Chilean immigration

2011-02-08 11:15:44

The earliest migration of Chileans to the north came during the California gold rush of 1848–49, when some 7,000 immigrated to the United States, with most settling in San Francisco and Santa Clara Counties. In 2000, 68,849 persons of Chilean origin resided in the United States, with the highest concentrations in Los Angeles; Miami, Florida; and New York City. According to the Canadian census of 2001, 34,115 Canadians claimed Chilean descent, most residing in Toronto and Montreal. Because the earliest “Chilenos” frequently intermarried, the modern Chilean American is more likely to be part of a general community than of an ethnic enclave.
Chile is a long, narrow country of 288,800 square miles along the west coast of South America between 17 and 55 degrees south latitude. With a coastline of 2,600 miles, it has a long seafaring tradition that has invited immigration from many countries, including Spain, Italy, Germany, Ireland, Greece, Yugoslavia, and Lebanon. Peru forms its border to the north, Bolivia to the northeast, Argentina to the east, and the Pacific Ocean to the west. The Andes Mountains, some of the highest in the world, stretch north to south along its eastern border against the Atacama Desert in the north, plains in the central region, and forests in the south. An archipelago makes up much of southern Chile including the largest island, Tierra del Fuego, which is shared with Argentina. In 2002, the population was estimated at 15,328,467, with more than 5 million in the urban area of the capital city of Santiago. About two-thirds of the population is of mixed European and Indian descent (mestizo), and almost all the others of European descent. Roman Catholicism is the dominant religion, claimed by 89 percent of the population. The other 11 percent are Protestant Christians.
The Inca Empire ruled over Chile until the 16th-century Spanish conquest. Chile fought for its independence between 1810 and 1818, after which it established a significant economic relationship with the United States. Chilean men often served on American whaling ships and sometimes settled in northeastern U.S. ports. More than 7,000 entered California during the gold rush of 1848–49, many of whom were experienced miners. Nevertheless, throughout the 19th and early 20th centuries there was only sporadic emigration. Chile’s civil war of 1891 led thousands to immigrate to the United States, Europe, and Argentina. After 1938, when a leftist government was elected, conservative Chileans began migrating to the United States, steadily increasing the Chilean populations in New York City and Los Angeles. Middle- and upper-class Chileans frequently came to the United States for education. The election of marxist Salvador Allende in 1970 led to an even larger exodus. Allende was assassinated in 1973 by a repressive, U.S.-backed military junta under General Augusto Pinochet, thus creating a new wave of emigration of leftists who had supported Allende. Both the United States and Canada were reluctant to admit avowed marxists, fearing political complications domestically and the appearance of undermining their anticommunist allies in Chile. Continued pressure from church, humanitarian, labor, and Hispanic groups nevertheless led to minor refugee modifications. During 1973 and 1974, Canada admitted about 7,000 Chilean refugees. In 1978, the United States launched the Hemispheric 500 Program, providing parole for several thousand Chilean and Argentinean political prisoners. In the following year, Canada created a new refugee category for “Latin American Political Prisoners and Oppressed Persons.” In both cases, the standards for entry were higher than those for people from Southeast Asia and Eastern Europe, where applicants were fleeing communist regimes. During the 1970s, 17,600 Chileans immigrated to the United States, coming from both sides of the political spectrum and often clashing in their new country.
After widespread international criticism for human rights abuses, in 1990, Pinochet was forced to return the country to civilian rule. Of more than 1 million Chileans who were either exiled or forced to flee the country, about 10 percent settled in the United States. Between 1992 and 2002, the United States admitted 17,887 Chilean immigrants. Angered by American cold war support for Pinochet, many Chileans chose to emigrate elsewhere. Of Canada’s 24,495 Chilean immigrants in 2001, almost 11,000 came between 1971 and 1980 and about 5,700 between 1991 and 2001.