Juan Guzmán Interview: Conversations with History; Institute of International Studies, UC Berkeley

Confronting Chile's History: Conversation with Juan Guzman, Chief Judge, Court of Appeals, Santiago, Chile; 4/17/01 by Harry Kreisler
Photo by Jane Scherr

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Background

Judge Guzmán, welcome to Berkeley.

Thank you very much.

Where were you born and raised?

I was born in San Salvador, El Salvador, in 1939. My dad was the Minister of the Chilean Delegation at El Salvador. There was no embassy there yet. And, therefore, I have two nationalities: Chilean, that's the legal nationality; but I feel also San Salvadorian.

Where else was he posted in the world?

He was posted in many countries, Guzman and his parents, Juan Guzman Crucaga 
and Raquel Tapia Caballero, at Bolivar's house in
Caracas, Venezuela, 1948and I studied in about sixteen or seventeen schools. I was, for example, seven years in the States; I was four years here in the Bay Area, living on Second Avenue, San Francisco; Grove Street here in Berkeley, and I don't remember the street I lived on in Oakland during the war, or part of it.

So what years were these?

This was from '44 to '48 here in San Francisco.

So the area has changed quite a bit.

Yes, quite a bit.

Tell me about your family. How did your parents shape your character, do you think, in retrospect?

I have a brother and a sister, but they are much older than I. I am the only son of my mother. They are the daughter and the son of my father's first marriage. But I lived with Fernando, my brother, until the age of seven. Then he was married here in the States, in San Francisco, with Rhoda, and she was born here in San Francisco. And then he stayed here for the rest of his life.

So did your parents not raise you?

Oh, no, no. I was raised with my dad.

What lessons did you learn from him?

From my father?

Yes.

Well, he was a very sweet man, very tender, but very strict. So I could say that I learned from him to write better than other kids my age did. And afterwards, I worked for him for about a year as a secretary. And he tore up most of the things I wrote, so that made me become more accurate.

And careful with your words?

And careful with my words and with the writing and everything.

Was he a poet?

He was a poet. Juan Guzman and his father, Juan Guzman Cruchaga, in Paris, 1968He obtained the National Prize of Literature in Chile in 1962. His name is Juan Guzmán Cruchaga. In Chile, we utilize both last names -- the father's last name and our mother's last name.

And how do you spell his last name?

Guzmán and then Cruchaga. Cruchaga would be a Basque surname.

Was there a lot of reading in your home, a lot of books around?

Yes, I would say thousands of books, and lots of books related to poetry. My dad controlled my reading. For example, when I was here as a child, I had to read -- because really one prefers to read comics -- novels like the Call of the Wild, Treasure Island, and so on. And so that was the first part of my education as somebody who wants to do something with, we say in Spanish, "humanidades" -- not mathematics nor science, but would you say ...

Humanities.

Humanities, that's right.

Where did you do your college and university work?

Well, I told you seven years of school in the States; the rest I did in Santiago, and then Argentina -- I finished high school there. And I went to the university in Santiago, and afterwards I've done minor studies in other countries.

What did you major in, and what was your main focus of studies in college, humanities?

No, at the university I studied law since the beginning. And I studied law, really, I'll tell you the truth, not because I knew I wanted to be a lawyer, but because I was very bad in math.

I see. But you wanted to have a profession, something that was practical.

Yes, I wanted to be in a profession at least to rely on, and afterwards try to do, perhaps, something else.

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