A mother’s story of immigration

By  |  0 Comments

By Valentina Diaz

In July 1991, Maya, a 33 year old single mother, made the life-changing decision to emigrate from Chile to Australia. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission found that under the Augusto Pinochet thousands were killed, kidnapped and tortured.

Although the Military Dictator Pinochet gave up the presidency in 1990, following a referendum and lost election, he remained Commander-in-Chief of the military forces until 1998 when he was arrested in Britain for human rights violations.

Maya was just 16 when the Socialist President Salvador Allende was killed in a coup orchestrated by Pinochet, who was to become a brutal Dictator. Maya lived a life in fear and most Chileans could not see light at the end of that tunnel.

After Pinochet resigned from the Presidency, the country tentatively seemed on its way to healing and democracy. But her visa application process was already underway. She had made up her mind and her sights were on a new future for her and her daughter.

The visa application process took about three years all up. She was granted entry through the skilled independent migration program. Having been an English teacher for 13 years she wanted to go to an English speaking country where she could continue to teach. She chose Australia because it had a strong social security system which meant the she and her daughter would be protected in case she had difficulty finding work.

The International Organization for Migration paid for 50% of the plane fares. After the tickets were paid off she was left with $1,500- the remainder of her life savings. Her and her daughter arrived with two suitcases and two sleeping bags which would serve as beds at night and seats during the day when rolled up.

A Chilean family known to them living in St Kilda took them in for their first two weeks in the country. At their arrival they had gifts for them to make them feel at home. After two weeks she had already found a small one bedroom apartment on Inkerman Street near Hotham.

Soon mum and daughter were visited by a social worker to check on them and gather some information. Not long after, the Salvation Army began dropping off household items to make a home. Beds, mattresses, bedside tables, dresser, table and chairs, and a TV set, and together they combed through the local op shops to buy just enough crockery for two.

The goodwill of the Salvation Army was culturally foreign to them and much appreciated. It was to be a learning curb which imprinted a social awareness and a culture of giving back to the community whenever possible. St Kilda was vibrant and welcoming, she says, she never once felt like a foreigner because the cultural diversity was evident.

Even though Maya had been an English teacher for 13 years, at first it was difficult for her to understand the spoken Australian English and at times this was cause for frustration. But the traders in Balaclava were very welcoming and always made an effort to make her feel at ease and they always managed to have a good laugh together in the end. She says there was always someone around willing to help.

Maya sent her daughter to St Kilda Primary and one weekend while helping out at the working bee she met the person in charge of the St Kilda Migrant Resource Centre. There she was able to volunteer as part of the Home Tutor Scheme which provided free English tuition to migrants like the elderly, parents with children and others who were not able to leave their homes for different reasons.

Maya remembers vividly the birds singing outside their apartment window. She really enjoyed the contact with nature available in St Kilda. The parks, tree lined streets and the back lanes which in different seasons offered fruit too. Like lemons, feijoas and figs, which where a treat during long exploratory walks.

They discovered the St Kilda Botanical Gardens through a mention in the local community paper, which she was excited to have found. She read it every week to keep informed on the local activities, which I imagine were a far cry from a life under military dictatorship. There she found a coupon for two free seedlings which they went to collect, she still has the two adult plants over two decades later.

Visiting the Botanical Gardens became a regular part of their new lives. The rose garden was a highlight as they had never seen something so beautiful. She took delight in watching her daughter run carefree among the beautifully scented colorful roses.

They enjoyed the gardens and the beaches the most. On one of the many long walks along the beach on a warm October day they were caught in a torrential semi-tropical downpour on the way home. Maya remembers hiding under a little bridge by the beach near Luna Park along with many others, who also sought refuge from the spontaneous Melbourne rain.

After a long wait they knew the rain would surely never end so they braced them selves and made a runner to the nearest tram stop. They made it home soaking wet but it was, yet another treasured first.

Find us on FacebookFind us on FacebookFind us on FacebookFind us on Facebook