The Legacy of Gabriela Mistral


As a child, Chile’s Nobel Prize-winning poet, Gabriela Mistral, knew poverty first hand. Before turning to poetry, she made her mark in education and throughout her career as journalist and diplomat, championed the universal right to a better life through equality in education. The welfare of children was a lifelong cause. Her appeals on behalf of poor children before the United Nations were instrumental in forming UNICEF. In her will, she donated all her royalties to the children of Montegrande, the town where she spent her early years.

Since her death in 1957, many have joined to continue her legacy. In 1979, the Gabriela Mistral Inter-American Prize for Culture was established and turned over to the Organization of American States to administer the selection of recipients who demonstrate Mistral’s values in their work. The OAS began awarding the prize in 1984, but no recipient has been named since 2000. The Chilean government has also established an award in her honor, the Gabriela Mistral Order of Merit, which goes to writers, artists and scholars.

In 2007, Chile’s president, Michelle Bachelet, announced the formation of the New York-based Gabriela Mistral Foundation to carry on the legacy of the poet by funding programs that aid poor children and the elderly. It awards college scholarships for Chilean students studying in Chile and abroad and undertakes various charitable projects in Montegrande and elsewhere in Chile. As it is with all celebrities who have a fan base, Gabriela Mistral t-shirts are sold on the foundation’s website as part of its fundraising efforts.

Monuments to Mistral are found throughout Chile. During your Santiago tours, you may wish to visit one of the capital’s famous murals, a thirty-three-ft wide, eighteen-ft tall ceramic piece by Chilean artist, Fernando Daza. Called Homenaje a Gabriela Mistral, he created it in 1970. The mural is located on Alameda at the base of the Cerro Santa Lucia. Nearby, a more modern homage adorned the temporary construction site barrier wall during the building of the Gabriela Mistral Cultural Center. The bold, colorful images of the 3,200 sq ft mural vividly depicted Mistral’s heritage and concerns as well as the symbols and landscape of Chile’s regions. The image of Mistral contained in the mural was a replica of the 5,000 peso note, issued in 2009, an image that you will see in your transactions during your Chile tours. The first phase of the new cultural center that bears her name opened in 2010. It houses the Museum of Popular American Art at the University of Chile and a complex of multi-purpose theater venues. It is located next to the metro station across the street from the entrance to Cerro Santa Lucia Park. These are popular stops, especially for photographers, during their travel to Chile.

To highlight Mistral and attract visitors on Chile tours who wish to visit the important places and themes of her life, the Chilean government is planning a multi-million project. It will link her house in Montegrande and ten other sites including some of the schools where she taught in the Coquimbo region on a seventy-five-mile cultural tour of Mistral’s life and legacy, handy for travelers who are in the area for their Chile wine tours.