On September 11, 1973, one country’s world was turned upside down. Known domestically as “el otro once de septiembre” (“the other September 11”), that day on the Chilean calendar marks when the nation’s military forces executed a successful coup against the democratically elected President Salvador Allende. By the end of that fateful morning at La Moneda (Chile’s version of the White House), Allende was dead and Gen. Augusto Pinochet and the military had taken power.
From that moment on, left-leaning Chileans, academics, union leaders, or anyone critical of the dictatorship faced incredible danger. During the dictatorship from 1973 to 1990, more than 3,000 people were abducted by the military police and “disappeared” (clandestinely murdered). Many thousands more were illegally detained, tortured, or forced into exile.
These events profoundly impacted Steffi Domike. The daughter of a U.N. economist, Domike spent her adolescence in Chile, only returning to the United States in 1969. Domike, who supported Allende and his agrarian reform movement, left behind friends in Chile, not all of whom survived the Pinochet regime. Domike was shaped by a personal connection to the almost unfathomable injustice there and a desire to understand and challenge the political and economic structures that make such violence possible.
From a steel mill job to television production to academia, all of Domike’s work has related to equality and workers’ rights. After being laid off following the closing of the steel mill where she worked, Domike took classes and began working in and teaching television production. She then decided to get a master’s degree in order to become a full-time art professor. It was during that time that Domike received her 1995–96 Career Development Grant from AAUW.
Domike’s art is deeply connected to her values of justice and equity. Her art deals with environmental and labor issues and exposes the exploitation of people and of the earth; both abuses that she believes are often committed by the same destructive system.
For Domike, art and activism are inextricably intertwined; both are representations of an issue or a point of view. “When something happens and I react, I represent my view. If I can make some thing or image, or [if I can] organize, all these are forms of representation. The best activist art is experienced. It affects the participant and takes their mind to another level and gets them involved in the movement,” she says.
In addition to her artistic work, Domike’s day job for the past six years has been working as the communications coordinator for the Associate Members Program with the United Steelworkers Union. Her primary responsibility is to maintain communication with the more than 24,000 associate members. Domike loves working with local, multifaceted movements like Fight Back Pittsburgh.
Domike’s commitment to workers’ rights and fair representation has taken her far. “I don’t regret union work, being an artist, or [being an] activist because I’ve loved every minute of it. I wouldn’t want to go counter to my ideas and values,” says Domike. She believes AAUW’s Career Development Grant supports women returning to school to work through these ideas of values, success, and career. Domike recommends that people set their own expectations and find their own definition of success. Because, she says, if you let others define “success,” then it will never be attainable. You have to make it your own.
Steffi Domike’s Career Development Grant was sponsored by two Pennsylvania Research and Project grants: the Lancaster (PA) Branch endowment and the Pennsylvania Bicentennial endowment.
This post was written by Fellowships and Grants Intern Emily McGranachan.