Immigrant Women’s Lives In Temuco, Chile: Part I

mejores workshop

A workshop given by Romina Romero-Hermoso and Sondra Cuban on Sept 30th for the Ministerio de la Mujer y la Equidad de Género
 Región de la Araucanía,

Flyer Sept 30[1]

I’m in Temuco, Chile on a Core Scholar Fulbright grant through the Universidad de la Frontera (UFRO) studying the experiences of new immigrants who are women in Araucanía--that is the central southern region of the country. Historically known as an immigrant sending country, Chile has become a new destination country  especially for South American and Caribbean immigrants  (Cabieses, Tunstall & Pickett, 2013; Casen, 2013; Dona-Reveco & Levinson, 2012; Pizarro, 2011; Quiroga, 2014). Most of these new immigrants are females (Dona-Reveco & Levinson, 2012; Pizaro, 2011; Vazquez, 2016) who represent the global mass movement of women; otherwise known as the “feminization of migration” (Castles & Miller, 2009, p. 9). Although a majority of them enter Chile’s gateway capital, Santiago, they also arrive to smaller entryways like, Temuco Most of these women immigrants live and/or work in Temuco, which is a vibrant working-class and rainy capital of the Cautín province and one of Chile’s major cities.

I am living here now with my daughter  on the outskirts of the city, called Fundo El Carmen.

2017-09-30 11.14.27.jpg
rainy morning in Fundo El Carmen, Temuco 

It’s a quieter and greener area than the hustle and bustle of central Temuco, which we go in to nearly every day by collectivo (shared taxi) or bus. A number of immigrants live here—several of whom I’ve already interviewed and will introduce in my blog. And while I’ve met two U.S. citizens in Temuco, one I work with at the university, and another participant, most live as “ex-pats”  in Santiago, a city of millions, or, come as tourists to Chile’s major parks. Chile, branded in the tourist industry as an eco-capital of South America, similar to Costa Rica, means that few of these tourists stop in Temuco.

The next three blog posts will be observations and/or summary findings of the study. An introduction to the study and my Fulbright grant is here.

Temuco has long been known for its Mapuche influence and everyone I told about coming here talked about them, including their dress, food, language, art, dance, and traditions. Everywhere in Temuco, their presence is felt, from brochures in the tourist information office to the food, produce and hand-knit items Mapuche women sell on the streets as vendors or in the feria, a well-oganized, large, and colorful market. Yet a shadow side of their lives in Chile is just as real.


two paintings at the Jac bus station in Temuco

Read about the recent hunger strike by some Mapuches. After I arrived it was evident that the conflict around their self-determination has continued which the media exploits to the point where I was asked about these “terrorists” in my presentation in Santiago. And graffiti all around the city, hand-made cloth signs and peaceful protests at various times of day throughout this month and last month demonstrate both their will and the government to suppress them. My daughter recently observed the rough arrest of a Mapuche student for which I had to explain all that I knew. And our first day at UFRO was met with a fire on the streets at the university to protest the political imprisonment of a Mapuche leader. Today, there was a protest by Mapuche who marched down the main avenue in Temuco.


I introduce my study with a sketch of the Mapuche because their treatment as “outsiders” to Chilean society and government has had a large effect on how Temuco’s new immigrants have been received. In fact many immigrants have testified in interviews that they feel that Chile is a “closed door” society, While there is a cultural acceptance and openness to the Mapuche culture it is only in so far as it matches the purposes of the dominant majority and their voices, rights, and actions have been suppressed at the hands of the State. The journalist Pedro Cayuqueo has written brilliantly about this, as have other historians (I admit here my knowledge is scant).  Pilar Collipal Curaqueo, of the Ministry of Women & Gender Equality who teamed up with Romina and I to deliver a workshop on Sept 30th on immigrant women and empowerment is Mapuche and she spoke eloquently about the discrimination she has experienced as a Mapuche woman, tying it well to the treatment of immigrants.

map of migration.jpg

I’m here because Chilean immigration has soared within the last ten years and a larger than ever influx of new immigrants have come to Temuco within the last several years, many straight from their countries, and others from more northern Chilean cities, especially Santiago but also more southern cities like Concepcion which is north of Temuco. This massive inflow of immigrants reflects the growing trend of smaller industrial and agricultural cities throughout the world which are quietly increasing their immigrant population (Massey, 2008). I’ve studied a number of these cities, like, Greensboro, North Carolina, and Hilo, Hawai’i in the U.S. but also in the northern Cumbria region of, England. Many of the newest of these immigrants here are from Haiti and Venezuela, both of which have experienced catastrophic economic disasters (the latter) and “natural” (the former, also referring to climate change), but there are flows too from Brazil, the Dominican Republic, and Colombia,as well as more traditional ones from Peru, Argentina and Ecuador. Recently, migrant informal and formal organisations have been set up, some by immigrant leaders to support the newest groups. For example, see Red de Mujeres Migrantes de la Araucanía.  The reason we wanted to do this empowerment workshop is that in interviewing women, we discovered a clear disconnect between their individual lives and public policies concerning rights and sectors/institutions (education, family, labor, health, housing, criminal justice, etc…), and Pilar had noted this awhile ago in her long-standing work in gender and women’s affairs.  The purpose of the study is to examine these immigrant women’s“mobile subjectivities”  (Hannam, Sheller, & Urry, 2006, p. 3) in terms of their identities, actions, and feelings as they adapt to new places and spaces in and around Temuco but also negotiate transnational lives, and w/ reference to my previous blogs on ICTs and immigrant women, these women stay in touch with family mostly via WhatsApp…

One of the most exciting parts of the project have been to see the maps these women have made illustrating their daily lives moving (or not) around in their worlds. I am able to see where they go and about places they value as well as ones they don’t go (and want to). Some of these women don’t leave their homes much–they also have immobilities–especially the unemployed while others, like street vendors are outside all the time and are hypermobile. One unemployed woman’s domestic space is omnipresent:

un mapa.jpg

A glimpse of their transnational lives too is when they show us precious objects they’ve brought with them from their countries, many of these cloth items which are lighter, and cheaper to bring in suitcases, often to be used for Chile’s winter:


And in this workshop, they created body maps of milestones in their lives.


While Temuco has a long history of German immigrants settling and leaving their mark culturally and socially colonizing the region, evident in the food, buildings, and the tourists that come to nearby Pucón for adventure travel, the newer immigrants, most of whom are women  tend to come from Latin America. Yet support structures, including government and NGOs have been hard-pressed all over Chile to meet their needs and especially in new areas of settlement like Temuco.  It appears that there is a downward migration trend not only in South America, with immigrants migrating to Chile due to its relative economic and political stability and reputation, but also in Chile itself, from Santiago to Temuco. This may also be due to the Trump regime’s new fortress USA making it harder to enter there. In fact one of the Haitian participants in my study was told by a friend not to migrate to the U.S. and go to Chile instead. Other participants have  testified to considering the U.S. as a destination but changed their minds. One Haitian man was in the police department with me, registering or obtaining a visa, and he had a passport that was from guess where? The U.S.

During my first week in Temuco, I attended a migration conference held at the Universidad de Catolica which focused on immigrants’ needs and interests and was attended and led principally by academics and policy makers but which too few immigrants  attended. The focus was on their human rights, adaptations, and government assistance. Since then, there have been other migration panels and presentations, often led by or organised by academics. In a panel I attended yesterday however, immigrant speakers were informing the discussion. One immigrant who I spoke with after said that the focus of the government has been to patch problems but not transform them, for example having trainings for public works staff.  Nearly every one of the 17 women I interviewed, most of whom were escaping economic ruin in their countries testified to migrating to Chile because they believed it was a kind of dream capital of South America. Yet all of them have discussed their struggles to make their dreams come true.

Although these new immigrants contribute to Chile’s popular reputation as a “high income country” (Quiroga, 2014; Vasquez, Cabieses, & Tunstall, 2016) little research exists about their lives, aspirations, and mobilities. Many immigrant women arrive to Temuco, Chile with the expectation that they will be integrated into its society and the labor market. Yet their motivations as well as barriers to their lives in Chile have been little noted. Furthermore there is a perception that all immigrant women have the same trajectories and opportunities (Godoy, 2007; Pereira, 2014; Stefoni & Fernandez, 2011; Tijoux, 2011).

The next blog will will discuss immigrant cases as well as the main issues of the participants in the study and other discoveries I’m making along the way in my new home. I will cover barriers to integration such as the Chilean bureaucracy and especially the demand for surplus amounts of paperwork to become credible in society and which is often unobtainable or takes especially long periods of time to acquire or transcribe for immigrants. I will also discuss the system of “pituto” which is the social capital that is built when favours are exchanged among network members, especially for jobs but also for schools, housing, and other important matters, and where immigrants are often excluded in these informal arrangements. Stay Tuned!

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