Sunday, October 26, 2008

Group Blog Topic-Racism & Classism in Chile

I find this topic really hard to write about. Although Chile could be considered the capital of classism, there are so many aspects that come into play that I think it would take me several months to be able to write a piece of work that I was happy with. It is a topic I would love to learn more about and I would want to do research to figure out why it is the way it is. Here in Chile, social classes are divided by multiple variables—your last name, in what sector of the city you live, the way you talk, the way you dress, down to in what university you study. All of these characteristics mix together to give a person a status and that status—be it high or low—is assumed as “correct” for that person. If you are born into a poor family, it is typically assumed that that is the way life is and all you can do is live with it. It is not too typical to hear stories about people who are trying to better their situation and change the future of their family. It is not too typical because in Chile, it is extremely difficult economically to better one’s situation. Here, the country’s wealth is one of the most unequally distributed of the world.

I took a Cultural Anthropology class in 2006 at La Católica in Valparaíso and it was one of my favorite classes that I have ever taken. We talked quite a bit about the distribution of wealth and I have never forgotten this one graph that my teacher showed to the class:

In this graph, which is from 2000, the Chilean population is divided into 10 parts (deciles). The top 10% of the population controls approx. 44% of the wealth. The next richest 10% only control 15% of the wealth.......uh, that is a HUGE change. For any of the populations that are not in these last two deciles, it is very easy to slip from middle-class to poor, or from poor to indigent. It is also much easier to slip downwards that increase your wealth. I’m not sure how the statistics are today, but you can bet that they are probably not too different. However, I have seen this before. Well granted, I have seen the fruits of them rising from a poor-class family to a middle-class one, but I was not here in the past 50-something years to see that change happen. All I know is that they worked extremely hard, saved all they could and put all five children through the University.

As for racism, I will just briefly touch upon the subject. There is a very similar tension here in Chile between Chileans and Peruvians as there is in the States between Gringos and Mexicans. In general (very general terms), the Peruvians are not looked upon as equals. People joke a lot about when you go to the Plaza de Armas, you go to Peru, because many illegal and legal Peruvian immigrants hang out there, waiting for work as nanas or perhaps in construction. They come to Chile with the hopes to look for a better life just as Mexican families risk their life to cross the border and do the same with their life. I find it very unfortunate that any culture is looked upon is such a way.

If you would like to read other POVs on Racism & Classism in Chile (or other countries), check out the following links:



claresays said...

What a great graph! Thanks for sharing.

Emily said...

I remember being shocked to hear in a Poli Sci class that Chile has worse income disparity than Brazil. Having been in the ridiculously luxurious apartment of family friends in Rio and driven by favelas in the same day, it's hard to believe that anything could be worse than that. But because of the way Santiago is segmented, you just don't see that side-by-side comparison as much - it doesn't mean it's not there.

Disclaimer—La Chilengüita is a blog created upon my personal experiences and which expresses my personal opinion that in no way represents the views my employer, family or friends.