Wednesday, June 9, 2010
Foreigners not allowed. No Extranjeros!
I am a foreigner in Chile. I'm not from here, will never be from here, will likely never lose my accent, will never look Chilean.
That said, my plight as a foreigner is somewhat unfraught. It is possible that someone will look at me and think I'd be fun to rob, to bother, to make fun of. But it's equally possible (and much more likely) that they won't.
Foreigners like me (professional, educated, English-speaking) don't tend to really bug Chileans too much. Sure, there's the occasional "stupid gringos go home," or as a friend of mine and I were recently instructed to "vuelven a su país" (go back to where you came from) when she wouldn't allow someone to cut in front of her in traffic. But for the most part, we trammel through this crazy world without anyone really minding.
Not so, for our Peruvian and Bolivian brethren. Peruvians, in particular raise the ire of a certain set of closed-minded Chileans. The thing is, the Peruvians who make their home in Santiago are often economic refugees, earning better (and under worse conditions) than at home, and are sending younger brothers or children to college while they live out their lives here, in Santiago, in a place where more than a smattering of people don't want them around. Of course, there are exceptions. There are Peruvian doctors, professionals. Nobody seems to mind them (once they realized how educated they are), nor the PhD students nor the restauranteurs (it is commonly known that Peruvian food rocks the socks off of most Chilean food).
But getting back to the working-class Peruvian. He's probably about as welcome (and about as essential to the economy) as Mexican people living in California. Sorry to draw a possibly inept analogy, but it's the closest I can come with populations you know about. And though folks seem to have a soft spot in their mind for a nana (maid) from Peru, this is no consolation, it's racial profiling. So neat! So clean! Such a good cook! Such beautiful Spanish! So cheap!
There was a break-in in my building a few years ago. Many break-ins in Chile are said to by "por dato" which is to say that someone let the thief know that you wouldn't be home and had something nifty worth stealing. When this happened in my building everyone immediately decided that not only had it been "por dato" (which didn't make any sense, since the person whose house was burgled was actually home at the time), but that it was the concierge who had tipped the burglar off. Which doubly makes no sense because jobs are hard enough to come by in Chile without losing yours over something completely stupid like getting one of your tenants robbed.
Oh wait, there's one missing element. The former concierge (he was eventually fired, though not due to the break-in) was Peruvian. He had also wanted to move into an empty apartment somewhere in the bowels of the building but they wouldn't let him because "first he'll bring his girlfriend and the next thing you know there'll be 14 Peruvians living in that apartment." It didn't seem likely. His girlfriend lives in a big house in Recoleta. Didn't matter though, he was Peruvian.
Which brings me to the sign up here at the top of this post. It's for a set of apartments around a plaza right off the Plaza Brasil, just a few blocks from my house. And there on that sign, for all the world to see, it says "no foreigners."
I don't know what the official policy on discrimination is here in Chile (though I'm sure I should find out). But I can tell you one thing. I have half a mind to try to rent the apartment and then whip out my handy-dandy cédula de identidad de extranjeros (foreigner's carnet or ID card) and dare them not to rent to me because I wasn't born here.
And I bet they'd pull me aside and whisper "we mean Peruvians."
As if that weren't loud and clear already.