First Impressions Re-visited

At the end of my stay in Chile, almost a year later, I reflected on what I wrote at the beginning of the year.

I called this piece: The Importance of Geographical Location

I can’t believe I made an attempt to break down Chilean pride at the beginning of the year. Patriotism is such a broad concept and to analyse this idea in relation to a whole nation is a big task. As Geert Hofstede states, “One should think twice before applying the norms of one person, group or society to another.” (2010, p.7) Chile is a long country full of diversity. Actually right now I’m writing this assessment on a 34 hour bus journey from Santiago to Arica (the Chilean town on the border of Peru), which only covers six of the fifteen regions of Chile. So imagine how long Chile is!

For the purpose of this re-visited cultural report I have to specify my focus to concentrate on the Chileans residing in the region of Bio Bio, just north of the lake District of Chile. As I have taken the opportunity to travel extensively through Chile (perhaps more than I have travelled through Australia) I have come to realise that people are shaped largely by where it is they live geographically. Chileans living in Santiago are very different to those living in Concepcion, even though these two places are the two largest cities of Chile. Yes, they are seemingly united by their language, including their vast range of Chilean jargon and their national history, but there are so many aspects separating their sense of self between each region. Lucy Lippard acknowledges this phenomenon as bioregionalism, stating the ideas as the opposition to “the imposition of artificial states or geographical borders and proposes remapping the world according to biological distinctions.” (1997, p.13) Nine months in Concepcion has shown me a glimpse of what makes a Chilean a member of the 8th region. 

To demonstrate how I have reached this new understanding that Chileans are more connected to what their geographically surroundings offer as opposed to their entire country, I will first mention how their current viewpoint towards aspects of their national history is shaped by their location and follow this by how their lifestyle is shaped by their geography. However, it is still important to note that pride and national connection differs from individual to individual. As Richard Slimbach acknowledges, “the fact that each group member chooses what elements of the culture to accept and what to reject means that no two people from the same culture will be identical.” (2005, p.208) Therefore, my observations are based on the personal interactions I have had with those residing in the Bio Bio region but can not be generalised to cover the entire Chilean population of this region.

In my first cultural report I relate national allegiance to the Chilean sense of accomplishment through their wars and acquisition of land. As stated in my first report, Chile won its independence from Spain in 1818 and continued to prosper economically through its exportation of wheat before becoming an internationally leading producer of copper. In the later 19th century it won the War of the Pacific against Peru and Bolivia and officially claimed a significant amount of land in the north. Within my first month in Chile I made a trip to the nearest port, Talcahuano, home to the War of the Pacific battleship, Huascar. At the time, I believed this well-maintained ironclad ship was highly valued through all of Chile. This assumption was based on the security surrounding the entrance to the boat and the clean condition of the boat. In fact I believed this ship held such importance, I was willing to base my entire Research Project on this ship. In my first semester, this led me to conduct investigations on its significance. However, in an interview with one of my history Professors, Dr Andres Medina, he basically devalues the Huascar Ship, stating that it is simply a floating museum and many of the Chileans he has interacted with don’t know about it, including those within the region of Concepcion. “Yet the history of most places remains elusive, dependent on cultural concepts of time.” (L. Lippard, 1997, p.13) I therefore needed to re-focus my research project to a bigger, more current issue, that being the ongoing conflict in the north of the country. In order to conduct relevant research, this topic was concentrated solely on the opinions of Penquistas, those living in Concepcion. This investigation lead me to question Penquista’s opinions and pride towards the war of the Pacific (a principal part of their history). Investigations showed that many interviewed and surveyed referred to the loss of their land in the south of Chile, rather than referring to occurrences of the north. In the south, Chile gave land to Argentina, without conflict, in order to concentrate their forces in the north. This response is due to their geographical location further south of the country and their focus on issues of the south as opposed to the north. Additionally many Penquistas showed little concern to ongoing border disputes of the north, as their location in the eight region did not require updated awareness towards these national issue so far north.

Therefore, despite the War of the Pacific and current ongoing border disputes being an issue of national interest, the geographical location of those in the southern regions, demonstrates that they have less concern and connection to this part of their history and northern geography. This leads me to reflect on my personal understanding of my home country, Australia. In Chile, I was able to share my Spanish cultural growth with a girl from Newcastle, two hours from my own house in Australia. Like I have come to realise here in Chile, our geographical location has shaped us as different Australians, even to the extent of my understanding of Australian national history. I know very little about the earthquake of 1989 in Newcastle and similarly very little about the Japanese shelling in Newcastle in 1942, on which my Australia companion can share greater details.

While, national history unites a country, my understanding of Chile proved that even this aspect can be different depending on geographical location. A more obvious aspect of the affects of geography towards the chilean sense of self, is the physical elements constructing the region and ultimately their lifestyle. Lucy Lippard states that: “Both landscape and place can be broken down into their social components, the vortices where people and environment work on each other.” (1997, p.9) This collaboration is clear in the lives of Penquistas. The region south of Concepcion is called the lake district for a reason. Numerous lakes dot the map in this part of Chile and due to this, many Chileans frequently travel, own houses or have the majority of their family residing by a lake. The majority of the Chilean friends I made throughout the year came from places outside the city of Concepcion, in the lake district. I was fortunate enough to spend a weekend with a Chilean friend at his family’s house right besides a lake. The lifestyle of this boy was relaxing and peaceful. We could head down to the shore of the lake and go for a swim or take out a boat into the middle of the water. I was fortunate enough to frequently visit another friend, closer to the centre, who lived on the other side of the Bio Bio River. She had a house right on the lake of San Pedro and similarly had many days relaxing by the water. Speaking with many of my classmates throughout the year I came to learn that many shared this type of lifestyle that they would turned to on their weekends, in their vacations and during summer when they weren’t occupied with their studies. Therefore, despite Concepcion between the second largest city of Chile, it is constructed by tranquil, lakeside individuals.

This lifestyle was made even more apparent during my various visits to Chile’s capital, Santiago. From a glance, the people of the capital city can be compared to Sydney’s CBD: public transport is crowded, people appear to be in a rush, there is constant movement and it’s busy. In comparison, the city was huge. There was more of everything and more activity. It was easy to get lost amongst the tall buildings throughout Santiago. Its location also affected the weather. As Santiago is further from the coast and does not have nearby lakes, it was hot and humid. Additionally the sky was often smoggy and it was difficult to make out the nearby Andes. Returning to Concepcion, I returned home: the city’s pace slowed and I knew where I was going. There was less of a rush, everyone had a seat on the bus, there was no need for a metro and the air was often clean.

Over the course of the year I have come to understand how significant bioregionalism is towards the shaping of a individual lifestyle. Concepción was my third and last option of where I wanted to spend my year in Chile as I believed I wanted the city lifestyle I receive from Sydney (clearly a personal bias and perhaps slight ignorance on my part). However, after a year I have learnt to appreciate the tranquil lifestyle of Concepcion. Through my interaction with Penquistas, my improved sense of direction through the region, my research project, a better understanding of the Chilean language and my travels through the rest of the country, I have come to appreciate the beauty of the lifestyle in the region of the lakes and believe I could not have spent my year in a better a place.

Bibliography

Hofstede, G. 1991, Cultures and Organizations: Software of the Mind, McGraw- Hill Publishing, pp. 1-17

Lippard, L.R. 1997, The Lure of the Local: Sense of Place in a Multicentered Society, The New Press, New York, pp.

Slimbach, R. 2005, ‘The Transcultural Journey’, The Interdisciplinary Journal of Study Abroad, vol. 6, pp. 205-230, viewed 15 December 2016, http://www.frontiersjournal.com/ documents/RSlimbach FrontiersAug05.pdf

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