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A Grateful Immigrant

Some people are surprised to learn that not only did I immigrate to Chile, but I also renounced my American citizenship after I became a Chilean. Indeed, I prefer freedom, and with all its faults Chile is an even freer place than the United States of America. I do not mean to say that the Chilean state is good or without its faults; not at all. I am a libertarian and according to my experience, the theoretical framework of my Worldview, and the empirical results that I have seen many scholars come up with: all States are vile.

In Chile there is no justice, there is crime; it is a lying, dishonest, deceitful and distrustful society with an odious bureaucracy that is coupled with annoying hassles and hurdles to get anything done. People tend to be overtly selfish, especially when driving or shopping. A large percentage of professionals and tradesmen seem to be incompetent. The Marxist minority is disgusting and irksome. These things are annoying. However, there are dozens of excellent reasons to be in Chile: beautiful landscapes, good medical care, low taxes, privatization of pensions and former state-run enterprises, affordable housing (in Chilean First World places), the best anti-seismic construction in the world, good food, a large number of libertarians, little political correctness, scant radical ecology or radical feminist policies, a strong family focus, strong opposition to abortion, etc.

I left the U.S.A. and I eliminated my citizenship because I did not want to be linked with that state and I adopted the considerably less malignant Chilean one. I am certainly more optimistic about the future of Chile than that of North America. Chile is my homeland now and I am working to make it even more libertarian.

What do I think about the old country? Not much; I do not feel any moral obligation to liberate the U.S.A. from its evil, nor raise funds from here to free its serfs from their regulatory, tax and politcally-correct slavery. Am I a degenerate or indolent for not caring about fixing the big mess up yonder? I do not think so. Instead, I recommend that North Americans (and Europeans) come to Chile.

For me, life is clearly a struggle between good and evil, in general trying to help others be a little freer, even though my main desire is for Chile to move towards greater liberty. Such freedom is a strong magnet that will automatically attract oppressed immigrants—similar to Hong Kong in the Twentieth Century. My idea is not original, since during the Nineteenth Century and the first decades of the Twentieth, Valparaíso, Chile fulfilled that magnetic function. I want Valparaíso to regain that virtue during the Twenty-First Century so that, once again, the world’s oppressed, poor, ignorant and persecuted will reach its shores alon with the rest of the country.

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I am a grateful immigrant because Chile welcomed me on March of 1996 when I was thrity-three years old—without a job, with less than USD$10,000 in savings, with five children under eight years old (and another one to be born that July), and without being able to speak much Spanish. We all had a temporary visas when we arrived, obtained before boarding the plane, but nothing else of significant earthly value besides courage, resourcefulness, dedication and diligence.

In addition, I have been rather serious about promoting Chile to others. Since 2006, I have publicized and “sold” the country to many Americans (and several Europeans), with many of them having come down to stay (a few in conditions similar mine in 1996). Now, most of these folks speak, more or less, in Spanish. Many of them work here and are applying for Chilean nationality. I am happy for them and I hope they serve as great blessings for Chile.

With the help of some fabulous individuals (i.e., Chicago boys or, in one case, a UCLA boy) who trusted me and hired me even though I spoke Spanish poorly, boosted my career growth and later facilitated the development of some projects in Chile. I would be remiss not to mention and thank, in a special way, Álvaro Vial, who even signed up to be my personal guarantor, allowing to lease my first home in 1997, as well as Harald Beyer, Cristian Laurroulet, and later (in 2008) Francisco Labbé, among others.

In mentioning these fine men, I am not implying that I got work on account of favoritism. For instance, to get my first full time job in Chile I had to pass a “test” before being hired by the Finis Terra University. It consisted in me teaching a semester-long course (in English) about free market and public policy topics, for authorities and professors of the university. Thus, I earned the job based on my merits. I am infinitely grateful for the opportunity they gave me. Also, nobody claimed that I was going to take away the work of a Chilean that might have otherwise gotten my university post. Its authorities, with the exception of Adelio Pipino, were pro-immigrant.

Now, I want to help other immigrants as others have helped me—especially considering the great influx of immigrants that has arrived since 2015. Accordingly, I am especially happy to see Baptists (of which I am one) working with Haitian immigrants to learn Spanish and the Bible. I am libertarian in word and deed, and there is no man more naturally libertarian than a Baptist.

Unlike other Chileans who disdain immigrants, how could I be anti-immigrant after having such a good reception in Chile? I have been settled in the country for the better part of twenty-two years, working, paying taxes, participating in politics and active in church, writing 1,505 letters to the editor, hundreds of blog entries pertaining to Chile, and have been the subject of many press interviews. My language skills still leave something tp be desired. Yet, I was relatively comfortable writing this article in Spanish (having had people who helped me correct mistakes), before putting it into English. Another issue: note that my second daughter (Rachel) was born here, in Quilpué, on July 7, 1996 and is a Chilean citizen, too. I have another son who opted for nationality as well. For so many reasons, I have always felt welcome to Chile.

Álvaro Vial and Héctor Hevia (among others) told me that when they went to study at the universities of Chicago and Western Michigan, respectively, they were surprised by how well the gringos received them, willing to help and show kindness to an unknown foreigner. I must agree that the generosity and volunteerism of Americans is unparalleled in the world. (It is, after all, a country made up of once persecuted, oppressed and poor ignorant immigrants or their descendants, right?)

Upon seeing me in 1996, they told me that they were goig to take the opportunity to return the favor of what they had received in America by being generous and helpful to me, without expecting anything in return. At other times, different men helped me, too, especially in 2008 and 2015-2016. It is worth mentioning that Pablo Baraona, Hermógenes Pérez de Arce and super-libertario Álvaro Bardón nearly became my fans by helping me become yet another emblematic (or enigmatic?) Chilean libertarian who believed in the economic policies they envoked under Pinochet, and who showed his preference to live in these furthest confines of the world instead of the “fabulous” United States. I’m grateful for them too.

Blurb in <i>La Estrella</i> (The Star) of Valparaíso in January 1996 alerting people to the fact that the "<i>gringo loco</i>" was going to arrive.jpg

They put this notice for me at La Estrella in Valparaíso (January 1996). Mrs. Marta Ramírez (another fabulous person) answered and leased us a country house in Lo Hidalgo, between Limache and Villa Alemana. I am grateful again because he was interested in my case. From there, I launched my life in Chile. It has not been easy, but I have shown that you can achieve success as an immigrant in Chile.

Having considered the main provisions of the bill championed by President Piñera (April 2018) to modify Chilean immigration legislation, I think it will cause more distortions than solutions. Would it not be better to privatize the border? In what sense am I different from the Haitian immigrant so frequently despised today? My skin is white, my eyes are greenish, and my university and postgraduate education (coupled with my professional career) is far better than theirs. Are those the reasons why I was preferred? The differences I have with immigrants from Argentina, Colombia and Venezuela are relatively minor compared to the massive ones I have with Haitians—except that those folks already speak Spanish as their first language, unlike my unpolished drivel—wherein they beat me hands-down. All of that evidence leads me to believe that there is an immigrant prototype that the Chilean government under Piñera likes.

At any rate, I have empathy for the immigrants who have been coming to Chile since 2015. I hope that Chile is beneficial to them, and that they will consider becoming part of our pro-life libertarian political party (and perhaps ponder becoming Baptists, too!). Normally those who have fled oppression and social malice, having been persecuted by the Left, come to their new homeland willing to oppose the slavish, often violent and bloodthristy Left that beleaguered it. Just how beneficial would attracting so many new adherents that detest the Left be for the libertarian Right?

This article was published (in Spanish) by the popular, left-wing Chilean magazine The Clinic, on April 13, 2018.

Haz click aquí para ver la versión en español de este artículo.

John Cobin, Ph.D. Twitter

Visit AllAboutChile.com for discussion and forums about the country. Non-wealthy immigrants to Chile should also create a portable income by signing up to be a 51Talk online English teacher. Read more details about the job in my previous post on the subject.

 Dr. Cobin’s updated and enlarged 2017 book, Life in Chile: A Former American’s Guide for Newcomers, Fourth Edition, is the most comprehensive treatise on Chilean life ever written, designed to help newcomers get settled in Chile. He covers almost every topic imaginable for immigrants. This knowledge is applied in his valet consulting service–Chile Consulting–where he guides expatriates through the process of finding a place to live and settle in Chile, helping them glide over the speed bumps that they would otherwise face in getting their visas, setting up businesses, buying real estate, investing in Chilean stocks or gold coins, etc. The cost is $129.

For a brief introduction consider Dr. Cobin’s abridged 2015 book (56 pages): Chile: A Primer for Expats ($19), offering highlights (somewhat outdated) found in the larger book. Buy Dr. Cobin’s Public Policy books at Amazon.com:

Overview of Nightlife and Activities for Younger People

There are many reasons to live in Santiago: jobs, business and networking, modernity, large First World areas, great medical care, extensive and modern shopping, amusement parks, bowling, golf, international access/airport hub and access to language schools or many people that speak English. Other than work and business, Viña del Mar can tick most of those boxes, albeit on a much smaller scale, and what lacks is just ninety minutes away in Santiago. What Viña has over Santiago is less traffic (except during the Summertime, when it can be a bit oppressive on the coast), cooler weather in Summer, ocean views and no air pollution. The rest of Chile pales by comparison to these two spots, and thus it is no wonder that well over ninety percent of the expats we have serviced settle in either Northeastern Santiago or Viña del Mar.

Nevertheless, one thing that often goes unnoticed is the needs of younger, usually single people, mainly in their 20s and 30s. Most expats that we see are 45 to 65 years old. A few come with children, but most do not. For that reason, these immigrants rarely ask me about what social life is like for younger people. Other than church groups, I really do not know–being a man in his 50s that likes the quiet pleasantries of Viña del Mar. So I asked my 27-year-old son what cities he prefers to meet people, go out and have fun: restaurants, dancing, pubs, shows, casinos, soccer matches, beaches, concerts, horse racing, movie theaters, whatever.

While one observation (my son’s views) is hardly scientific, I think it could be of interest to readers since he was partly raised here and has since lived in Chile for many years, attended graduate school here and is perfectly bilingual. He also gets out a fair amount.

I asked my wife to fill in bits of information she knows about Southcentral Chile. I have a few bits of information to add to the mix, too, based on locales I have seen and activities I have witnessed during my extensive travels in Chile.

In my son’s view, Northeastern Santiago is clearly the best choice. It is a “10”. However, other places are also good or fair, while most places are mediocre or outright terrible. Here are the rankings:

10 Valparaíso/Viña del Mar on New Year’s Eve and during Festival de Viña (around February 19-28)

8 Viña del Mar during the summertime (including Reñaca and south Concón)

7 Viña del Mar during the rest of the year

6,5 Concepción

6 Pucón or Villarrica (especially) and Puerto Varas during the summertime

5 La Serena and Iquique

4 Temuco and Valdivia

3.5 Puerto Montt and Rancagua

3 All other popular lakes and beaches during the summertime, Antofagasta

2 Arica, Talca, Curicó, Linares, Chillán, Los Ángeles, Punta Arenas, Coyhaique, Osorno, Calama, Copiapó, Los Andes, Quillota, Pucón and Villarrica and Puerto Varas during the rest of the year

1 Rural areas and small towns throughout Chile, other lakes and beaches during the rest of the year.

Take the ranking for what it is worth, but at least you now have an idea of what to expect in each area of the country. My son would not live anywhere but Northeastern Santiago or Viña del Mar, unless (of course) he was called to work in another city. Remember, too, that even if Viña del Mar is more suitable for his parent’s generation or retirees, there is still a fair amount for younger people to do and he can easily get to spots in Santiago by bus/metro in a couple hours for Friday and Saturday night–a virtue that no other provincial urban center provides (like Concepción–too far away).

In many ways, Viña del Mar is the superior choice if a young person does not have to work in Santiago every day. He gets the benefits of nightlife in both of those cities without having to put up with the disagreeable aspects of daily life in Santiago (smog, traffic, summertime heat). Overall, it seems pretty clear that young people will tend to be most comfortable and content with social life in either Northeastern Santiago or Viña del Mar.

Be sure to become a member of Escape America Now and gain access to the monthly webinar. Details at www.esccapeamerianow.info. Visit AllAboutChile.com for discussion and forums about the country.

Dr. Cobin’s updated and enlarged 2016 book, Life in Chile: A Former American’s Guide for Newcomers, is the most comprehensive treatise on Chilean life ever written, designed to help newcomers get settled in Chile. He covers almost every topic imaginable for immigrants. This knowledge is applied in his valet consulting service–Chile Consulting–where he guides expatriates through the process of finding a place to live and settle in Chile, helping them glide over the speed bumps that they would otherwise face in getting their visas, setting up businesses, buying real estate, investing in Chilean stocks or gold coins, etc. The cost is $149.

For a brief introduction consider Dr. Cobin’s abridged book (56 pages): Chile: A Primer for Expats ($19), offering highlights found in the two larger books. Buy Dr. Cobin’s Public Policy books at Amazon.com:

Christian Theology of Public Policy: Highlighting the American Experience (2006)

Bible and Government: Public Policy from a Christian Perspective (2003)

A Primer on Modern Themes in Free Market Economics and Policy (2009)

American Chilena? This is about as close as it gets.

You’ve heard me mention the Cobin scale for Chilean Spanish in the past. If not, here’s an entry I posted on it – The Cobin Scale of Spanish Proficiency.

For most of us, level 10 will be forever elusive. Unless we started studying Spanish at a young age, the learning curve can be long and challenging. But even those who are proficient in Spanish can find Chilean Spanish difficult.

As an adult, it will likely take you months to get to a level where you can form simple sentences, and it will be frustrating for you to get your point across. With hard work, dedication and good training, you could get slightly conversant in less than a year, but that would be exceptional. On the average, it takes adults at least three years of effort to become conversant. I’ve defined conversant as:

passably bilingual and “fluent;” can communicate with some difficulty, understand about 80%+ in social or church settings where the context is known, can give an intelligible lecture; basic writing can be done; can fill out government, job application and insurance or other forms; one regularly utters sentences in English unintentionally laced with Spanish words; Spanglish becomes more the norma and intelligible; one encounters about 20 new vocabulary words per week; books and newspapers can be read by looking up fewer than 5 words per page; little problem ordering food in restaurants.

Some families think they want to wait a few years before moving abroad, so that their children can mature before taking them to another culture. If that’s your plan, then let me offer you a challenge. There’s no better time in life to learn a new culture and language than when we’re children. Before twelve years of age, the child’s mind can intuitively pick up nuances and accents far better than an adult’s. This is even more pronounced with children immersed at younger ages.

I ran across an example of this recently and wanted to share it with you. Here’s a young American lady who married a Chilean (Chileno). I don’t know how young she was when she started learning Chilean Spanish, but I’d guess under ten years old. Her accent is all but absent. And her use of slang is excellent. In fact, she’s incredibly close to a 10 on the Cobin Scale of Spanish Proficiency.

She talks about the 10 things she loves about Chile: cazuela, ferias, peruvian food, good character of Chileans–“buena onda,” 6 months of post natal time off, carabineros (police), teletón, french bread–marraqueta, asados, natural beauty, and Chile’s many holidays.

I don’t know if there’s such a thing as an American Chilena. If not, this is probably as close as one can get.