Villarroel in his studio after 9/11
Rodrigo Villarroel was 13 years old on September 11, 1973. The Chilean born chef recalls sitting in class when the Principal announced his school would be cancelled for the remainder of the day. It was a day he will never forget.
This was the day the “El Palacio de la Moneda,” (the presidential building) was bombed, and the president of Chile was killed. Santiago, Chile had turned into a war zone, and the citizens of Chile were stunned at the fragility of democracy. Rodrigo’s mother and brother were living in the United States at the time, so he and his father began the process of applying for residency in the US. Finally, in April of 1981, after eight years of living under a dictatorship, he was able to move the United States and become an American citizen.
On September 11, 2001, 28 years after the tragic bombing in Chile, Rodrigo was living in New York City when two airplanes crashed into the World Trade Center, killing almost 3000 people. He recalls the feelings that overcame him that day.
“Ironically, on September 11, 2001, at about the same time, feelings I thought I would never have to experience again came back to me, along with the memories of growing up surrounded by confusion, fear and lack of freedom,” he said. “I’ve enjoyed the opportunities this country offered ne and I’ve learned freedom is not to be taken for granted, and how important it is to have the right to choose our own leaders.”
Commissioned by the New York Port Authority, Rodrigo famously painted scenes from the tragic events in 2001. His work was heralded by community leaders and first responders and remains a beautiful, yet solemn tribute to those who lost their lives in these tragic events.
“This is also my tribute to the Chilean people who were persecuted, tortured and killed by the dictator on September 11, 1973.”
Rodrigo shares his talent not only through his paintings, but also through his culinary talents. He is the chef and owner of Rapa Nui Cucina in Captain Cook. Throughout the month of September, Rodrigo will display his 9/11 artwork in an installation at his restaurant. He invites the community to stop by and view the four famous paintings and hopefully stay for lunch or dinner for some talk story.
He extends a special invitation to first responders-police officers, fire fighters and emergency room nurses. First responders will be given special treatment in appreciation for their service to the community.
Today, Rodrigo lives in Kona with his wife and son. He shares his talent with the community through educating children through his art. For more information, or to make dinner reservations, call Rapa Nui Cucina at 808-747-1287 or visit http://www.rapanuicucina.com