In Coihueco, an isolated and rural village in central Chile, life used to go by quietly, uneventfully. But in 2016, Rodlin Etienne arrived. He was the first Haitian in Coihueco —the first of many.
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Translated by Patrick Moseley
(SOUNDBITE PEOPLE SPEAKING IN CREOLE)
[Daniel Alarcón, host]: Welcome to Radio Ambulante from NPR, I’m Daniel Alarcón.
In all the years we’ve been on air, we’ve done a lot of stories on immigration. It’s there in the name of the show: The “Ambulante” refers in part to that, to the movement that characterizes our region… A lot of us who work here are immigrants, in one way or another.
So, it’s an issue that is important to us, that hits home for us. But most of the stories we’ve done have been about the most obvious kind of immigration… which mostly takes place going from Latin American countries to the United States.
And we’ve wanted to expand our view for a while… because immigration is becoming more and more complicated, more and more diverse. There are Cubans in Venezuela. Venezuelans in Peru. Peruvians in Argentina. And so on…
That’s what today’s episode is about: a wave of immigration that a lot of people don’t think about.
So today we’re starting in Coihueco, a town in the foothills of central Chile. About 9 thousand people live in the city of Coihueco and about 30 thousands in the commune of the same name… It’s a five hour drive south of the capital: Santiago.
Rosa Muñoz, a 50-year-old woman, is one of those residents and in 2016 she was running for the Coiheuco city council.
But Rosa doesn’t come from a political background. Her mother was an artisan. Her father was a furniture maker who couldn’t read or write.
[Rosa Muñoz]: They lived here in the town, but this is a long time ago we’re talking about, before we had paved street, when we didn’t have indoor plumbing.
[Daniel]: Rosa didn’t finish high school. Instead she became a mother and a home maker. She got married and had a son and a daughter. A young family, in an isolated area, with little income and all of the challenges that entails.
[Rosa]: Yes, I sometimes had to go to the store to ask for a kilo of sugar, to ask for milk for my children. A lot of the time they’d say: “No… you know… that I can’t give it to you. I can’t give put it on credit”, and I needed to buy all of it. And I started to worry because when children are little you can’t stop feeding them.
[Daniel]: Looking for a way out of the situation, she took up recycling and crafting.
[Rosa]: I started motivating myself and looking at my parents’ experience and I started to make really nice things.
[Daniel]: Through great effort she managed to finish high school and go to college. That’s how she became an arts and crafts teacher.
[Rosa]: And I started to do really well, really, really well. All of this cost me my marriage. But I said: “I’m responsible for two children and if my children’s father isn’t going to stand by me in this challenge, I’m going to have to go ahead alone…”
[Daniel]: It may not come as a surprise that Coihueco is a place where traditional gender roles aren’t normally questioned. However, after going to school, Rosa learned to work with women and formed rural women’s associations. And on top of that, she set up shop in the city plaza that would become a key location for the community.
And in 2016, that was when…
[Rosa]: The women I worked with asked me to become a candidate for city council. So I said, it’s one more challenge, if it works out, no big deal. If it doesn’t work out, it’s still no big deal. It was a nice experience. I met a lot of people and I got to know every section of the commune, the ones I didn’t know much about before.
[Daniel]: And it was one of those days on the campaign when she was driving in her car…
[Rosa]: And I see a young man who was in the field cutting a bramble. He caught my attention and we stopped the car and I got out.
[Daniel]: What most drew her attention at first was the color of his skin.
[Rosa]: I was surprised by that young man because I hadn’t… In the past I had seen “chocolate-colored” skin, as they say, but in Brazil.
[Daniel]: But black people in Coiheuco… Well that’s unheard of. Or it used to be. And in the rest of Chile, unlike the other countries in the region, there are aren’t large populations of Afro-descendant people. It doesn’t have the same history of slavery and forced migration as Brazil, for example, or Colombia or Peru…
The young man Rosa saw had a very sad expression…
[Rosa]: Very, very, very sad but he was still out there working. It made me very upset because it was very cold at the time, very cold, and I saw that young man who wasn’t dressed in the right clothing to be working in such cold weather.
[Daniel]: Rosa felt for him deeply.
[Rosa]: And I felt the need to go up to him and talk, and he told me a little about himself and I told him I was going to be his friend.
[Daniel]: She learned his name was Rodlin Etienne…
[Rosa]: The first Haitian in Coiheuco.
[Daniel]: The first… of many.
Martín Cruz and Catalina May are the co-founders of Las Raras, a Chilean podcast. They have been investigating this story for more than a year.
[Catalina May]: Coiheuco is the archetype of what’s known as “Deep Chile”: A rural commune with high levels of poverty. A very traditional town, inhabited by small and mid-sized farmers that received parcels of land in the agrarian reform of the 60s and 70s. A place where practically no foreigners came… until Rodlin arrived. He moved Rosa so deeply that when she got home she couldn’t stop thinking about him and…
[Rosa]: I wanted to go see him: where he lived, who he was with. And the person who came with me… ehm… knew where he lived. We went and he was at a professor’s house. And there was no problem talking to him.
[Catalina]: Despite the fact he spoke very Spanish, Rodlin did his best to tell them some of his story…
[Rodlin Etienne]: I’ve always lived and worked and Haiti, but there’s no work in Haiti. I came to Chile to work and to help my family in Haiti.
[Catalina]: He had left his wife and four-year-old daughter in Haiti and every time he talked to Rosa about them…
[Rosa]: He always got emotional, always. For example, one day it was lunchtime and he wasn’t eating… tears were running down his face and I asked him why…what what wrong. And he says: “I can’t eat because I know my daughter doesn’t have food”. And that’s something so… that anyone could feel for him. When I ask Roly: ‘Roly, what do you need, what do you want, what do you long for in your heart?’ ‘All I want is to bring my daughter and my wife here, but I don’t know how because I need a lot of money.’
[Catalina]: Haitians that were coming to Chile at the time —we’re talking about the middle of 2016— came as tourists. They didn’t need visas. That gave them 90 days to find work and then they could begin the process of trying to stay in the country permanently. It’s all legal. But only some were able to do it. Especially if you bear in mind that 140 Haitians arrived every day. And more than a few of them stayed to live in the country under irregular circumstances.
[Rodlin]: Santiago has a lot of Haitians. It’s harder to work. There are people looking for work and they don’t find any.
[Catalina]: You couldn’t find a job?
[Catalina]: Rodlin left Haiti and spent a few months in the Dominican Republic. From there he flew to Santiago, after having sold his house to get the nearly three thousand dollars he needed for the journey. In Santiago, he met an Evangelical pastor who got him a job with another pastor in Coihueco, Rodolfo Pérez. This is Rodolfo:
[Rodolfo Pérez]: So, I told him I could help him because I have a lot to do here in the area, farming, working in the fields, cleaning in different areas we have here too…
[Catalina]: Rodolfo gave him lodging and work… but that not just that…
[Rodolfo]: We made a legal contract with its taxes, everything.
[Catalina]: And that was very important because it gave Rodlin the legal stability he needed. I had been 6 months since he had seen his family. And that had a big impact on him.
One day we got there and he was… we could tell he had been crying. And we asked him, “What happened?” He was in a lot of anguish and pain. “Why?” we asked. He said… “I miss my family, my daughter, I haven’t been able to see her in a long time.”
[Catalina]: This is Alfonso Fritz. He was building a temple for the congregation Rodlin worked with.
[Alfonso]: It was a situation that broke our hearts Well, we cried together. We hugged. We prayed for him and right there we made him a promise.
[Catalina]: They were going to as far as to do the impossible to bring his family over from Haiti.
Alfonso and Rosa are neighbors and belong to the same church. While they were telling the congregation about Rodlin, everyone was very moved.
This is Joselin, another parishioner.
[Joselin]: We were all moved by his story and the fact he was all alone and when we learned that he wanted to bring his family here, we were all moved and we started to help him.
[Catalina]: And this is Pablo, who told me that what was most moving about Rodlin’s situation in Haiti was knowing…
[Pablo]: How sad it is, how awful it is, to go hungry, to be in need, to not have food, that’s what was most moving to me. Going two or three days without food and only having hot water to drink morning, noon and night.
[Catalina]: So with the help of members of the church, Alfonso and Rosa had the idea to launch a campaign to bring Rodlin’s family to Coihueco.
[Alfonso]: The kids in the choir are the youngest and they know how to do work the internet somewhat, I told them, let’s go: what do we do? Well, let’s make a… a Facebook page and put out information about the campaign.
[Joselin]: The campaign was getting huge on Facebook. There was a web page and we were sharing things and we made an account for people to go and support him and get him to his goal, which was bringing over his family.
[Pablo]: We gave it a name, “Acto de generosidad”, Act of generosity…
[Trinidad]: And we always talked, Rodlin communicated with his wife. And we would say: “Rodlin, how’s your wife? How’s your daughter?” “Yes, my daughter, all she wants is to come here, to come here…”
[Rosa]: It wasn’t easy because we had to raise two and half million.
[Catalina]: That is, a little more than three thousand dollars…a fortune for residents of Coihueco.
[Alfonso]: At the beginning… Well, everyone liked the idea of the campaign, but the reality was that monetarily speaking we didn’t raise very much. Long story short… we went to see how much there was and it was 45 thousand pesos.
[Catalina]: Forty-five thousand pesos. That’s only 70 dollars.
[Alfonso]: The world came out from under us because we said, we aren’t going to reach the goal like this.
[Catalina]: In the face of this situation, the evangelicals did what they know how to do…
(SOUNDBITE RELIGIOUS SONGS)
[Alfonso]: And that was it. We prayed and God, through the Holy Spirit, spoke to Rodlin and said to him: “I already have the person who is going to pay all of costs for your wife and daughter to come.”
[Catalina]: It was just a matter of… finding them.
[Alfonso]: We, who have a little more faith, said: “Amen, thank you Lord.”
[Catalina]: While the evangelicals were praying, the town’s Catholic priest, Manuel Mosquera, read about the campaign to bring over Rodlin’s family in a local newspaper. It was a fortunate coincidence. So he contacted them. When he met Rodlin…
[Manuel Mosquera]: And there he layed everything out and I promised to help him.
[Catalina]: This is the priest, Manuel. He had an obvious reason for empathizing with the campaign.
[Manuel Mosquera]: I’m an immigrant.
[Catalina]: Manuel is Spanish, from Galicia, and he came to the town more than 30 years ago.
[Catalina]: And what kind of welcome did you get when you got here?
[Manuel]: It was very good, very good. Too good…
[Catalina]: What do you mean, too good?
[Manuel]: People were very welcoming. I remember the first day I arrived here in Coiheuco there was a big sign in the back of the church that said: “Coihueco is your family from now on.” I remember that like it was yesterday.
[Catalina]: The priest called together other parishes in the area and between about 500 parishioners…
[Manuel]: We got the rest of the money…
[Catalina]: Some to get the visa and the rest for the trip itself.
And so, on December 24th, 2016, Rodlin left for Santiago to get his family.
[Rodlin]: I was happy, very happy because I hadn’t seen my family in a year. But, I came here to Coihueco. I was very happy because a lot of people were very happy to help me bring my family.
[Catalina]: Meanwhile, despite the fact that they had managed to raise the money to being over Rodlin’s wife and daughter, in Coihueco the campaign was more active than ever. According to all the neighbors who were involved:
[Hans]: We were very concerned about renting a house for them so they could live in decent conditions. We got a refrigerator, a washer, stuff was coming in. We got a lot of clothing.
[Alfonso]: A dining room, with a kitchen.
[Priest]: An iron, tableware…
[Pablo]: We set up a double bed and a twin bed for their daughter. Blankets, mattresses, a gas stove, refrigerator…
[Trinidad]: We fixed things up. We painted. We were there until almost 1 in the morning. Young people from the church. Another person who helped us was Rosa. She contributed a lot too, with things from her house.
[Rosa]: I went to see what was missing. Because as woman you say, “she’s coming here, the house should be nice” and I found a lot of things they needed. I realized there was no table. The didn’t have chairs and I asked myself where are they going to sit. They’re going to be tired when they get here. They’re going to want a cup of tea. Since I had some things at home, I went to get them with Alfonso and we set up a table with a table cloth and chairs and we left it all nice for when they arrived.
[Catalina]: Rodlin, his wife Jean Pederline and his daughter Loudnaylie arrived in Coihueco at midnight. They moved into a small wood house one block from the townsquare that the community had provided for them.
But transitions like these aren’t easy at all. Rodlin’s wife, most of all, suffered a lot.
[Rosa]: The girl, Pederline, she spent all day cooped up in the house. She didn’t open the windows, nothing. Sometimes she’s very sad. It’s like she’s gone. And I asked her: “Do you miss Haiti?” She misses her parents. She misses her siblings. Everything. In the end I put myself in her shoes and she misses everything.
[Catalina]: We started reporting this story at that time, in 2017, and I remember that we tried to talk with Pederline then, but she didn’t speak and Spanish and a very little French, which some Haitians do speak fluently. It was hard for us to communicate with her and we could tell she felt isolated, insecure and for that very reason, distrustful.
We asked if she was happy living in Coiheuco.
[Catalina, speaking in French]: Are you happy here?
[Jean Pederline, speaking in French] Yes.
[Catalina, speaking in French]: Very much or a little?
[Jean Pederline, speaking in French]: A little.
[Catalina, speaking in French]: A little. OK.
[Catalina]: A little. Just a little. Her daughter Loudnaylie, on the other hand, looked very happy riding her bike around the town square. Everyone would say hi to her and give her candies and toys. She became content. On top of that, she learned Spanish very quickly.
[Catalina]: How are you?
[Catalina]: What’s your name.
[Loudnaylie]: Loudnaylie Etienne.
[Catalina]: How old are you?
[Catalina]: You speak Spanish!
[Catalina]: Since h was living in his own home, Alfonso got Rodlin a new job and helped him keep his papers in order. Rosa became the girl’s guardian at school. She took her to classes, went to meetings and spoke with teachers. And during the day she would take Pederline to the shop Rosa has on the corner of the town square. She tried to teach her Spanish and she went places with her so she wouldn’t be alone. Alfonso and Rosa each incorporated Rodlin, Pederline and Loudnaylie into their own families: they went to church together. They pampered the girl and shared their meals.
[Rosa]: She invited me to come eat and… they made rice with black beans. As a Chilean looking at it, it doesn’t seem that appealing to us but it’ a very nice meal. Besides, I went to the store and black beans are 1,200 a kilo and you get a lot.
[Catalina]: That’s two dollars.
[Rosa]: And according to them it’s a typical Haitian dish.
[Catalina]: But that bond that was forming between them was interrupted one day in May of 2017 when Rodlin didn’t show up at the job Alfonso had gotten for him.
[Alfonso]: The thing is, he had to go to work on Monday and on Sunday he packed his bags and went to Santiago. And…he did it in secret, honestly.
[Catalina]: The town didn’t understand. All the things they had gotten for them were in the house. And rumors started: Rodlin needed to make more money to pay a debt. Or to bring his brother over from Haiti. He must have gotten a job in the capital. But why didn’t he say goodbye to anyone?
When they finally got in touch with him, Rodlin told them he was going to come back in a few weeks.
[Alfonso]:We were left with that and… it turn out he didn’t come back. So, at the church… well, we felt for the girl because we cared about her so much… and all that, everything that was done and all the help we got for them to come here, being able to enjoy that didn’t last very long.
[Daniel]: When we return…why did Rodlin leave?
We’ll be back after the break.
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[Daniel]: We’re back with Radio Ambulante. I’m Daniel Alarcón.
Not long before Rodlin and his family mysteriously disappeared, more Haitians had arrived in Coihueco. Rosa wasn’t elected to the city council, but her shop across from town square became an institution in its own right. Haitians who were moving to the city started showing up there.
Catalina May continues the story.
[Catalina]: A just like she did with Rodlin, she took them in. She goes with them to process their paperwork and helps them find housing and work.
[Rosa]: I know a lot… first there’s Peter, Amos, Job, Pedro. Noel, Wildo, Jonás. A lot. I know a lot of them. Listen… Look, yes, I think my business is like, a meeting point for them, they go: “Oh, it’s so cold.” Here, you can have a cup of coffee. Put on the kettle. I’ll go buy them some bread with something, so they can eat.
[Catalina]: In order to understand why these immigrants are coming to Coihueco, we need to explain that this region has quite a few small and mid-sized farms that produce berries: raspberries, blueberries, blackberries. This is a kind of intensive farming which allows you to grow a large amount of fruit with not very much land, like the plots that were given to the farmers in the area during the agrarian reform. To harvest the fruit you need a lot of hands in the summer. And recently, because of the displacement of rural people moving to the city, there’s been a shortage of seasonal workers in Coihueco. And that’s where the Haitians come in. This is Amos, who arrived after Rodlin.
[Amos]: I spent a month in Santiago and it was difficult because I couldn’t understand anything. I didn’t have papers. That’s why I came here to look for work. I worked in a raspberry field for about three months.
[Catalina]: Like Rodlin, Amos came to Chile looking for work. His plan is also to save enough money to bring over his wife and son. His cousin Peter came with him, with the same goal in mind. And so did many of his fellow Haitians. This is Peter…
[Peter]: One day there were two. The next day there were two more. Four, five, a lot of people came.
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[Catalina]: When the harvest season started in November 2017, the streets of the town and the country roads in the region were full of Haitians. They formed religious groups in creole and even launched a program on local radio that’s run by a Haitian man.
These immigrants arrive in a precarious situation. With little money, without proper documentation and not knowing much Spanish. In Coihueco, like in Santiago, they also experience difficulties: mainly unstable jobs and crowded living situations with expensive rent.
But from what we’ve see, the reception they’ve had in Coihueco has been generous. Open. The community has shown itself to be very willing to take in the Haitians that have arrived.
[Catalina]: And what did you know about Coihueco before you came?
[Amos]: Nothing, nothing. After I came, I learned a lot because the people here are very good.
[Catalina]: Have you come into contact with… someone that you felt had a unfriendly attitude?
[Peter]: No, that’s why they’re all my friends. They would always call out “Peter” when I was walking down the street, “Peter, Peter.”
[Catalina]: You’ve never had any problems with anyone?
[Catalina]: I’m still surprised by that. Especially if you consider that since the Haitians started arriving in Chile, racism has come into full view. Even though there are a lot of immigrants from other countries like Peru, Colombia, Venezuela and Bolivia, Haitians have been the most discriminated against. The impact of their presence has been high because most of them don’t come across the northern board, but fly directly to Santiago. That, combined with their poverty and the color of their skin, has brought out the worst in some Chileans.
In February of this year, 2018, for example, this happened.
[Journalist]: A fierce debate has also started on social media… a video showing the arrival of a charter plane in Santiago, transporting numerous passengers coming from Haiti. The person who took this recording characterized the arrival of these foreigners as an invasion.
[Catalina]: The voice you’re going to hear is from the video that was filmed at the airport…
[Man]: This aircraft just arrived… a big 767 full of Haitian immigrants… It’s outrageous… No one is giving any explanation… this government, before finishing its term, is causing a massive influx… an invasion… what happens to our country… Do you see?…
[Catalina]: Situations like these are not uncommon: the Haitians that were kicked out of a shopping mall in a high-end neighborhood. The Haitian man that was sleeping on the metro and was woken by the sound of insults. The man who was working at a service center and had a hot dog thrown in his face by a customer. The one who was punched for no reason at a fish market. The stories run in the media every so often.
We spent all of February, 2017, in Coihueco and since then we’ve been going back pretty regularly, and yes, there appears to be a harmonious relationship between the community and the Haitian immigrants. In the summer there is work. There are people like Rosa, Alfonso and many more than those you’ve heard… who have dedicated countless hours to supporting the Haitians who have come here. Rodlin, the first to come, as well as Amos and Peter, from the second wave, speak wonders of the town and say they’ve always been given a warm welcome.
One of the greatest causes for celebration came from Peter, who after having worked and saved for a long time, managed to get enough money to bring over his then-girlfriend. As soon as she arrived, Rosa helped them get an appointment at the civil registry and they got married.
[Rosa]: Then, the next week, was the wedding at the church. It was very nice. There was a lot of help from the church. Some people donated the cake… others donated the dress, some people gave food, others prepared it. One woman offered to cook. Another woman offered to make cocktails and it was all very, very nice.
[Catalina]: Tell me about your… your wife.
[Peter]: She’s fine. But the thing is, she hasn’t been here long. It’s been about a month and a half..
[Peter]: Yes, her name’s Francisca.
[Catalina]: Amos also managed to get together enough money to bring his wife and six-year-old son over. He paid for their flights and in Haiti they sold all of their things to prepare for the journey. They were going to leave on April 20th. But their plans were cut short.
[Amos]: Because they changed the law in Chile, so they can’t come.
[Catalina]: In 2017, immigration from Haiti took off: According to figures from the Investigative Police, more than 100 thousand entered the country and a little fewer than 5,000 left.
In 2018, the wave continued to grow, until on April 9th, just 11 days before Amos family was supposed to depart for Chile… President Sebastian Piñera announced that they would change the rules to restrict entry into the country.
[Sebastián Piñera]: It has been determined that the State will require, effective April 16th of this year, 2018, any Haitian citizen intending to enter the country to procure a simple tourist visa permitting that citizen to enter and remain in Chile for a period thirty days…
[Catalina]: This change in the law was made through executive order, in other words, without consulting congress. Like Piñera said, Haitian tourists require a visa that didn’t exist before. You have to do the paperwork for the visa in Haiti and it only allows you to stay or 30 days, 60 days fewer than before, without the ability to apply for permission to stay. Piñera announced that this would come into effect the following week, on April 16th. Six days before Amos’ families departure.
[Amos]: I spent a year and four months working here to get together enough money to pay for them to come. Now I don’t know what’s happening with their tickets because the company doesn’t want to give back the money.
It’s very hard now. My son doesn’t want to eat. He doesn’t want to go to school. Because I told him he was coming here, he was going to go to school here.
[Catalina]: This visa for Haitians comes sharp contrast to another that was established by the government at the same time. For Venezuelans…
[Sebastián Piñera]: A visa is being made out of democratic responsibility, that shall be requested at the Chilean embassy in Caracas or any other embassy in Venezuela, which will grant a one-year temporary residence permit which may also allow the visa holder to apply for permanent residency.
[Macarena Rodríguez]: What happens in effect is that there is different treatment. In my opinion the difference is discriminatory…
[Catalina]: This is Macarena Rodríguez, the director of the “Judicial clinic for immigrant assistance” at Alberto Hurtado University in Santiago.
She believes that this different treatment for Haitians and Venezuelans has no valid justification. To her it’s arbitrary discrimination because…
[Macarena]: There is no precedent that allows one to justify a measure of this kind…
[Catalina]: So while they’re putting up hurtles for one group, they’re making it easier for the other…and their reasons aren’t very clear.
[Macarena]: Because we could also maintain that today in Haiti, the chaotic conditions… the situation with poverty… That it isn’t a fully realized democracy as one would image.
[Catalina]: In other words, if the visa for the Venezuelans exists out of so-called “democratic responsibility”… couldn’t that visa be given to Haitians under the same logic?
In Coihueco, Rosa, who was a candidate for city council for one of the government’s coalition parties, rejects the new consular visa entirely…
[Rosa]: So, my question is when you make laws so quickly, don’t you see who we are going to discriminate against… Who’s going to take precedence? Because if I see that they have invested one and a half, almost two million pesos in passports and tickets so this family could come here and everything is left like that… I see photos where the little boy is crying, where he’s crying and doesn’t want to eat. It makes me furious. I see laws that are so unfair that… maybe… ehm… our country isn’t prepared to take in so many Haitians, but look, I have come to understand that the planet earth belongs to everyone.
[Catalina]: There is something in her own experience —as a woman who lived in poverty and built a life out of sheer hard-work and effort— that deeply connects Rosa with the Haitians that she’s welcomed to Coihueco.
[Rosa]: Because I think in life we all deserve opportunities...
[Catalina]: Unlike Rosa, Alfonso, who we heard at the beginning of this story, who started the campaign to bring over Rodlin’s family… has not gotten involved at all with this new wave of young Haitians in Coihueco. He and his wife tell us that he’s preferred it that way because we was very hurt when Rodlin and his family left and he still hopes they will come back. So much so that they never tire of looking at pictures of them that they’ve kept on their phones, especially the pictures of Loudnailye:
[Alfonso]: And here’s Lud.
[Trinidad]: There she is, ahhh.
[Catalina]: Let’s see…
[Alfonso]: Here are a few more [laughs].
[Catalina]: But those were still taken here, right?
[Trinidad]: Yes, here. Before they left. Was that in December?
[Trinidad]: Yes, she was posing. My granddaughter, I loved her.
[Alfonso]: Clearly I don’t have anyone to give my love. For example, I…I’m… I’m already in my 50s and I’ve never been able to have kids. And so the ability to meet that need at some point, since a man or every human being needs to be a father and… when you see the chance you take it and get the most out of it and enjoy it. So it would be good if they came back because we miss them. Yes, really… I get emotional because we learned to love them. Yes, we learned to love them… They were also an important part…
[Catalina]: I don’t know if you can understand very well but what Alfonso is saying there is that they learned to love them…
That’s also part of the story and maybe it’s a detail that shows the difference from the kind of migration that is being experienced in Santiago. In Coihueco, Haitians have a first and last name. They’re human beings, individuals. Each one has a story. They’re surrounded by a community that is worried about them. That wants to get to know them.
In a city like Santiago, that’s chaotic and full of people, that human contact is lost…
In order to find out what it was that made Rodlin and his family leave Coihueco so unexpectedly, we went looking for him and Santiago. It wasn’t easy to find them. We contacted him by phone and he proved to be rather elusive. In the end, the gave us an address, but when we got there, it didn’t exist and he didn’t answer his phone.
[Catalina]: He’s not picking up. No, nothing.
[Catalina]: By the time we gave up, he finally appeared.
[Catalina]: I’m in the…I’m getting out… Finally! Oh, that was tough…
[Rodlin]: Yeah, how are you?
[Catalina]: Good, you?
[Catalina]: This is Martín, do you remember him?
[Catalina]: You met him too…
[Catalina]: We we could finally get to talking, I asked him why he left Coihueco so abruptly.
I care about the life of my family. I didn’t care about anything else. Not the house, not the food, nothing. Just the life of my family. Since she doesn’t handle cold well…I don’t want her to have a problem with the cold. Because she doesn’t… my wife says she doesn’t like the cold. She didn’t go out. She had a lot of problems.
[Catalina]: She didn’t get used to it?
[Rodlin]: She couldn’t get used to the cold…
[Rodlin]: She didn’t have friends. Only in the hou…
[Martín]: And here?
[Rodlin]: She has family here.
[Catalina]: Her sister?
[Rodlin]: Yes. She doesn’t work. She spends all day at home. She doesn’t know anyone in the street.
[Catalina]: Rodlin told us that when they left town, they were going to visit Pederline’s sister who lives in Santiago. And the plan was to come back in a few weeks. That’s why they didn’t say goodbye to anyone. But in the end, Pederline wanted to stay. And so they did. Now Rodlin works in construction. He lives with his sister-in-law and her husband. And between then, they’re getting ready to open a Haitian-Chilean fast food restaurant.
He looked good, happy. But he confessed that if it were up to him, they’d go back to Coihueco.
[Rodlin]: Look, I would rather live in Coihueco, because it’s more peaceful. It’s easier to live in peace.
I’ve been through a lot in Coihueco. I consider Coiheuco… a very good place for me. There are a lot of good people. For me, Coihueco is the best place in Chile. I think some day I’ll go back to Coihueco to visit everyone.
[Catalina]: We told him he has to visit Alfonso because he misses him…
[Rodlin]: Yes, me too. Alfonso is like a father to me.
[Catalina]: On July 2nd another new visa went into effect, called the family reunification visa. Spouses and children under 25 of Haitians with legal residence in the country can apply. This could be a way for Amos to bring his family to Chile once he manages to get enough money to pay for another flight. But that could take him years. And the problem is that this visa has a quota: They only issue ten thousand a year, which could end up not being enough if you take into account the fact that at the moment, according to the Department of Aliens and Migration, there are nearly 113 thousand Haitians in Chile.
[Macarena]: When we’re talking about principles that are as important as family reunification, this can’t be associated with, or shouldn’t be associated with a quota. Because, why is applicant numer 10,001 going to be left out? And those who applied earlier get to have it? It’s quite unfair, and because there is a principle in the background like reunification, that is what should matter.
[Rosa]: Look, Catalina, this was a room where there was a lot of stuff. It was all disorganized…
[Catalina]: Like a pantry…
[Rosa]: Like a pantry.
[Catalina]: Rosa has faith that Amos will be able to bring over his family one way or another. And she’s getting ready to welcome them. She built a room in a small space in her patio. She furnished it and she has it all ready…
[Rosa]: So I want to give him this room. It has a bed, this room is finished.
[Catalina]: Now all that’s left is for his family to arrive.
[Daniel]: Journalist Catalina May and sound engineer Martín Cruz have an independent podcast called Las Raras. They tell non-fiction stories that they call “Stories of Freedom.” You can learn about them at lasraraspodcast.com, on Facebook, Twitter and the main podcast platforms.
This story was edited by Camila Segura and me. Music and sound design are by Andrés Azpiri in collaboration with Martín Cruz. Our intern, Andrea López Cruzado, did the fact checking.
The rest of the Radio Ambulante team includes Jorge Caraballo, Patrick Mosley, Ana Prieto, Laura Rojas Aponte, Barbara Sawhill, David Trujillo, Elsa Liliana Ulloa, Silvia Viñas and Luis Fernando Vargas. Our interns are Lisette Arévalo and Victoria Estrada. Carolina Guerrero is our CEO.
Radio Ambulante is produced and mixed on Hindenburg PRO. Learn more about Radio Ambulante and about this story on our website: radioambulante.org.
Are you a member our Club de Podcast yet? It’s a private group on Facebook where we discuss episodes of Radio Ambulante with listeners from other places in Latin America and the world. On top of that, our team shares advice on audio production. Look for it under Club de Podcast Radio Ambulante.
Radio Ambulante tells the stories of Latin America. I’m Daniel Alarcón. Thanks for listening.