Globe, Latin America, United Kingdom

“Roots 3”: Why Chile?

It is the country that receives the most immigrants in Latin America, but also the one with the most obsolete immigration laws. Arrival in the country is full of uncertainties, and the reason why people choose it as the location for a new life is a question that often goes unconsidered.

 

Marcella Via

 

Curcee is a 26-year old woman, who decided to leave studying medicine in her home country, Haiti, to attend the university of Santiago and learn about a new culture.

When she arrived in Chile, after saying goodbye to her family for the first time, she found herself in a situation that was much harsher and quite different from what she had imagined, in which being an immigrant was her first obstacle.

In fact, her desire to study fell apart, because Chile has the most expensive university education system in Latin America, and when she tried to apply for a scholarship she was refused on the grounds of being a migrant.

Today she works in a men’s clothes shop and has not been able to enter university, which, added to not feeling part of the Chilean community, makes her want to return to her homeland.

Curcee’s discouraging experience leads her to warn about the importance of being well-informed before arriving in Chile, because “what people say about the country is not true. They don’t tell you the bad things about Chile. They just say that it’s very easy to find work, and papers to remain, but in reality it’s not”.

Curcee has been in Chile for 2 years and her desires to study medicine or another subject at university have been put on hold for now. However, maybe she has fulfilled her wish to learn about a new culture, through day-to-day living.

She, like other immigrants, is gradually adapting to the city, turning Santiago into a meeting point for different cultures and countries.

Curcee says that while the Peruvians runs many shops selling only typical Peruvian products, and have already established an empire of restaurants offering their national cuisine, the poorest jobs, from street-cleaning to selling all kinds of things wrapped in immaculate blankets, is becoming a field for the Haitians.

It isn’t exactly the dream that made Curcee and others like her leave their home country, but it is how things are. These are the work opportunities that exist, just as the unusual way of speaking, which foreigners love so much, also exists. They say that the Castillian Spanish of Chile is a ‘singing’ language, characterized by its use of so many idioms, that even the Chileans themselves call it ‘Chilenyol’ instead of Spanish.

And of course, with the arrival of people like Curcee, in recent years the voices of Santiago have taken on new accents, with more Andean, Caribbean or Creole notes.

What is clear is that, within the context of Latin America, the southern country has become a reference point for migrants. But, what is the reason, why Chile?

Roberto González, a researcher at the Centre of Studies of Social Conflict and Cohesion, of the Catholic University of Chile, offers an explanation. He says that migrants see Chile as an attractive destination, because the country offers a better deal than their own countries, in terms of employment opportunities, security and stability.

According to various studies, Chile is the country in the region with the highest level of economic and political stability. Nevertheless, the ghost of the neo-liberal laboratory set up under Pinochet’s dictatorship is still present in Chile, leaving an enormous degree of social inequality.

And this means that the ‘Chilean dream’ is unattainable for many of the migrants who arrive.

One important feature is that the profile of migrants arriving in Chile each day has changed over time. If it’s true that they used to be unqualified people seeking any kind of work, now there are more professionals coming, and many people who want to join their families.

As Extranjeria has reported, the migrants arriving in Chile have a higher level of schooling, by having two years more training. Consequently, 71.9% of those who immigrate find work, compared to only 52.8% of the local population. This is increasing xenophobia, because the Chilean media are starting to see the immigrant as an enemy and a competitor.

In any case, it is important to point out that welcoming migrants continues being a major challenge in Chile. In fact, the official policies are still the same as they were in 1975. This leads to a big discord, because the country receiving the most migrants is also the one with the oldest immigration policies in the region.

But also, as Curcee warned it is important to ask how real are the opportunities for life improvement that Chile is said to offer to migrants. In fact, as Universia points out, only 30% of Peruvians who arrive in Chile manage to obtain professional work in banks, private companies or universities.

The remaining 70% work in factories, construction or as domestic workers. And this is the reality not only for Peruvians, but for the majority of migrants from Latin America and the Caribbean.

The reality which faces Curcee or any other immigrant doesn’t come near to the expectations they had before they left home, which is a problem, because these people remain at the margins of society.

The only way to change this and to achieve a better integration is for the country to get rid of the obsolete immigration laws, and find a better way of welcoming migrants from Latin America, to be able to achieve a multi-cultural society.

(Translated by Graham Douglas – catalysistranslations@outlook.com) – Photos: Pixabay

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