Each evening at 9, for the past two weeks, my parents and I have been leaning out the window of their 10th-floor apartment in the coastal town of Punta del Este, Uruguay, to join the few remaining families in a chorus of applause. We band together not just in solidarity but to show gratitude for health workers by clapping, cheering, and whistling from our balconies or windows. The ritual started in Europe and quickly spread to other countries. #UruguayAplaude displays the community love that runs deep in my tiny South American homeland.
I haven’t had physical contact with anyone but my parents since going into self-quarantine March 15. Sharing this moment every night with our neighbors brings me to tears.
Uruguay now has 309 cases confirmed cases of COVID-19, and at least one confirmed death. Many of the ill are in the capital city of Montevideo, where most of the Uruguayan people reside. Friends have sent me videos of the nightly display of appreciation in the city where the applause lasts for up to 10 minutes in popular neighborhoods such as Cordón and Palermo. In one neighborhood, people took to their balconies to sing to a child on their 5th birthday.
One night, after the clapping had ended, my father told me the reaction to the coronavirus reminded him of Uruguay’s military dictatorship from ’72 to ’85. People sheltered at home to avoid crossfire. Uruguayans went to their windows using cacerolazo (banging pans) to protest the government by making a ruckus and demanding change. With misty eyes, my father remarks that, this time, we’re celebrating our government.
Things change rapidly during the age of coronavirus. This week, some Uruguayans began using cacerolazo to protest the government for not making quarantine mandatory. I’m proud of my government for swiftly responding to the crisis and suggesting people stay at home, with the exemption of one person from each household being allowed to go to the grocery store and pharmacy. Shelters are being built for the unhoused. But, if we are to truly flatten the curve on this, I do feel mandatory quarantine is necessary because not everyone is heeding the social distancing advice. Uruguayans are no strangers to turmoil. We’ll get through this, too, as long as everyone takes the regulations put in place seriously.
Todos juntos. We’re in this together.
Lola Méndez is an Uruguayan-American freelance journalist who writes about sustainability, travel, culture, and wellness.