Violence towards immigrants in Chile has increased recently, see for example. Two months ago a pregnant Colombian woman, Lina Garcia, was thrown out of a taxi headed for the hospital, leaving her on the street, where her newborn died. Incidences like these have prompted conferences and rallies which are happening around Chile to assert the human rights of immigrants. And Temuco, where I’m conducting my study, is no exception–we had one here last week–which was part of my project.
While official policies have been more open, in terms of immigrants being able to access visas to enter the country in comparison to other North American and European countries, and demographically, Chile’s immigrant population at 2.7% (according to the data in the OECD Migration Outlook 2017) is much lower, the 50 participants in my study have cited many barriers to staying in Chile and being integrated into society. For those who are settled immigrants they too experience “closed doors” culturally and socially to their lives. One participant said:
I come from the coast and people there, the doors are very open—this is literal and the door is open. Here, the doors are closed…Chileans have a protocol for everything…And it’s difficult to adjust.
While another described these closed doors as:
People here are cold. And there are lots of barriers, You can’t be part of life. People are wide open in Colombia to receive you and they don’t open one door, they open all doors. Here they open one door, and you stay in the main room.
This kind of discrimination has harmful effects not just in terms of achieving a sense of belonging but also in terms of work, health, and safety, so this research is linked to the Women & Gender Equity Ministry to locate solutions particularly for women immigrants who are often doubly and triply disadvantaged in Chilean society—even moreso in new places of settlement like Temuco. So this blog, Part II (see Part I) will focus on cultural discrimination against immigrants and their agency in Chile, profiling a major (albeit conservative) city. See this policy paper we wrote, for Pilar Collipal, (Temuco) of the Women & Gender Equity Ministry, and where it is now in Santiago: REPORT-OCT 18
Why is this happening now?
Chile has experienced the highest immigrant growth than in any other Latin American country, since 2010 and since 2 years ago, “thousands arrive every week”. While camps of immigrants from South American countries north and east of Chile are growing in northern border regions around Antofagasta, even greater inflows of Haitians over the last year are scattering everywhere, from Panguipulli, an Araucania outpost to its capitol, Santiago. The presence of Haitians in particular has created an immigration panic among Chileans unused to a population which is predominantly black, not from the continent, and speaks Creole and French. Haitians, among other Afro-descendants, like from Colombia, who I’ve interviewed have been especially targeted for racist treatment—and this has been a rallying cry–exemplified in a Manifiesto: Movilizacion Con Aportes written for the Temuco rally (by a Colombian lawyer, Marymar Vargas). For a general intro to discrimination against immigrants in Chile please see this video.
Before I arrived I had been told by Chilean academics that immigration policies were more accommodating but that societal and cultural norms were lagging behind. Yet in the first immigration conference in Santiago that I went to in October of this year, I learned that the newest immigration policy that has been proposed is indeed stricter with regard to issuing visas, and can be used to criminalize immigrants and distinguish them from “foreigners.” So these more official “open” doors may be closing after all–and as of last week several Haitian participants told me that their applications were recently denied and they were worried about being deported. In the next blog (PART III) I will discuss other structural determinants of migration, including Chile’s sophisticated network of bus transportation and the ways it moves immigrant women around, the importance of safety especially for immigrants coming from countries where they feel unsafe, and Chile’s monetary system which has excellent exchange rates for South American immigrants.
Back to cultural discrimination (see UNESCO definition):
and the short version: Cultural discrimination refers to exclusion, restriction or hate that is directed at a person or a group on the basis of perceived or real differences in cultural values and beliefs. UNESCO indicates that discrimination can be direct or indirect and often leads to harassment or denial of basic rights….UNESCO notes that cultural discrimination is commonly directed at ethnic minorities within the society, organizations or institutions. According to Wikipedia, racial profiling by law enforcement officers is also a form of cultural discrimination. Cultural discrimination can manifests itself through unfair hiring, unjust firing or sexual harassment.
In my study, as we shall see, cultural discrimination had the effect of excluding and putting down the immigrant participants but they did not internalise it. From the research, it appeared that a number of Chileans unused to demographic change in their country but perhaps expecting it when visiting or migrating abroad, exhibited highly xenophobic behaviour towards newcomer immigrants. This cultural discrimination is represented as a type of difference, that is exaggerated and negative–for example media reports with immigration statistics that are much higher or stories that Haitians, in particular, are”invading” Chile. I was shocked for example to see, in the most liberal city, of Chile, Valparaíso stereotypically damaging images in murals such as these which my daughter reacted to with disgust:
She asked me why the eyes of the children were so big and comical. See also this mural in Valpairiso near a major cultural center:
And I found similar sculptures in people’s gardens there–look closely.
Contrast these with detailed and complex images of white people…
In this blog I will discuss patterns of cultural discrimination, especially with regard to speech, dress, food, etiquette and the ways the participants’ cultures were diminished, rejected, or, refuted, making them feel invisibilized, Then I will introduce the photos/objects that the participants offered as a response to the cultural discrimination they faced and how these served as buffers. While there is no hard evidence, and few people have written about this, it has become clearer to me, that the long-term cultural discriminatory attitudes towards Mapuche had set the stage for discrimination against new immigrants in Chilean society. And this has especially been the case for Temuco, which has been at the centre of conflict for Mapuche in regaining their human rights.
Nearly every native Spanish-speaking participant discussed the ways that their speech was viewed as negative in Chilean society—often met with mocking imitations, laughter, pretending not to understand, and comments about their pronunciation and/or uses of different words or not following discourse rules for conversation. One participant who worked as a cashier addressed her customers as she did in her home country of Venezuela with terms of endearments, like,”sweetie.” Yet she saw her Chilean customers frown as soon as the words were out of her mouth along with gestures of dismay and rejection. Her tattoos however were clear statements that she was bi-lingual, cosmopolitan and could effectively speak back to those who shamed her use of Venezuelan-Spanish language and idioms. One of these was a saying by the strong Disney character, Mulan, whom she loved: “The flower that blooms in adversity is the most rare and beautiful of all”
High Femininity: Enforced Gender Roles For Women
One participant expressed it this way, culturally
Women are at the bottom and men are at the top,..The typical thing is they tell you to keep quiet.
Numerous participants did not complain, as I had expected about the men in their lives, but instead about being ostracised by Chilean women for the way they look, move, dress, or behaved. One Colombian prostitute went to church on Easter and was shocked when one of the women in her church rejected her hand during a ceremony, where everyone was supposed to touch. Her mother sent her prayer beads which she took to her workplace at the bar. This was important because as an only child, she was her ill mother’s main financial support. She also said that sometimes when she asked what time it was on the street, people ignored her, not saying anything back. The younger women, particularly students, did comment on the machismo evident in the culture, for example men helping them off of buses and opening doors.
But what they were really perplexed about were the reactions of Chilean women. There appeared to exist an expectation that as immigrants they exhibit the same “high femininity” of middle-class Chilean women and which fits with socially conservative and old-fashioned notions of womanhood. While women have won access to jobs, as well as political office as well as other structural “wins” in Chile, these have been very recent for example, the right to have an abortion (albeit w/many stipulations). Given all of this it wasn’t surprising to me then that in 2013, Chile was ranked at the bottom in terms of gender equality, with sexist beliefs persisting in society. And culturally, behaviour is strictly monitored, mainly by other women. Yet this was an impossible feat for Chilean women, as an Ecuadorean social worker observed—that is, the pressure Chilean women have of being in (and contributing to Chile) as a ‘Latin American superstar’ and also working within a machismo labor market. This expectation translates to immigrant women who work “double” hard in the workplace as well as on the home front to prove themselves worthy–which takes a toll. She analysed the situation:
This kind of system demands that you have to change your life style and get a new one that doesn’t fit you and as countries develop they grow into these dynamics, and Chileans are tired of this —can you imagine how this is for an immigrant? It’s double hard…it’s a load on my shoulders physical and mental and emotional, and I have to give 100% at work and at the house 100%. I prepare my food, make sure I’m a good wife, mother. I have to hold the load and I have to keep going and it’s a lot on my shoulders
The enforced gender roles in Chilean society made it hard to adapt for immigrant women. Even hairstyles were subject to scrutiny. One participant who let her hair go grey in a society where every woman was supposed to dye hers, felt that Chile was her society, “40 years ago, the way women behaved and conversations they were allowed to participate in.” Another woman couldn’t pinpoint what was wrong but said, “I am sick of dealing with their bipolar behaviour they look at you and they’re nice and then not and I’m exhausted from that behaviour.”
Omnipresent Images of the “Other” and Food, Drink, Dress, Art, Symbols
One Mexican woman was angry that wherever she went, Chileans in finding out her nationality, yelled, “Tacos, tacos” which was a stereotype fed to Chileans through an Americanised media filter. She said, “I am sick and tired when they hear you’re Mexican, oh, tacos, and beer, lets go party, sort of thing…they put you in this box as Mexicans you can never be sad and only to have a good time and nothing serious and that goes with your citizenship.” Colombian women in particular discussed the persistent problem of being thought of as prostitutes with one participant asked by a collectivo driver “how much she charged per hour” while Peruvian women were expected and constantly asked to care for children. Haitian women noted that they were expected to be cleaners in Chilean society and often couldn’t locate any other jobs. Only two of the seven Haitian women that I have interviewed were not cleaners but in food preparation/processing. One Peruvian woman wanted to finish her education but found it difficult to enter Chilean universities that charge so much money and make it difficult to secure scholarships. She, like many women, entered the food industry, becoming a caterer. This happened with a number of highly skilled women , where they were able to express their artistic ingenuity. It was here with “food” that many of the women were rewarded.
In fact, many of the women embraced their country’s art and culture and brought with them things that were light and easy to carry, on their first journeys such as earrings, key chains, hats, bibles and they might go back on trips for paintings, sculptures or other items. One Argentinian woman brought with her the a package of mate complete with a cup, straw, and a valuable leather holder as soon as she heard that she was migrating—But music was also something important that they could bring. While a number of women took cheap commercial airplanes, that limited their baggage allowance many others took long-distance buses from one country to the next. A well-known route was through Colombia and which lasted for seven days. One Venezuelan woman took a less-used route that was also more dangerous, for the roads, and which was through Brazil and Bolivia, by bus and motorboat. She said that route was so scary that even the bus drivers got drunk just to be able to drive. She took with her a keychain of Santa Barbara that she held close to her and helped make her feel safe, even in Chile
While cultural discrimination was rife in Chilean society, these women immigrants found ways to secure their sense of selves and culture which offered them a touchstone for their resilience and ability to persist.
And the participants also responded to this cultural discrimination by limiting the amount that they spent outside and moving around in limited circuits, by going to the same places ritually, mainly by walking or by bus, or just staying home as much as possible. Many participants spent lots of time inside their homes, and often they drew the outside or the inside of their homes. Hanging out and staying close to home with “safe” people in their lives was a way to reduce the amount of discrimination in public life.
The limited circuits they took every day were highlighted, from work to home and back—casa trabajo-casa.Another participant, wrote, “the salon is my life” and broke down crying after drawing it, realising her world had shrunk since migrating to Chile. While another woman who was on the verge of homelessness ate the cheapest hot food she could find, sopapillas, on the same street she walked up and down, to look for jobs, making her hungrier than she was before.
Her bags of stuff and a suitcase were stacked in the closet in case her roommate kicked her out again. And numerous Haitians avoided drawing a map altogether and instead drew flowers—many of these representing the Haitian national flower, the Hibiscus which to me indicated a way to represent their resilience in Chile. Last but not least for the Ecuadorean street vendors I interviewed, they often showed the streets where they worked in front of the stores they most preferred selling goods before they had to run off from the police. These places were often most populated with potential buyers moving to and fro downtown Temuco, and importantly, there was an overhang which protected their goods and their heads from the constant rain. By limiting their mobility, and focusing on their homes, they were better able to establish a sense of stability and security, which served as a foundation to stave off the cultural discrimination they experienced.