to the way corporate sports are used to enrich club owners and stupify masses of people, but I also see the other side of team sports: how they can bring people together and help express joy where there might not otherwise be much reason for it. I love helping kids learn how to rely on the team, how to think tactically, and how to express themselves on the pitch.

You’re also an educator, how does that role help you feel like you can make a difference?

I have worked in universities, TAFEs and primary schools most of my working life. I think learning about how the world works, society and the natural environment it’s part of, is the starting point for rebellion. In learning we come to appreciate a historical view of humanity, its plight in nature and its possibilities. You realise we have only lived a speck of human history in the sort of global capitalist economy where the world’s 2000 or so billionaires have more wealth than the 4.6 billion people who make up 60 percent of the planet’s population. In learning we realise our own individual capacity by understanding how it’s tied into humanity’s. As the famous Brazilian educator and political activist Paulo Freire said, “For apart from inquiry individuals cannot be truly human. Knowledge emerges only through invention and re-invention, through the restless, impatient, continuing, hopeful inquiry human beings pursue in the world, with the world, and with each other.”

The recent local government elections saw you succeed in gaining a place on Maribyrnong Council, but it wasn’t easy. Did the multiple recounts that were requested feel a bit Trumpist?

It was certainly oddly funny. But in reality we weren’t too focused on numbers. Victorian Socialists are fundamentally interested in the campaigns that communities organise themselves. If we can help, and if we can use a platform like Council to help, that’s fantastic. And that’s what we aim to do.

Socialist values speak for themselves, but for the uninitiated how might they translate to action in Maribyrnong?

Victorian Socialists hope we can use Council to support and boost the advocacy and campaigns that our communities are part of. Most of the issues, hardships and struggles that involve our communities are not made in our neighbourhood. They’re the result of the neo-liberal policies of successive Liberal and Labor governments, state and federal. Our fundamentals about how we live – our homes, jobs, education, leisure – have for decades been at the mercy of governments who have slashed social spending, created a housing situation where younger generations will have to work into their 80s to pay off homes if they ever get the chance to buy one, and where our rights at work have been progressively taken away. The problems and challenges we face might be national and global, but our struggles for change always start local. We hope we can turn Maribyrnong into a beacon of justice, equality and solidarity. We hope we can contribute some example to how the needs of working people should and can be put above the profit of corporations; that in fact, there is no “trickle-down” from corporate profiteering, but just growing inequality and the injustices that prevail to defend privilege. Take for example, the myriad of community services that have been privatised and outsourced over the years. Why should such basic needs as childcare and before and after school care be profit driven industries, making a tiny few millions of dollars in profits, while working families struggle to pay, and the taxes of working families are used to guarantee the profits of these companies (in the form of government subsidies). We hope we can be part of a new normal – where our communities further organise and mobilise to fight for our rights, build on our solidarity and start to turn the tide against neo-liberal policies and governments.

Do you see yourself as a circuit-breaker councillor, or is this a long-term pursuit to transform Maribyrnong?

It’s a long term thing. We hope we can be part of the revival of left politics in this country. It’s been a very long time since there were any champions of working people in the halls of parliaments in Australia. The Labor Party long ago abandoned any such pretenses, and the Greens have proved at best inconsistent in this regard. We need to build an alternative and Victorian Socialists hope we can help this process along.

Picture yourself in 4 years looking back at your time on council, what achievements do you hope to be celebrating?

Most of all I hope to see many more of our communities organising themselves to fight for their demands and aspirations. I hope we can look back and say that we helped build new and stronger community forums, coalitions, campaigns and organisations that advocate, educate and agitate for the rights of our communities. From little things, big things grow!

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