Monday, February 26, 2018

History in the Making

The signs are subtle. Shadows fall at a different angle in the backyard. The sun has taken up a more northern position. Scattered clouds drift across the sky. Today it is refreshingly cooler – only 85 degrees. In this last week of February I savor the summertime quiet of the city. Next week the onslaught of vacationers returning from ocean and mountains begins. Children will don their uniforms to return for another year of school.

The earth follows its orbit, slipping us here in the Southern Hemisphere into fall. School days. Cooler days. The seasons according to schedule. We pull on sweaters. Leaves turn brown and orange and yellow. Flowers make way for seeds. These events are so totally predictable that they don’t make the headlines or the history books. They just are.

I’m outside cutting dead flowers when with the new guard on our street walks by. “Buenos días,” we say. I think from his accent he might be Colombian or Venezuelan. I ask. “Venezuelan,” he tells me. He arrived five months ago. “It’s so much easier to get into Chile than the United States.”

This is history in the making. Peruvians. Colombians. Venezuelans. Dominicans. Haitians pour into the country. Word gets around. In Chile there are jobs. The country is stable. Skin tones on faces on crowded downtown streets are darkening. In this insular country most surprising are the growing numbers of black faces – janitors in the supermarket, gardeners in public parks, truck drivers, and construction workers. Others attempt to eke out a living on the street selling black market purses and scarves made in China.

How brave and how desperate the Haitians must have been to find a way to reach this distant country where a different language is spoken. Television reports show classrooms in the modest sectors of town sprinkled with children with big brown eyes gazing out of round black faces. Chileans joke that in a few years, the national soccer team will be a dream team of tall, dark immigrants’ offspring.

I'm considered an expat, not an immigrant. Is that because my skin is lighter? Because I speak English? Because I have a profession? Perhaps it's due to my reason for coming to Chile. When can an immigrant be considered an expat? A look at the big picture reveals that all history has been shaped by movements of populations. Thoughts worth considering.

I like seeing this increasing diversity and smile at the black man I pass on the street. It is a smile of welcome. I hope he knows that.