While my Part II blog focused on cultural discrimination that was a hidden but persistent force in society affecting immigrant women’s trajectories and experiences in Temuco, this blog highlights those structural factors within Chilean institutions that were barriers in their lives but which were offset by other supports. Although the cultural discrimination, highlighted in my Part II blog was also “structural” in that it appeared within institutions and policies, this discrimination was ‘lived’ within the civic sphere, through informal interactions in communities.
Barriers that I discovered were: 1) the saturation of paperwork and required protocols that both delayed and blocked immigrants’ abilities to enter, implement, and sustain their health, work, and, especially, educational practices and pursuits; 2) lack of pathways to citizenship that prevented immigrants from staying in Chile permanently and which contributed to deportation worries; 3) pituto arrangements (informal manipulations from one Chilean in power to another with less that gives that person a foot in the door) and which excluded immigrants who were disconnected from these networks, and; 4) law & order regulations and enforcements in institutions that specifically disadvantaged mothers. These barriers limited women immigrants’ access to work and education and wider networks of support.
The supports were: 1) easy entry into Chile through tourist visas that were 3 months long and allowed immigrants to check out the country to see whether or not they would or could stay and lent time to locate jobs; 2) good exchange rates from one South American country to another that enabled immigrants to send back money to their families; 3) a well-known reputation across South America of Chile as being safe 4) affordable transportation, especially bus networks, that allowed women immigrants to move around the country and from one city to the next, especially when things didn’t work out.
Paperwork and protocols
Transferring qualifications from participants’ home countries to Chile was one area where highly skilled immigrant women were particularly disadvantaged. Hardly any of the former nurses, engineers, or teachers were able to practice their professions and were required to go back to school, which could take years. In one case, a former lawyer could not practice unless she became a Chilean citizen, which she thought was against her rights. She said:
” they want me to get my citizenship so I have rights but I came here with my rights and i don’t think that’s the way to go.”
But even for those with high school diplomas, it was difficult. If they did not bring their diplomas, they found it to be a complicated process to get them translated from abroad or get the notarisation and stamps in their countries to make them legitimately transferable to Chile. Moreover, there were often delays in communication from Chilean government officials to participants in acknowledging or validating their qualifications, and which could take much time. Some participants didn’t have the time off work to travel to Santiago or other big cities to get this paperwork done. One homeless Venezuelan former nurse showed me her enormous nursing diploma which she was keeping in her friend’s closet, and planned to get validated. This friend promised her she would get her paperwork validated for her but never did and she was left on her own, without a stable home or income or job. The participant attested to further complications:
“I can’t work here with my degree. I cannot do it because I need validation of paperwork, a test and validation. I’ve gone to the hospital to clean, but they said ‘no’ because I need a rut number [an ID card]
Often the first thing that participants did before migrating was to organize their certifications or diplomas and get them translated (if not in Spanish), notarized and stamped in their countries. If they missed this step in their countries, it was difficult to start the process from Chile and they often had to return on visits or depend on relatives to do this complicated work from abroad. Often the first thing that was shown to me when I asked what they brought in their suitcases, was this paperwork.
Even high school graduations could be dismissed by Chilean officials if transcripts and diplomas were absent and in one case, completion of high school through adult education was necessary—the participant did this. Furthermore, the need to qualify for insurance and obtain contracts for working were also made more difficult to obtain if paperwork was not done accurately or in a timely way and which served to block and delay immigrants from obtaining health care, bank accounts, and drivers licenses, as well as quality work. Without these mandated papers, or IDs, immigrants could easily become exploited in the grey economy or be made ‘illegal’
Lack of Realistic Pathways to Citizenship
Unlike many other OECD countries such as the U.S. where it is very difficult to obtain a citizenship status especially now under the Trump regime, there were a number of visa entry points and ways to reside in Chile legally. However, most if not all of these were tied to employment. While the official ‘line’ was that there were easy ways to obtain a citizenship status, (and policies were changing while I was there) in reality it was much harder as the participants’ stories attested. Furthermore, most visas were directly tied to some type of work contracts, creating bonded labor situations. Immigration policies privileged young Canadians, Australians and New Zealanders to work on “holiday visas” or students to study in one of the many universities across Chile.
Without a contract or work permit it was difficult for immigrants who entered Chile on tourist visas to extend their visas to work with a legal status. While they used the 90-day period to locate work, many participants received short-term contracts or none at all and their residency was therefore at risk. Several Haitians in the study had received government notice that their appeals or paperwork to stay in Chile were rejected and they desperately were looking for work to receive a contract in order to stay on in Chile. The ability to obtain a work contract pre-occupied the minds of every participant who entered on tourist visas. Therefore, citizenship was far, far, away from being obtained. A number of these women were walking the streets asking Chileans for work which put them in vulnerable positions. One Haitian participant explained:
“I came to Chile to find a better life. I thought Chile was better to help my family. I heard in Chile there were more jobs available and I thought I’d come here to improve my daughter’s life. So when I got to Chile I got a fake contract and that made my visa expire and now I don’t have legal papers and can’t work. I wrote a letter to reconsider my situation and I got a rejection letter…Right now I go out of the house and walk anywhere and try to find any job to get a contract.”
Another Haitian woman’s visa was just expiring and she worried about having to return to Haiti where she felt unsafe:
“I have no visa to stay and I might get deported and I’m scared to get deported and I don’t want to go back there because of security.”
Many Haitians had previously applied or considered migrating to the U.S. but were rejected or warned by fellow compatriots not to apply and come to Chile instead. There were hardly any participants in the study, except those married to Chileans some of whom had green cards, that were anywhere close to receiving a citizenship status. Most participants in the study were either on tourist visas or had temporary resident (for one year) or permanent residency. Still, this could be complicated for couples migrating together and moving from one visa to another was highly dependent on the type of work contracts that immigrants obtained from employers. One Cuban participant who was married to another Cuban explained:
“After getting the temporary residency after one year you can apply to the definite residency which you can do if you present finances and invoices for the year, and a background check and June this year, they gave me permanent residency. My husband doesn’t have it—he needed the validation to work as a doctor, which he got in August but he applied, but has to wait because he has a temporary residence visa.”
It was commonplace for immigrants to openly discuss their legal status within Chile which was very different from the participants who I interviewed in the U.S. A number of those with permanent residence visas who were married to Chileans declined to get Chilean citizenship due to the amount of paperwork that was needed and worries about giving up their own citzenship.
Pituto Networks That Excluded Immigrants
Pituto was not a term I heard until about a month into my stay in Chile. It was explained to me as a way to get around some of the typical barriers especially in employment—one example of pituto is when a friend or colleague recruits somebody in his or her network to apply for and attend a job interview. It’s basically pulling on social connections or contacts for favours, leverage, and a foot in the door to services and events. This practice occurs in the U.S. and all over the world but in Chile, it is an explicit form of gatekeeping whereby people who have “it” leverage both their own and other’s situations. It’s defined as:
“a form of social regulation that entails a constant and systematic exchange of assistance, help and support between relatives, friends and acquaintances. It is capitalized as a symbolic debt, which generates a significant and mandatory reciprocity.” (Bazoret, Emmanuelle, 2006)
However this type of exchange hinges on reciprocity if one uses pituto — and paybacks are often expected, in some way or form later or as a trade for something else. It is often based on reputation and activating that pituto is a form of social capital. I found that it can also happen in other spheres such as in health, housing, and schooling. While it benefited Chileans, immigrants were often excluded unless they were settled. An Ecuadorian social worker had to have her degree validated in order to practice in Chile and she was unemployed for a number of years. However her Ecuadorian husband whose brother had lived in Chile for many years found work in construction through pituto fairly quickly. She said:
“The biggest difficulty is here you need to have a permanent residency to work and I didn’t have that. My husband didn’t struggle–through his brother’s pitutos he could find a job, and pay for the house, start work, and open up to society and start to move on. But I didn’t know anyone or have papers and I struggled to work and find a job. I was unemployed for 3 years.”
After many years of validating papers, education, and volunteering otherwise, “starting from scratch” to become a social worker in Chile, she was proud that, “none of it was given by pituto” and she added, ” life isn’t easy and that’s the main thing.” Another German woman found additional work through pituto because she said she had worked for the embassy previously and had many contacts. However overall, few of the participants explicitly said they “had” pituto, or even knew about it, and which was often due to their isolation in their homes or neighbourhoods, with networks that were mainly composed of compatriots. Instead they often discussed their frustrations of not finding work through formal channels.
Even those participants who were married to Chileans, and even worked with them, and leveraged their relationships with their husbands to buy and sell goods, seek information, or get interviews, did not mention their access to pituto systems, and if they partook in them at all, it was very limited. Still, they seemed to have more access to these pituto arrangements than did single immigrant women or couples from other countries.
Deadlocks For Immigrant Mothers
There were three participants who were actively being abused by their husbands and ex-husbands, all of who were Chilean. A number of other participants had left abusive partners or families before they migrated or after they settled in Chile. Of the three active cases, they were all either seeking legal justice or were entrenched in the legal system, but with few to any results. In one case, a woman was being stalked and punished repeatedly in court by an ex-husband who successfully took custody of her children, after she left for safety in Brazil. She explained her decision:
“What happened was I suffered so much violence, that my older girl told stories at school. It was so much that the teacher called me and the teacher said “you have 24 hours to report your husband to the police” and the guy had other police reports so he said “don’t do it, go back to Brazil.” I went back to Brazil and took my daughters with me but when I went there, the guy reported me for kidnapping my daughters.”
I attended a court supervising session with her to observe the various ways that she was being disadvantaged by a legal system that was heavily patriarchal and organised around protecting the husband’s rights and the Chilean children over the immigrant mother. This participant reflected:
“After I got notice of kidnapping them and went to trial over my husband, over the girls’ custody, and lost it [custody]– it was an unconstitutional trial because he knows the justice [system] and it holds power and handles people. I was unfairly treated and told them I didn’t have a stable job or income and so I couldn’t keep the girls and they gave them to him.”
In another case of documented sexual abuse of the children by both the social welfare department and the school system , an immigrant mother had little hope of achieving justice for the trauma and abuse that her and the children experienced at the hands of someone who was free to roam Chile and was never indicted.
These women, as well as others married to Chileans or who had Chilean children, felt trapped in Chile and wanted to return to their countries, where they had more social and family support. Without the children’s father’s permission, however, it was impossible. One woman whose husband changed as soon as he moved back from Colombia to Chile with her said, “but I can’t leave. I can’t just leave, I have a small child, I cant take him unless his father agrees and I know its not easy, I want to get experience first, And after working I can leave.” She would threaten divorce every time her controlling husband hid her school diploma, listened to her messages on her phone, gave her only a little money each day for food for shopping, and actively prevented her from working. He knew that divorces in Chile were hard to obtain and the processes were made very complicated.
Moreover, the legal system seem to side with the man, especially if the woman was an immigrant and financially dependent spouse. In fact, legally divorce was only granted in 2004 and Chile has the lowest divorce rate in the world. Both partners have to agree, after a year of separation to the divorce and it rarely protects for domestic violence or against abusers. Since abortion law only came into existence last year and, aside from recent attention to domestic violence against women, for the most part there is a great amount of gender repression in Chile, emphasiszed in the Gender Gap Report, 2016. The report shows that Chile is ranked at 70 in the world on all indicators from political empowerment to health care. In South America, Chile’s gender gap is ranked between Mexico (above) and Venezuela (below) and although Chile is considered to be one of the ‘top’ high-income countries like the U.S.,Canada and European nations, with better overall GDPs, socially and culturally, it is appears to be more regressive on gender policies–a challenge the Bachelet administration was tackling.
Affordable Transportation Networks
One airline, Latin American Wings (LAW) was mentioned repeatedly by participants as offering discount tickets. One woman complained about her treatment, where her tickets were switched around–and it has a reputation among Haitians in Chile for discriminating against them with regard to seats and facilities. However, generally, the bus networks and airlines were used as supports to migrate to Chile and around the country as well as travel to and from their countries for vacations. Furthermore, these affordable networks allowed family to visit and move to Chile. The bus networks were especially important for participants when they wanted to leave a city and move onwards when things were not working out. Some of these trips were long and harrowing and which lasted 7-10 days, especially from Colombia and Venezuela. A number of people ran out of food. One woman who travelled with her entire family, recalled:
It was really uncomfortable, sitting there 8 days straight, and besides that, I can’t take shower or go to the bathroom. It’s disgusting. I had only enough money to pay for tickets, and no food and no money, and we were starving. We only had one box of food, and, I thought, OK, we will starve. About 5-6 days into the trip, we ran out of food. We bought juice boxes, tuna cans and we bought cookies and crackers. We ran out. They [kids] didn’t want tuna anymore… water juice all gone. We didn’t have juice or water. We got out of the bus at a bathroom stop and we asked the cleaning lady in the bathroom if we could get water, and do it fast, and she let them [kids] in, to give them water, just enough to get their throats wet.
When I asked about the precious things participants brought with them on their journeys to Chile, they ranged in size, weight, color, and other characteristics but, mainly they often were easy to carry and could fit inside their suitcases or on their persons. These items were sometimes handmade family and friend memorabilia such as photos fitted to keychains, or were for practical reasons like, wigs and extensions and sheets and blankets. Or, they were valuable artifacts such as jewelry that was given to them by family, often mothers, as a token of love. One participant said:
When we came here we only brought clothing and bedding. But I brought these figurines that I had when I was little– 8 years old–when I got them. My mom gave them to me. Because these brings back to me memories of my childhood– good and bad memories
Religious artifacts like saints on cards and crosses were seen as symbolic forms of protection while clothing including traditional items, like belts, dresses, and skirts, and scarves reminded participants of their homelands, ethnicities and/or indigenous customs and regions. Many of the participants had to sell many of their household items and their homes, in order to leave their countries and purchase plane tickets—and they were not preparing to return—and so these items were precious indeed. They kept them in closets or carried them in their purses or wore them. Other ephemeral items were brought specifically to give away, like candy and money.
My daughter and I took rural buses all over during our time in Chile and we got to know about the bus networks first hand. Since Temuco was one of the major central cities in the south of Chile, most if not all buses went through there and there were so many different bus companies and types of buses to take that it was very easy to go from one city to the next despite the length of the country. The main hub for planes however was Santiago and so nearly everyone interviewed for this study took planes to Santiago and buses to Temuco. While not many participants discussed their rural bus trips, it was fairly easy to get from one town to another through the rural bus network and it was made affordable as well for locals. Although over the years there has been substantial privatization of buses throughout Chile (for example, see the book by Collins and Lear, Chile’s Free-Market Miracle: A Second Look), they still were supports for moving women immigrants around. This was especially important because many of the participants in the study did not drive cars.
Ease of Entry Into Chile
Time and again, immigrants, especially from countries like Venezuela and Haiti cited the convenient entry status as being the most important reason to migrate to Chile. They often said that all they had to do was to buy airplane tickets and pack their bags. The 3 month tourist visa could be tricky if immigrants however didn’t look like “tourists” to border agents due to the amount of money they had, which was something one Venezuelan experienced. She recalled:
“We got to the border in Arika and they didn’t let us go through. They said we didn’t have enough to be tourists — only $200. They said, ‘how are you going to survive in Chile for $200?’ You are a wave of immigrants and you steal jobs’ and they sent us back.” She said The 3-month visa was used as a means to establish jobs, housing, and social networks but it was made difficult if these important foundations couldn’t be established and more time was needed.
Generally, however, it was commonplace to hear that the main concern the women had was in in getting a plane ticket to migrate to Chile like one woman who compared this to going to Canada: “Because I do not ask for a visa. I just had to buy a plane ticket and that’s it. In Canada they just reject you.” Other immigrants including students considered the U.S. as a destination but the requirements were too stiff, compared to Chile.
Good Exchange Rates and Jobs for Remitting
The Chilean currency has been stable for some time and is considered to be a good exchange rate compared to other South American countries in addition to job opportunities. In weighing decisions about which country to migrate to, in order to remit back to family, participants cited the exchange rates and jobs in Chile as a major incentive. There were many family members back home depending on the participants to send them money for food, rent, school, health care, etc…and so locating a country to migrate where they could support two households was important. One woman who worked in a nightclub said: “the money is good here, because of the exchange, and I want to make a lot of money for a house to buy for my mom, and I am paying her rent and I want to start a business too” while another nightclub worker bought her teenage kids skateboards and play stations and exclaimed, “Everything I pay for, is for my mother [and her kids]. I pay for school, clothes, the food, clothing, utilities, food”. A Venezuelan woman connected earning money in Chile with health care in her country:
I want to stay in Chile because the exchange rate is good. My dad struggles with cancer and he can’t get treatment or medicine. For months my mother struggles with diabetes and there is no medicine. I can’t get medicine except in Colombia or Brazil which is still expensive, but what you get paid here, you can still support your family.
A number of the participants explained that they came to Temuco rather than stayed in Santiago, where they had family members, because they heard that jobs were more plentiful and there were fewer immigrants competing for the same opportunities. One Haitian said: “My sister [in Santiago] lives with one friend. To find a job is really hard. There are so many immigrants there, so that’s why I came here.”
There were also mixed factors that were both supports and barriers. One of these mixed factors had to do with the workforce and the economy. For example, there were many jobs in cleaning and caring but which appeared to be open only for certain nationalities and groups and were essentially niched, or segmented, for them alone. Haitians, for example, were specifically sought for cleaning jobs, both men and women. It was a common occurance to to see Haitian men cleaning cars while Haitian women cleaned bathrooms or homes in Temuco. They also were caring for elders and in this sense they had taken over former Peruvian immigrant women’s roles of caring. Out of 13 Haitians I interviewed, most all of them were in either cleaning or caring or were unemployed and walking streets to locate jobs; those participants being the most vulnerable to being exploited. So while they got jobs in this sector, it was low pay, short-term, conditional, and with poor working conditions that led to few other opportunities in other sectors. The emphasis in particular in Temuco on commerce and the service sector made this issue into one that was mixed. Many participants worked in businesses where they were mistreated and employers didn’t give them good contracts or no contracts at all at first and merely tested them to see if they could withstand the job. Yet many of these participants were unemployed and could find nothing in their countries or in other cities where they first landed and so they withstood these conditions because they had no other choices. Or, they were employed in their countries but were not paid enough to survive. One Colombian woman said:
“It’s really expensive and we were working to pay the rent and basic services and food. That’s why I decided to come. Financially we were only surviving…I had a debt at the bank and in Columbia I couldn’t keep paying the debt and that was difficult. Now I get extra money for paying the debt”
When she discovered how difficult it was, she reflected, “It was tough. We told our mom, “you lied to us. if you told us the reality, we wouldn’t have come.” From their perspectives then, migrating to Chile for better opportunities was a mixed factor—both a support and a barrier because although there were more jobs and ones that paid better, the cost of living in Chile was high and life was “tough” as many participants articulated.
reference: Bazoret, Emmanuelle, (2006). El valor histórico del pituto: clase media, integración y diferencia social en Chile. Revista de Sociología del Departamento de Sociología de la Universidad de Chile.N°20. Pp.69-96)