A Story of Machismo & Chilean Men

The creative juices haven’t been flowing lately for me.  I actually spent all of last week in bed with a horrific cold that had me shivering and shaking like a praying mantis, which also saw me exclaim that I was dying and that Luis was quite simply the world’s worst boyfriend for expecting me to get up and cook for his family when I was at my worst.


This last, coupled with the fact that Luis went to have some “words” with our neighbour Jose this morning, has got me thinking about what it means to date a Chilean man. On Friday night I babysat until 2am and when I came home found I had misplaced my keys. While waiting for Luis to let me in, Jose appeared in all his drunken glory and slurred his way through the usual greeting spiel that constitutes Chilean small talk. Luis witnessed this and thought Jose had been way too friendly, something which I then made worse by saying “he was so drunk at one point I thought he was going to kiss me!” He didn’t try to and I said this only because he was very touchey and his reactions were slow from being drunk, but Luis took this literally and went to speak with him today. He told me so casually, like he had just gone to buy marrequeta and asked how the weather was.

“So I asked Jose what happened on Friday night,” he began and I felt my insides turn cold.


“I asked him what he was doing on Friday night with you. He didn’t know what to say, just ‘no no no!'”

“Luis what on Earth are you talking about? Nothing happened!”

“Helen you told me he tried to kiss you.”

“No I didn’t I said he was so drunk that he seemed like he was about to!”

“Well I didn’t say anything about that. I just said that I saw him from the window and that he was inappropriate with you.”

Now if you date a Chilean you probably have heard something similar.  There is a chauvenistic thread running through many of the men which sees some labelled as machista. You probably don’t want to say this in response:

“Luis, we are not married and even if we were I am still not your property. I can do whatever I like and if I need your help I will ask for it.  Don’t go causing drama over nothing!”

Luis is actually the least machista man I have met here but jealousy rears its ugly head every now and then. My sister-in-law Berny and I often joke at parties that the only way to get attention from our men is to suddenly begin a conversation with another man, because they will instantly appear. Funnily enough, when we went to Jose’s the other month he offered me a beer. I hate alcohol and drink very rarely, and Luis saved me from social disgrace by saying I wasn’t allowed. Usually I never get offered alcohol at parties but its not considered that polite to decline something when offered (my father-in-law thinks I’m SO odd for always saying no to Chile’s famous wine!).  Jose nearly spat his out when he heard Luis and called him too machista.  However, despite all the advances in the social sphere, Chile still suffers in the field of women’s rights. Femicide is a big issue here and abortion is still illegal, and many girls who have been raped never speak out. This is a nation that, until a few years ago, was a man’s world.  Just take a read of Los Prisoneros “Corazones Rojos” a song so damning against the men that it was years ahead of its time:

Eres ciudadana de segunda clase, sin privilegios y sin honor
Porque yo doy la plata estás forzada
a rendirme honores y seguir mi humor
Búscate un trabajo, estudia algo, la mitad del sueldo y doble labor
Si te quejas allá está la puerta, no estás autorizada para dar opinión”

This song, like all Los Prisoneros songs, is excellent and if you really want to know Chile you should take a listen of their music.

Four years ago, when Luis and I were newly living together, we shared with an acquaintance of Luis’ called Carlos. Carlos was a single man who was stringing along an ex-girlfriend named Viviana. Every time he called she came running, usually to cook him lunch. One time he wasn’t happy with the food that he threw the plate against the wall and it smashed into a thousand pieces. I don’t have any idea what happened with their relationship, but I do know that he owed our neighbours money for drugs and he had to leave so fast from here that he left all his furniture behind.


Emilio has been playing out the front the last few days with the children from next door. One of them, Antony, is a few months younger than him and his mother is the daughter of Luisa, the street’s main matriarch.  She is friendly enough and quite pretty (except for some of her tattoos) but she is the owner of the most awful voice I have ever heard. She is the woman responsible for the awful screeching we’ve heard out front over the last month during the night. They used to live further down the road but were kicked out of their room for causing trouble. Her partner is very flaite and is not that nice – Luis does not like him.  Together that pair cause the majority of the drama where we live and what is unfortunate is that their son Antony is learning from their behaviour all the time. He’s a little peleador and does not play well with other children – as we have been frequently warned – and the other day he took Emilio’s favorite toy he was playing with and then proceeded to hit him over the head with it. The mum did try to get him to share and she did bring Emilio some toys to play with, but while she expressed remorse Jose and his friends laughed and seemed to think that this display of aggression was acceptable. I asked Luis later if Antony’s behaviour would be considered a good characteristic in chorizo culture, and he thought so.  At the other end of the spectrum, Jose’s daughter is the most sweetest, adorable little girl who is as gentle and placid as a fly, so the contrast between the sexes is very pronounced.

I don’t think Luis has caused any lasting damage with Jose – in fact I’m sure that his proactive attitude lends him respect. You have to be assertive here or you won’t last.  Emilio was out the front playing again this afternoon, and what I love is how everyone – even the most unsavoury looking people – will look out for the children and keep them safe. A random guy even stopped to pull out all the stinging nettles around where they were playing!


September 11 in Santiago

It’s the 11th of September and I am driving down Avenida Recoleta into La Pincoya.  I pass what looks like a fun event in the local Plaza; there are children playing, kites flying, food on sale. I excitedly ask Luis if we can stop because it looks interesting.

“Every year!” Luis exclaims roughly and drives right on by.

“Luis why can’t we go?!” I ask, annoyed.

“Helen don’t you see what that is? It’s a communist rememberance event. They do it every year – when will they get over it? None of those people were even alive in 1973!”

Quite a strong statement, I know. I am in Huechuraba, one of Santiago’s oldest barrios that has always been home to a strong left-wing movement.  This is a place that turns unrecognizeable at night, when all traffic is blocked on the main throughfare, Av. Recoleta, due to protests.

In 1973 Chile suffered its own September 11 tragedy – a coup d’etat – that saw a violent militarial uprising led by Augosto Pinochet against the socialist president, Salvador Allende. This event killed thousands but scarred millions, and Chileans have never quite been the same since.

What I never realised was that the coup hadn’t come as a surprise.  Derek Paterson is a New Zealand writer who was imprisoned during the coup and wrote about his experience in his new book, Second Time Lucky.  I recommend giving this one a read because he paints a remarkeable picture of Chile during the 70’s.

“It’s a lovely day.” I remark to Luis, “It was probably a lovely day in 1973 too.  I can’t even imagine my normal life being broken in that way – a normal date that is now forever different.”

However, in saying that, Huechuraba seems to be moving as normal. People are laughing in the street, flying kites in the sky, working, commuting, eating lunch … does anything really happen once the sun sets?

Driving around Huechuraba Antigua on Sep.11

This time 2 years ago,  I went to a party in Recoleta and walked home. The streets were looming and black thanks to the power being cut, and the only sound was the whirring of helicopters overhead. There was no-one around and every footstep sounded like thunder amongst the gloom. I remember clutching Luis’ arm with my keys at the ready, shaking even more when he told me what to do if someone should attack us.The Diagonal – a prominent street that slices through residential pockets – was ablaze with mountains of fire that we tiptoed past. A new sound joined our footsteps, this time there was the crunch of glass and in the distance we could hear laughing.

Needless to say, we made it home safely. In 2014 we lit the candles as we waited for the obligatory power cut, and watched movies while listening distant hum outside. Now here we are, in 2015, on our way to Luis’ father’s house in Huechuraba.

I spoke to Ana Fuenzalida and asked her what the date meant for her:

“It means nothing to me really. I was only a baby in the south of Chile when the coup happened.  Today its just a night when the flaites take control and burn tyres and break glass. I won’t be scared; the same happens every year.”

I asked Boris Bastian what exactly would happen:

“The people on Av. Recoleta will prepare their homes against possible attacks. Late at night, around 10pm or later, flaites will begin causing trouble on the road, setting things alight, ripping out plants to burn, throwing things and breaking windows.  The police will come and they will attempt to regain some control but there is not enough police. Sometimes they come straight down the Avenida with tear gas and water cannons, sometimes they try to be clever and come in from the back or side. There will be thousands of people out, some of them with genuine intentions but mostly young people out to do what they can. There are no rules.”

Throughout the day I speak to many people.  Luis points out the marks and holes on the road along Av. Recoleta where previous fires have melted the tarmac. But in general the day seems like any other –  am I missing something?

We return home to Recoleta around 8pm to find our street bursting with party atmosphere. Jose is selling his usual empanadas, there is music playing and everyone seems to be having a good time. Inside I prepare the candles, get Emilio tucked up in bed and wait … but nothing happens. The night passes uneventfully. I hear nothing. The next morning Luis’ father turns up for Emilio.

“It was very strange,” he tells us, “nobody did anything in front of our house like they normally do. Everything was very quiet.”

When I later ask more people from Huechuraba, they tell me that not much happened on Av. Recoleta either.  On Facebook, the expat groups are buzzing with pepole sharing their experiences, with tales of “dogs barking more than usual” and “no-one was people smiling or laughing” during the day.  I am not sure if dogs really were barking more or if maybe they wrote that because they expected it, but in all honesty the day passed as normal here with much less activity during the night than previous years.  How did it go where you are?

* There is an excellent ethnography by the anthropologist Clara Han, who actually attended the chaos in La Pincoya a few years ago. She writes of how one year the police simply did not show up, and how no-one then knew what to do. It’s interesting how Sep. 11 has evolved in Santiago, less as a date of rememberence and memorial or protest, but as a date when all rules in existence are to be broken.  You can download her work here.

Notes from the Street: Jose´s Story

On Thursday night we were awoken by that most beloved of sounds – flaites.

This is nothing new for us, but that night we were both struck by the sheer desperation we heard in the voice of the man yelling beneath our window.

Don’t worry, he wasn’t demanding Luis come down and fight with him, he was requesting the presence of another.  He kept up his ranting/raving/screaming/pleading/threatening/begging for a good hour but the other man in question did a sensible no-show.  Instead, our friend was joined by several others who upped the volume by telling him to shut his flaming piehole.

Someone once asked me “how can you live there?” They then swiftly followed this up with “I’d never live in a house in Santiago because I’ll get robbed” and it is true that occasionaly I feel fear (especially because although our dog sounds like a bear, she’s so old she can’t even walk to her kennel without taking a rest en route).

We are fortunate because it just so happens that the family who run the street also happen to be decent people. Its a conundrum to say that because, yes, they do break the law but once you have the social etiquette down, they are perfectly nice people.  It helps that they all have children (they live as an extended family) because kids are the same everywhere. You have already met Maria, so now I shall introduce you to Jose.


The first time I met Jose without Luis I was scared. I was scared of the street, scared of the loiterers that lingered on the footpaths, scared of the language – hell I was even scared of the old lady next door because I heard her shouting all day long.  The Spanish I knew clearly wasn’t enough because when Jose greeted me in his shop with a “Como ha estado?” I had no idea what he meant.  Combined with the tattooes across his hands, knuckles and arms and they made one more reason to feel intimidated. Everytime I left the house and entered the store I felt like I was naked with a big sign above my head flashing GRINGA.  Every time I fumbled my way through saying “marrequeta” (or god forbid topping up my cellphone) the queue behind me would grow until I’d turn around and see the staring faces of my entire neighborhood.  Jose is not flaite, but he was in jail for a few years (hence the tattoos).  He was in with a few Canadians actually, who taught him a few words of English, which in itself would make for an extremely interesting story.  I’ve never felt confident enough to ask Jose about that time, but maybe one day I can share more of his story.  Regardless, Jose is friendly and smiley with a daughter Emilio’s age (who is going to be a real stunner when she grows up).  He is married to Graciela, a woman incredibly shy and sweet with me but when shit hits the fan on the street she turns into something kind of akin to a ninja. Because no matter how aggressive and dangerous the men may get here, the truth of the matter is that women run this show.


The sister of Graciela is Luisa and no matter what her faults are, she has earnt my respect. No-one I have met has the strength of this woman.  When things get really dangerous here, she confronts it and she is the reason that safety here has increased in the last year. While the men in the family go from job to job, Luisa works hard every single day to the point where I have never really heard her leave the house.

I can say that because we live directly adjacent to one another, to the point that with our curtains open we can actually peer into each other’s rooms.  Because there are more than twenty people living on their property and daily life is communal, alot of time is spent calling instructions or keeping people in line. I feel like I have come to know the family intimately. I know all their names, recognize every voice, can smell their lunch cooking and occasionally, they get a glimpse of me sitting on the toilet (darn you Emilio for opening the door!).

When my dad stayed for three weeks last year, he was bothered by their constant racket. “Don’t they every shut up?” He’d lament, night after night, and at the time I moaned with him. I have now grown so accustomed to them that they have become as comforting to me as the nightime sound of pukekos in the NZ bush.  I’d really miss them – honestly – if they weren’t there.  Even the sound of the old lady vomiting the morning after too much “happy time” the night before.

The family do not sleep. The children seem to be awake every time I get up during the night, and the grandma (we call her alcochofa – long story) spends alot of time doing drugs (like I said, we hear all). They love a cause for celebration and Luisa ensures every possible occasion is attended to. Her entrepeneurship astounds me. They sell the best ceviche and pebre of my life HANDS DOWN in Jose’s store and every weekend there are empanadas or completos.  Depending what’s on, they sell flowers, kites, teddy bears, toys – you name it, they’ll have it.

The famous empanadas!

You already know how my mind works if you read Santiago’s Children.  If you have read any of my blogs then you will know I am not about making quick judgements. I like the family of Jose, Graciela and Luisa because they have always been honest, friendly and helpful with me. When Emilio was ill, Jose – like all of Zapata – was a shoulder to lean on. There are boundaries though.  The social rules of Chile or even Santiago generally do not apply in friendships such as these. This calls for the understanding of what is choro (brave/hard) and what is not.  What crosses the line and what does not. My friends are not delinquents like the flaites are but they are borderline.  They are known as chorizos. An affront on their honor calls for swift repreive. There is no such thing as appearing weak.  This is no sense of 100% trust because outsiders can never be one of the pack. They defend and keep their own valiently with no regard for anyone else.  Most of them are around drugs and many of them have not had easy lives. They speak differently, adding articles and pronouns when they shouldn’t and the modulations and inflections in their tone is different to that of Santiaguinos elsewhere.  They use alot of slang, and sometimes coa (originally jail slang).  I don’t have a problem with them because I know they will help me if anything were to happen.  It’s different with the flaites, but even that is more complicated than most people understand.  If anything is taken from this brief glimpse into their lives today I hope that it is a realization. A realization that no matter how someone talks, or how they dress or what their life choices may have been, they are people too. 

In the Presence of Cocaine

Today on the metro I stood behind two very respectable gentlemen who were comparing photos of their marijuana plants. Although I personally was amused by this very public display, drugs have been on my mind lately.  I have been thinking about them more ever since I encountered a rather aggressive woman  in the local corner store the other night, who was not impressed by my Spanish accent and who also happened to be flying so high she could barely keep her eyes open.

In all the expat blogs I have read, very few seem to have touched upon the issue of drugs. When I asked the English-speaking community the other day about pasta base half thought I was talking about an Italian sauce and the other denied its existence in Santiago.  This is concerning because drugs are tearing families apart and even the most respectable looking people may have a substance abuse problem (as encountered by Luis in his taxi!)

I am going to delve into this subject deeper over the next few blog posts which may make for uncomfortable reading, but for now let me introduce you to Hernan, and his story dealing with a drug addiction.

Hernan’s Story

When you look at Hernan, you see someone completely ordinary. He comes from a respectable family and his parents are good quiet people.  He has a degree and a decent job, and he brings home good money. In person he is quiet – a little nervous around the ladies – but a good person nonetheless.

Like most teenagers, Hernan experimented with drugs. It wasn’t until he was steadily working that things began to change.  During this time, one of his friends had become particularly partial to cocaine and together they began using regularly. As each night became a whirlwind of high’s and low’s, Hernan started pushing away his regular friends and instead turned to ones that shared similar interests. In this new world, it became the norm to spend the whole night using, until he was spending all of his wages on drugs for his friends.

In search of the high that was becoming ever elusive, Hernan began taking cocaine every day until the point came when he could not function without it. When his parents finally noticed  (its a visually subtle substance, after all) they immediately intervened and sent him to a rehabiltation centre.  That was only half the battle.  Coming clean is a process almost as shattering as getting addicted, and although he is out now, it is sometimes hard to stay on the right path when there is a stigma of addiction upon you.

His friends, that had become dependent upon the cocaine he’d buy them, have now all turned to pasta base, a derivitive of cocaine that is stronger, ten times more addictive and very, very cheap.

  The high that comes from drugs is as addictive to the mind as the ingredients are upon the body.  Narcotic News explains that “Cocaine is a powerfully addictive drug. Thus, an individual may have difficulty predicting or controlling the extent to which he or she will continue to want or use the drug” .The website Drug Abuse describes cocaine as “the single most powerful central nervous system stimulant” that can cause “cardiac arrest and death.”  However, it counters, it is “street cocaine” rather than pure cocaine that causes the most concern.  Narcotic News further states that cocaine in itself is not a new drug; coca leaves have been used for thousands of years while, in the 19oo’s, cocaine was included in the treatment for many illnesess.  Today, cocaine that is bought on the street has been mixed with so many additives and altered through numerous processing methods that it’s form is greatly different from pure cocaine.

What was it that drove Hernan to drugs? On paper, his life was excellent. Did he do it to fit in? To escape something? To deal with stress or a broken heart? Lonliness? Hernan, like many others, is unable to answer this question, hence why the world’s most famous addict, Russell Brand, labels addiction as a disease. Whatever your opinion may be on drugs, Hernan’s opinions will always be stronger. He feels remorse, sadness, embarrassment, anger, regret and intense disappointment in himself. He also still struggles against the call of the drug, which has affected his mind and body so deeply he may never fully recover. It can be the easiest thing in the world to condemn those of us who make different choices, but sometimes life isn’t always presented in black and white.  When I look at Hernan I see a bit of his mother in his eyes, and I recall his father in his smile. I know that his family love him, and I also know that he loves them. He is a person – one of us – that turned to drugs in a moment of weakness and … that was all it took.  Coming clean requires great strength, but without support around you, it is difficult to find that strength.  With so many families in Santiago suffering drug addictions, my question is where will they find that strength?

Give a little heart to those who need it most

Notes from the Street: Santiago’s Children

For Santiago’s Children

When the smog hangs like a blanket in the sky, it can be hard to remember days of blue. You breathe it in, sucking it deep into your lungs to send it swimming through your veins, day after day, until the moment comes when you cannot remember how fresh air is supposed to be. Instead it just lingers there above you, always reaching you but not always seen, a heavy cloud of grey that taints a place that could almost be perfect.

That is how I see Santiago.   I call this city my home and I don’t want to leave, but it is not always wonderful. I am not burdened by this “grass is always greener on the other side” complex so I almost never compare Chile to my birth country. This does not make me blind to recognizing the issues at hand, however I try to view what happening here in its own context. Chile is not New Zealand. Santiago is not Chile. Santaguino’s are a whole different type of person to those in the far north. Even within Santiago there are multiple levels of experiences occurring. Many expats (and locals) recognize that there is a societal tier structure known as ‘class’ existing here, but it is difficult for them to understand what they have not lived. And vice versa. We all only know what we come to know, after all.

This is not going to be a post on how classism is flourishing in Santiago. I do not want to start a conversation about a topic that can be so very, very polarising. Every time we talk about people in terms of what they have, we create boundaries. Some boundaries are healthy, like when I tell Emilio to stop putting his hand in the toilet. Others become more like barriers, that instead of protecting you, rise up and block out the sun just like Santiago’s dirty smog. But it is the sun that gives us life. So what are we denying ourselves when we allow society to label us and then we turn around and judge others with those labels?

I am a New Zealander. When I lived there, the nation was divided into factions like everywhere else, and we only really came over weepy under the flag when the All Blacks won the rugby. But when we are overseas, we band together as “the kiwis” and wax lyrical about vegemite, walking barefoot (across scorching tarmac) and exaggerate our “she’ll be right” attitude.   It is similar in Santiago. I have noticed a propensity of locals slamming their country but then change their tune the second an extranjero agrees.  My point is is that the idea of ‘nationhood’ and ‘cultural identity’ are myths, hence why there are numerous social science disciplines out there investigating these concepts at this very moment. What is certain? That we are human. That we feel emotion, bleed when we are cut, breathe. Sometimes “we dream the same dream and want the same things” as well. Every time we define ourselves by our colour, our beliefs, our heritage, our jobs, our schools, or our salaries, we are simply placing more and more labels onto our backs to carry. Or maybe they calcify our hearts, so that when we see someone sleeping on the sidewalk or robbing us to pay for their drug addictions, we shrug our shoulders or scream blue murder … neither of which come close to getting to the heart of the problem and solving it.

Many people will read this post and disagree. Some may even insult me. Some may throw around the “left-wing” label like I am the devil incarnate. All of them will miss the point and are likely always going to. This blog is not for them. Instead it is for the people who can still remember the sun when they look up into Santiago’s smoggy sky.


Maria is eleven. She is slightly chubby with a huge smile and rather wide-set eyes. She has long black hair that is always tied up and she goes to school in Lampa. She lives with twenty extended family members in Recoleta. There are two entrances into where she lives, through the corner shop her uncle runs or via the door opening out into a side street. There are two houses adjacent to one another in front of a concrete yard, and the whole complex has been hurriedly and cheaply built over the years. Sheets have been pulled across the open spaces that peek into the neighbor’s property which also offer protection from the rain. There is the sound of non-stop chatter. Life is shared: doors are always left open, they all contribute to the microcosm of family needs, and every Sunday Maria and her family eat a late lunch outside in the courtyard. The smell of asado, fish or Cazuela drift away into the afternoon wind. Maria cannot read well and she cannot count past twenty with confidence. Before I showed her a picture of a giraffe, she had never heard of one before. She told me that there are two toddlers that live where she does and neither have many toys. They love to draw though, and draw all day long. When Maria came to my house she was amazed at two things: what we had … and what we didn’t have. She’d never seen a tablet before but she couldn’t believe we didn’t watch television. She picked up all of Emilio’s toys in wonder.   Some of his simplest toys she didn’t understand how to use. Everything she touched and marvelled at. But she mostly marvelled at my son. They played very well while I just lingered about. She made him laugh, and he made her laugh. In those moments, it made no difference that neither could speak the same language (Emilio still speaks Baby, after all) nor that their world’s were a little bit different. They were just two children, enjoying a funny moment.

Maria’s auntie deals drugs that is delivered by Colombian’s who race about recklessly on a motorbike. This is not really unusual – the whole street deals drugs. It used to be really bad at one point, so the road became really unsafe. It used to be filled at all hours with slouching figures in baseball caps and ridiculously loud music. Maria’s aunties drove them all away when the new babies were born (the women are strong like that) and now there are only the residents, who are generally pretty quiet (but not always – eek!). Pasta base does rear its ugly head here and you can tell the users because you look into their eyes and see … nothing. Just an empty, empty sea. It breaks my heart.

I like Maria but she is not really my friend. This is not because she is poorer than I am, or because of the dodgy figures in her family. She is not really my friend because she is 11 and I am 28 – almost two decades apart. But I don’t dislike her and I care for her wellbeing as I would anyone else. Same goes for her family, some of whom I am quite friendly with, others whom I do not know. I want for her exactly the same as I want for my son, and that is education. Not because I want him to be able to get a good job one day (a bonus!) but because I want him to learn about the differences in the world and its people. I want him to grow up making mistakes but always being confident in who he is, where he is from and where he is going. Happiness is not something that comes from money but is a decision that you make for yourself. What is the biggest area for concern in Santiago in my opinion, you ask? Education. But education comes from all around us. I am here interacting with people like Maria every day, and every day they are learning about me and my life. Now I want to educate the other people like me, who live in this beautiful city. I want to humanize these people that are on our peripheries and show the world that they are beautiful too. I owe that to her, to my son and to every child in Santiago. I want us to all start clearing away the smog in front of our eyes. Please do it with me.  #queridarecoleta

A Volunteer Initiative

hoda9We are very happy because we have found our first benefactor! Prominent artist Hoda Madi has offered Organizacion Ojos Abiertos 20% from each piece of artwork sold. This is money – like all donations we may receive – that is purely directed towards buying materials or providing the transportation costs of guest speakers at the schools.  Thank you Hoda!

You can buy her artwork here:


If you would like to help us with any contributions, please contact me at: hlcordery@gmail.com.  We are in the process of legalizing and then setting up a foundation bank account with Banco Estado. We will provide to all contributors an email showing where the money has gone. We are not motivated by profit and we are all volunteers.

Poblacion La Pincoya

‘Life in Debt’ is an ethnography set in Santiago, Chile by the anthropologist Clara Han. Han uses Political Economy theory to trace the influential trails that were lain down during the years of Augusto Pinochet’s dictatorship (1973-1990) and then furthered by increasing global economic interest in Chile. In my first essay I analysed how these economic and political decisions have become embedded in society over the passing years, along with a brief critique of the limitations of Political Economy theory. The following essay is an elaboration of this criticism, where I will apply two contemporary theoretical approaches to Han’s ethnography in the hope of divulging a larger picture of understanding of the how and why behind today’s socio-cultural constructs. My first approach is ‘multiculturalism’ because the influences at work are not limited to politics and economics – instead there is an array of factors that have arisen due to the shrinking physical and metaphorical borders of nations. The second is ‘feminist anthropology’ due to the fact that Han’s data is thick with gender roles and distinctions that impact upon the societal structure.


It is worth describing in more detail what life is like in La Pincoya, the section of Huechuraba where Han bases her participant-observations. To do this, I draw upon my own experiences in the field. I live in a suburb called Recoleta, which is joined to Huechuraba on its north-east side. I visit Huechuraba regularly because it is the home of my partner Luis’ family, some of whom live in La Pincoya and others who live on its periphery. Huechuraba and Recoleta share many of the same characteristics, and some of these may be evident in other suburbs of Santiago or even cities of the world (Bourgois, 1995: 29). Unlike Recoleta which is uniformly the same, La Pincoya is like an island in the middle of two distinctly wealthier areas: the business sector which is comprised of tall towers, apartment blocks and offices of international businesses, and Pedro Fontova Norte, a leafy residential section with gated and well-kept streets. Both La Pincoya and Recoleta contain ramshackle and badly-constructed houses, roads in ill condition and regular issues with flooding, water quality and electricity. Drugs are prevalent and many streets house dealers who sell cocaine and pasta base, the latter of which is a big problem but is relatively unheard of by those who come from wealthier backgrounds (I have met many people who were oblivious to its existence). Han points out that life in these areas is communal, with interconnectedness across a wider field of relationships, and this is correct (2012: 33). Neighbours can often be seen sitting together on their door steps and talking, or enjoying street parties during national holidays and football matches. The small stores which pepper the streets every few blocks (and sometimes group together in friendly competition) become places of regular social activity for residents (and as a result the service is slow). La Pincoya and Recoleta are generally considered to be poor and dangerous by other people, most notably because of the flaite[1] street culture that is typical of low-income neighbourhoods. This construct was unheard of a generation ago and its roots can be traced back to the economic conditions that Pinochet advanced. Much of Han’s research concerns it, however she does not expand on it much despite it being hugely relevant to a conversation about La Pincoya. The flaite world has many participants and it directly relates to multiculturalism, so it is here that I will begin my new analysis of Han’s data.


The anthropologist Arjun Appadurai stated that anthropology faces a “changing social, territorial and cultural reproduction of group identity. As groups migrate, regroup in new locations, reconstruct their histories and reconfigure (…) ethnography [thus] takes on a slippery, nonlocalized quality” (1996 in Morris, 2015: 1). Actors now found themselves in a world that changed rapidly and, through globalisation, was filled with interaction and exchange (Inda & Rosaldo, 2002 in Morris, 2015: 1). Therefore, anthropology had to evolve to understand culture as something that was constructed and reproduced through unintended actions, both stabilizing and negotiable (Moore & Sanders, 2006: 17-18). Appadurai began by changing anthropological terminology to suit the new requirements. Ethnography became an ‘ethnoscape’ because its link to the word ‘landscape’ evokes connotations of ambiguity (Morris, 2015: 1). The influence of both high and low technologies was recognized as the ‘technoscape’ while ‘finanscape’ followed the hard-to-trace trail of economic capital (Morris, 2015: 1). The effect of these ‘scapes’ is known as ‘deterritorialization’ whereby detachment from location also detached the actor from identity (Morris, 2015: 1). The theorist Ghassan Hage writes that his guiding philosophy as a multiculturalist theorist is “how do humans struggle to make their lives viable (…) understanding people from their point of view” without resorting to any politics (1998 in Morris, 2015: 2).

Hage uses the term ‘passive belonging’ to categorize the way people construct their identities through such things as nation and culture (Morris, 2015: 4). Passive belonging refers to the feeling of belonging to a nation, rather than the idea that the nation is one’s own (Morris, 2015: 4). The word ‘passive’ is interesting here, as it belies the idea of quiet acceptance, or that a person’s voice is not loud enough to be heard by control systems. Its opposite is ‘governmental belonging’ whereby the actor feels entitlement and ownership over the nations (Morris, 2015: 4). Applied to La Pincoya, there are two types of belonging that are visible. Many people belong passively by accepting their position at the lower end of society, and an example of this can be found in Han’s introduction. It is the night of September 11 (the anniversary of the coup d’etat), and residents are waiting for the yearly confrontation with police (2012: 1). Bonfires are ready to be lighted and the streets are lined with people waiting for the arrival of the police so that protests can begin (Han, 2012: 2). However, that year (2005) the police did not come. The general feeling of disappointment permeated the air, as if the protest could not go ahead with the police audience. This is an example of passivity, because the protest did not have meaning unless it was given meaning by the state. The protest was a “performance”, “fear was mixed with a sense of the formulaic”, waiting for the “choreography dance of bullets, tear gas” (Han, 2012: 1-2).

       The Flaites, however, belong in an aggressive way that is akin to governmental belonging. These are people with little regard for rules, who embrace anarchy as their right after years of inflicted wrongs. We get a glimpse of this when during the same September 11 commemoration, “a few youths began to laugh and fire pistols in the air” (Han, 2012: 2). As a result of these two conflicting belonging types, the feeling of deterritorialization is exaggerated, which then forces people to find some way of identifying themselves. Belonging to a low social class or a type of social construct such as the flaite phenomenon, becomes “a mobilizing concept (…) to define their distinctiveness within an increasingly global and globalized world” (Moore & Sanders, 2006: 18).

The passive nature of La Pincoya’s residents can be linked to the political, such as the devastating memories left behind after the dictatorship, and the economic, such as the push and pull of capitalism. People are held entrenched within class systems that are a direct result of both, as Han correctly observed, but globalisation, and therefore multiculturalism, had their part to play too. For example, much of Chile’s slang is borrowed from English (“did you catch that?” became “cachai?”) and there are certain elements of flaite culture that can be traced to European culture. For example, the standard dress includes sports labels, running shoes and tracksuits in a similar vein to Britain’s ‘chavs’, whom they also share similar social characteristics with. Further, the term flaite has been linked to the English ‘fly’, which in Spanish is volar, a word that refers to the ‘high’ of drugs, also a common denominator of of flaites and England’s chavs (Han, 2012: 243).

In Hage’s terms, borrowing from other cultures can be viewed as the process of enrichment (in Morris, 2015: 3). To illustrate, Hage gives the example of White Australians who, by placing themselves at the centre of Australian belonging, can “walk around and enrich themselves” with what they want from multicultural offerings (1998 in Morris, 2015: 3). The flaites in La Pincoya operate in a similar way, although against the other classes of Santiago. They want to buy many of the same commodities, such as Kevin’s desire for a car or Senora Flora’s purchase of stereos and televisions. This enrichment through purchasing power reveals the overwhelming presence that capitalism has over the residents of La Pincoya, and this is furthered by what Hage labels as the “Crisis for Hope’ (Morris, 2015: 6). This arises from the effect of globalisation, which places the Western world as a modern, better ‘other’ for many of the residents of La Pincoya (Moore & Sanders, 2006: 18).  “Dreams of social mobility [are] one of the main modes of hoping” Hage writes, and this transfers into “cultural capital” that becomes embodied in identity (2000 in Morris, 2015: 6). Han notes that for the people of La Pincoya, commodities are linked with identities (‘domestic relations’, 2012: 33) or connected to labour capital (‘Kevin and the Car’, 2012: 35), or a driving push towards drugs (‘pasta base’, 2012: 35). Acquiring status through commodities is also evident in uniform purchasing, with things such as clothes (see flaite dress above) or house-related items. Han points out that many of La Pincoya’s residents are in debt to department stores (2012: 31) while burglaries are a fact of life and often attributed to flaite culture. Such examples highlight the fact that multiculturalism, globalisation and political economic approaches are not secular but interconnected, and this connection must be utilised to provide a more detailed ethnoscape of La Pincoya.

Feminist Anthropological Approach

One of the approaches that would be beneficial would be a closer look at domestic dynamics, particularly because Han devotes much attention to men, women and offspring in her ethnography. Previous anthropological accounts have been labelled as considerably ‘androcentric’ or restricted to the gaze of the male anthropologist upon the male actors (Feminist Anthropology, Morris, 2012: 4). Han differs because much of her participation-observation occurs with the family matriarch, Senora Flora, and she includes in her gaze the relationships between Senora Flora and her spouse Rodrigo, as well as other couples within the wider family. This is an obvious foray into feminist anthropology because it takes into account how domestic relations can affect things like identity and culture, while also showing that it joins into a discussion of politics and economics in a web of connections.

Women, according to the feminist anthropologist Michelle Rosaldo, have traditionally been based in the home because a good portion of their adult lives is taken up by child rearing, thereby placing women in a domestic sphere more than in any other (1974 in Feminist Anthropology, Morris, 2015: 7). The home, therefore, appears throughout Han’s work because, as the anthropologist Janet Carsten affirms, “Kinship is made in and through houses and houses are the social relations of those who inhabit them” (in Han, 2012: 15). Han writes that the houses are referred to as ‘houses of blood’ because the relations contained within anoint them with extreme importance (2012: 16). Women in their roles as sisters, mothers, daughters and friends, sustain the house to strengthen the relationships not only within but outside the house as well – with neighbours – and the forging of these close bonds helps all the residents to “mitigate the forces of economic precariousness” (Han, 2012: 16). It was close connections such as these that allowed Han to integrate so successfully into what is generally regarded as a tight-knit, untrusting and wary community. In 1999, Han was invited into the poblacion through a meeting with a “feminist activist”, and she then followed a trail of female relationships that ultimately lead her to Senora Flora’s family: “through her daughter I met Ruby, and through Ruby I met Susana (…) they introduced me to their intimate kin, friends and immediate neighbours” (Han, 2012: 16). She was accepted readily because each member before on the trail had trusted her, and this in turn allowed her to become privy to sensitive information. Han engaged in “everyday activities such as helping to sew, looking after children, doing the laundry, learning how to wire a doorbell or rig an electricity meter” (2012: 17). She didn’t just participate with the women, therefore, but with the men also. This is interesting because it allows one to speculate that the sway held by women in the community was strong enough for Han to be accepted by the men.

Henrietta Moore wrote that “feminist anthropology has gone beyond an anthropology of women in many ways” at the very least because by nature it included a whole realm of other strata (Lewin, 2006: 20). We witness this when Han introduces us to Leticia and the possibilities contained within the female role. In Chapter Four Han explain that under the leadership of Salvador Allende (in power before Pinochet), there “advanced a ‘double celebration’ of women’s class militancy and their unique roles as mothers” (2012:132). Some critics have argued that this splits women into restraining categories, and Han writes that, while the advancement of women as mothers and militants is striking, it also highlights the limitations in place by sexuality (2012: 132). Leticia, a woman who was exiled to Argentina in 1987 for being a female militant, and who was separated from her from her children until 1995, is a good case in point (Han, 2012: 129-131). She suffers from what she terms the “neoliberal depression” due to self-inflicted feelings of guilt towards her children, and this sees her “speak in a language that the others do not understand; not even my own children understand me” (Han, 2012: 130). It is thus difficult for Leticia to reconcile her two roles as militant and mother, because she had chosen to take on both the traditionally feminine and the traditionally masculine role at the same time (Han, 2012:132). Han explains that men and women are defined by roles that work together to give life to the “sovereign in different, but conjoined ways” (2012: 133). Men are the figurative heads of the households, while women are pulled towards both state and their husbands (2012: 134). Her role also has the ability to directly affect the male because his role as head of the household is not always fixed, for example he may be prevented “from being a proper head of household by [the giving of] illegitimate children” (2012: 134). Further, while reproduction is considered as the way to be a good citizen for a woman, for a man it is likewise, “the certainty of paternity becomes a crucial aspect of political community” (Han, 2012: 134).

The intimate concerns of Leticia from a mothers perspective allows us to come full circle and tie in with the previous sections. Due to concern with the negative connotations behind La Pincoya life and flaite culture, many mothers are praying for sons who are ‘caseros’ or homebodies, rather than men of the street, or caballeros Han, 2012: 16). A great degree of responsibility is placed upon the mother for how her children – particularly her sons – succeed. Leticia cries, “look at all my children (…) Julieta did not finish high school (…) Johnathan lost everything (…) there is no case to be made [for the little ones] they had to repeat a year in high school” (Han, 2012:136). Rather than place blame upon factors such as public education which is admittedly of low calibre (and is frequently in the press as the subject for protest), or the push and pull power of things such as social pressure and media, Leticia blames herself: “the only thing that unites all the children is the mother, and I say, perhaps, it was I who the cause. I failed” (Han, 2012: 136). These feelings of blame and guilt provide good opportunities for further study into identity constructs, and particularly how it ties into the Chilean views of the education system, thus proving that it is a multi-faceted issue and certainly not limited to gender.


       The above has been my attempt at reworking Han’s data in a way that helps provide a more detailed picture of life in La Pincoya. Rather than approach her work with a radically different theoretical framework that would perhaps downplay the role of political economy, I have endeavoured to instead place further rungs on the metaphorical ladder, in the hope of bringing us closer to the top. It would be impossible to ignore the importance that the political and economical have had on the formation of the superstructure, but likewise the consideration of other impacts is necessary. Multiculturalism and globalisation have been directly involved in the construction of identity, particularly for their role in the making of a new construct, flaite street culture. Further, this also relates to the political and economic landscapes in a way that can only be described as interconnected. Feminist anthropology, on the other hand, takes us into the home rather than the street, by helping us to know the inhabitants of La Pincoya and the domestic relations within. This is not a world separated from the state, however. Instead, it impinges in “multiple ways (…) layered into people’s lives” as the case of Leticia highlights (Han, 2012:17). Therefore, these two new theoretical approaches have only served to strengthen the bonds between capitalism and those structures which influence identity, culture, tradition and memory. I close here with the affirmation that ‘Life in Debt’ is an exhaustive treasure chest of anthropological insight, it’s only limitation being the same one that confronts all anthropologists, namely, how can one seek an answer to a question when it is hopelessly intertwined with a score of others?


Word Count (inclusive of titles and references): 3239


Bourgois, Phillippe (1995). “From Jibaro to Crack Dealer: Confronting the Restructuring          of Capitalism in El Barrio”. In Jayne Schneider and Rayna Rapp (eds), Articulating Hidden Histories: Exploring the Influence of Eric R. Wolf. Berkeley: University of    California Press, pp. 125-141

Han, Clara (2012). Life in Debt: Times of Care and Violence in Neoliberal Chile.           University of California Press. Kindle Edition.

Lewin, E (ed). (2006). Feminist Anthropology pp 1-38. .Malden MA: Blackwell.

Moore, Henrietta L and Todd Sanders (2006). Anthropology in Theory: Issues in           Epistemology. Maiden MA: Blackwell Publishing, pp 1-21.

Morris, Carolyn (2015). “Lecture 11: Multicultralism-Hage”. “Lecture 12: Feminist       Anthropology. In 146.213 Anthropological Enquiry. School of Humanities and        Social Sciences. Massey University, Palmerston        North: extramural.

Wolf, Eric R (1982). Introduction. Europe and the People Without History. Berkeley:   University of California Press, pp. 3-23.


[1] Flaite is not a self-identified term. It is the general term attributed by the residential majority however it often has negative connotations due to its association with drugs and crime. They refer to themselves as chorizos however this is little-used by outside actors. Due to the fact that flaite is the majority-used definition and given that the negative connotations are a necessary part of the identifiable construct, I will continue use the term.