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.


Leigh said...

I came face-to-face with a very unpleasant amount of xenophobia (not that any amount is pleasant) while apartment searching several months ago. Most landlords had no problem with me when they learned that I was an "acceptable" foreigner -- one even enthusiastically told me that he assumed I would be more "responsible" than a Chilean -- but I walked away from any building where I sensed prejudice against foreigners of any nationality. One landlord, whom I spoke with over the phone, accused me of being Peruvian and trying to hide it.

I don´t know much about Chilean housing law, but it I were you, I´d check the Ministerio de Vivienda website and see if there´s any anti-discrimination legislation in place. If there is, report your neighbors´ racist asses.

Real Chile said...

I still remember thinking that xenophobia was a mainly American problem, then I went to Puerto Rico and saw the openly-displayed hate towards Dominicans and Chile where we see people who hate Peruvians and Bolivians. I realized that the US was just the tip of the iceberg.

Also have to mention I know a lot of Chileans who would get pretty offended about anyone saying that Peruvian food is better than Chilean food. I have not eaten much Peruvian food but all the gringos I know who have been to Peru think the food there is better.

To end on a positive note, my girlfriend’s mom used to really dislike Peruvians, but recently she got a job and met a Peruvian. She became friends with him and no longer has a bad impression of Peruvians SO THERE IS HOPE.

Kyle said...

Some of the emails that go out in Chilespouses about Peruvian nanas would BLOW. YOUR. MIND. And not in a good way.

Eileen said...

Leigh, yes I also suspected you were Peruvian when we met. What?

Real Chile, I meant the whole "sibarita" contingent that loves anything foreigh and obscure. Peruvian food is certainly more varied than Chilean food, by region I mean. And well, yeah, I'll say it, I think basic Peruvian cooking beats basic Chilean cooking. But that's just one gringa's opinion.

And thanks Kyle, because finally there is one small benefit to not being on Chilespouses, which is not having to read those comments. I trust my gringa counterparts are making a good case for everyone believing we're all a bunch of racists? eeep.

Betsy Longstocking said...

I have also experienced that good foreigner/bad foreigner crap, and that preferential treatment makes me very uncomfortable.

However I've also had some nasty dealings with a few resentful cuicos from the barrio alto who called me a dirty stupid extranjera simply because I'm from the US. Gosh! I might be dirty and stupid, but at least let me prove it!

Either way it goes, it makes me want to punch someone. Is violence the answer? I say - yes!

Annje said...

For the most part, my experiences in Chile as a foreigner are as Betsy put it, preferential treatment, which makes me uncomfortable too. But I did have someone in Chile tell me she wouldn't rent to me because I was a foreigner. Her loss, I am the ideal tenant. I honestly can't imagine what it must be like to be the bad foreigner in a country where I have chosen to live for whatever reason.

I think the analogy is pretty close, Peruvians are Chile's Mexican.

Racism is a funny issue in Chile, and like in most places, it is tinged with color and class.

Margaretq said...

I had forgotten about the vuelve a su país incident! And it was because I vehemently refused to let him smear up (oops, I mean clean) my windshield for a tip at a stoplight... have to admit that he DID wipe the goop off before storming off to the next victim (I mean driver)...
I hope someone DOES find out what housing laws say, but I suspect that you probably have a right to rent to whomever you want to (or not), the same way you can be pretty clear about who you want to hire--I haven't looked at job ads for a while, but they used to really shock me when I first arrived: attractive blonde, blue-eyed woman aged 25-30 wanted for (fill in job title here)!

translates said...

My husband and I have experienced discrimination living in the US. We are college educated Chileans and do not fit the stereotype of the 'poor wetback.' Racism is veiled most of the time, but very real. We were denied a home loan once because of it. The 'Go back to your country' routine actually happened to us here too. The minute people hear an accent or a foreign-sounding name, there is a change in their attitude sometimes that is very telling. Racism and discrimination happens everywhere, and some countries have a violent and bloody history related to it. It is always based on ignorance and narrowmindedness.

paris parfait said...

Ah, yes, xenophobia, well known the world over (each country with its particular set of prejudices). Fascinating post.

sarabeck said...

I think the profiling goes both ways. They don't want the Peruvians or Bolivians because of perceived flaws in their character, but then with us it's like Leigh said and they sort of put us on a pedestal because we are more responsible and able to pay more money. Then if we don't measure up we get accused of being in Chile too long.

Audrey said...

This type of discrimination reminds me what we saw all the time in Prague when we lived there. Dan and I - as "westerners" - were considered the right type of foreigners in the Czech Republic. One time I went to the Foreigner's Police with some work colleagues from Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Russia. Although we had the exact same American employer and paperwork prepared by the same people, I was treated so much better than everyone else. My colleagues said it happened every year.

When we now go to renew our visas at the foreigners police in Prague, we notice that we're attended to before the Vietnamese and Chinese in the room. And yet, it's these "foreigners" who are keeping the city stocked with fruit, vegetables and all the cheap goods all the Czechs seem to like so much! And it's so hard to have a rational conversation about this.

Matt said...

I regularly get preferential treatment for being a tall, blond, blue-eyed and devilishly handsome Englishman (in Chile, that is. In England I look like the averagely tall, light brown haired, moderately attractive man I really am and am treated accordingly).

It used to bother me but then I realised it's not my fault Chileans have this ridiculously obsequious attitude to 'white' I may as well take advantage.

So I get out of speeding tickets, I walk into places I'm not supposed to go like I own them, I flirt with female bureaucrats to get them to do what I want faster, I get audiences with business people and high ranking officials who'd be completely out of my reach in the UK and I make people turn up on time-ish. It's fun!

And Peruvian god it's good.

Also, remember that there is no racism in Chile because there are no black people..! Errrrrmmmmmm...

Anonymous said...

With Peru and Bolivia it's more than just racism, t's a mutual hate, we've had two wars already, with them losing part of their lands, so relations aren't expected to be so smooth.

It's also the whole class thing, more than races, chileans discriminate a lot about classes, this comes from our history of class division, workers demands and the Pinochet coup.

And then there is the education, educated inmigrants from anywhere are well liked, and educated chileans aren't so disciminatory against inmigrants, while worker class aren't because worker class chileans think that they're losing their jobs to them.