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“Roots 5”: Immigrants and xenophobia, a brutal collision

Roodolph speaks about the extreme conditions faced by immigrants in Chilean society and about the difficulties of dealing with rejection, overcrowding, exclusion and incomprehension. The Prisma’s Memoirs.


Marcella Via


His story may seem incoherent to westerners, but in Haiti, voodoo has the same rank as any other religion.

28 years old, Haitian and with a law degree, Roodolph arrived in Santiago in 2016 having left Haiti because of an envious voodoo curse.

After more than a year living in Santiago, Roodolph says he still does not feel integrated.

Though he has constantly worked since arriving in Chile, Roodolph continues to use a tourist visa because he remains entangled in the dilemma of contracts and work permits.

Furthermore, the situation is very frustrating since in his “irregular” condition he cannot finish his studies.

The story of Roodolph speaks of a brutal clash, not only between reality and expectations, but also with the Chileans themselves.

“They call you son while they try to con you,” he says.

Roodolph further adds how disappointing it is to have expectations that do not correspond with reality, and talks of the immense disillusion that follows the thousands of sacrifices made to get here. Beyond the differences between cultures, Roodolph says that Haitians are discriminated against, therefore finding a place to stay is a real nightmare.

Social inequality in Chile is a bitter reality, and this discrepancy clearly manifests itself in the make-up of its capital. While the privileged residents of the wealthier neighbourhoods live their daily lives pretending to be the “English of Latin America”, everyday workers have ended up accepting the lie of “Chileanness”.

Impoverished, selling ice cream on buses for 300 Chilean pesos, they are convinced that their situation is made worse by every immigrant who arrives to steal their work.

The same immigrant who gets off at the next stop to steal chocolate.

As a result, immigrants face not only the conflict between different cultures, but additionally the hostility from Chileans to accept them into city life. In regards to the lack of integration, by calling this phenomenon a “cultural clash”, means that the attention is focused on immigrants instead of the conditions they will face.

While Europeans and those from the United States are generally welcome, being Haitian, Peruvian or Colombian implies a tougher deal.

The dream of having a better future becomes a dystopia when there are so many people living in the same rented space, that shifts are organised to sleep in the bed.

The phenomenon of overcrowding materializes from the accumulation of individuals in one place that is not physically prepared to accommodate them.

According to studies carried out by “Techo Chile” (a non-profit organisation which organises young volunteers to help fight extreme poverty in Latin America, through projects building houses), in Santiago alone, there are approximately 321,561 immigrants living in overcrowded conditions.

Surveys define overcrowding as the presence of 2.5 people or more in the same bedroom. When there are five people sharing the same room, the situation is critical.

In addition, basic services are also lacking. For example, access to a kitchen or drinking water is often limited.

Migrants agree to live in these outrageous conditions out of fear of being reported to the authorities for lack of paperwork. As if sharing five square meters with another person and using the bed as a table was not enough, the cost of renting is often more than 100,000 Chilean pesos.

The climax of this phenomenon occurred in the Quilicura community, where a group of census workers discovered a house with at least 50 rooms not accounted for and inhabited by a group of Haitians.

The property had been subdivided into rooms of approximately three by four meters, in which at least three people lived.

To talk about culture clash is not seen as appropriate when overcrowding through the result of the lack of initiatives to integrate immigrants into Chilean society, is not an issue for most Chileans and is not part of the Chilean culture.

Roodolph concludes that he does not want to see more Haitians arriving in Chile because the country has nothing to offer them.

In Chile, the reality is that there is no problem receiving immigrants when they are wealthy.

It is the individuals who really need “to start over”, who end up brutally clashing with the xenophobia of the people. ( January 2018)


(Translated by Natalie Clark – Email: Pixabay


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