Why Chileans Migrate to the US


The earliest migration of Chileans to the United States was initiated during the 1849 Californian gold rush. During this time, the Chilean economy was going through a crisis, The ship possessors, hoping to do business out of this, spread a word about how gold was in abundance in California. In search of greener pastures, thousands of Chilean citizens crammed into the ships with the aim of making a fortune from gold mining. It is said that most of the people who arrived in California during this time were experienced in the mining business. Therefore, they taught the people they found mining sites better techniques of extracting and panning for gold.

They also improved an existing device and expertly molded huge stone wheels known as Chile mills. The work of the device was to crush ore. Chileans formed settlements termed as “Chilecito” translated as little Chile. Following a move to expel foreigners and the fact that the Californian government had passed a bill to tax foreign miners, some of the Chileans went back home. However, the Chileans who remained in California retained their ethnic and cultural identity at least for a while. They lived in Chili towns, spoke Spanish, and continued with their traditional cuisine. With time, Chileans dispersed to other areas in America intermingled and intermarried with non-Chileans (Sirlop & Van Oudenhoven, 2013). Their children schooled in the mainstream educational centers and learnt English. In essence, the mixing with the wider community and the high rates of intermarriages continued as Chileans living in America continued to acculturate to the mainstream society.

Education, Economy, and Politics as major reasons why Chileans came to the US

Since the California gold mining time, Chileans did not migrate to the United States until the early 1960s when few numbers of individuals arrived. The young people from the affluent Chilean families came in search of gaining new skills and furthering their education. Most of these young people remained in the United States even after completing their higher education. Various companies employed them and after they went to South America, they would return with White South American wives. In the 1960s to early 1970s was a period characterized by increasing numbers of immigrants from Chile with the intentions of improving their economic and career development opportunities (Knowles, 2007). Chileans were certain that the United States would offer better jobs and improved living standards as compared to life in Chile. The political events of 1973 saw thousands of Chileans move to the United States.

Notably, Allende had been overthrown and there was an establishment of a military dictatorship. Pinochet had one goal set; to get rid of the wide range of divisive elements in the country. His targets included journalists, intellectuals, and radical students, as well as professors to name but a few. Due to this political upheaval, Chileans fled to the United States, Latin America and Europe as well as Canada. The international community persuaded Pinochet to exile Chileans rather than put them into custody and execute them. In fact, the United States offered to take in refugee of Chilean origin under a political parolees’ program. Refugees from Chile were not prepared for the transition from their country of origin to North America (Powell, 2005). Most of them lacked their basic needs and employment, not to mention the fact that they were sent to live in areas of heavy snow in the middle of the winter period. However, good Samaritans assisted them find jobs, learn English, and secure better housing.

All through the reign of Pinochet, people from Chile continued to migrate to America not only for political reasons, but also for economic and educational reasons. Years after the end of Pinochet’s rule, Chileans continued to migrate to the United States for economic reasons. Despite the fact that Chilean economy has continued to grow over the years, huge numbers of people still live in poverty. Over the last 25 years, there are two main reasons why Chileans have migrated to the United States. The first group, which is small in number, came to America due to political repression during the reign of Pinochet. Most people from this group are from the upper and middle class population, have advanced education, and adequately developed skills. After adjusting to the new life, they were able to secure professions. Unfortunately, some did not have career certificates and were not acknowledged in America. They were forced to take low paying jobs that did not present them opportunities to apply their skills. The other group came to the United States in search of economic development opportunities. They were poor, with few skills and less education as compared to the first group. They took low-level jobs such as in construction sites and babysitting, which are areas where proficiency in English was of little importance. As time goes by, Chileans from this group attend English and other technical classes, which is a factor that enables them to acquire desirable professions (Mattoo et al, 2008).

How Chilean Americans migrants have changed between two Worlds

Art and Culture

Artistic expression has been a very strong tradition held by Chileans living in America. In fact, numerous numbers of Chilean Americans contribute to photography and sculpture as well as art in America. They express their artistic skills in various areas such as fabric, painting, sculpture, and printmaking, and in photography to name a few areas (Akhtar, 2011). Chileans have also adapted to the Northern America cuisine. Despite the fact that seafood has been an important portion of their traditional diet, Chileans living in America also enjoy stews, soup and seafood mixtures that are prepared in North America. They have also learned and applied American methods of preparing wine and have even won prizes for their expertise.

Language and English and Spanish proficiency

Almost all Chileans living in the United States speak Spanish. However, some have originated from areas where Italia, German, and other dialects were spoken, which describe their language on arrival in America. On learning English, their accents will depend on the region or the social class they come from. Many times, Chileans omit the sound, ‘S,’ and at times drop the last syllable, especially in longer words. In addition, they make significant use of the suffix “ITA,” which is a word ending that means little. However, in their daily conversations, the ‘ITA’ suffix is used as a display or indicator of familiarity.

Education and Employment

Chile population in America is one of the best educated among Latin Americans. They have a literacy rate of nearly 95% for men and their female counterparts follow closely with literacy percent of 93. In Chile, there are eight years of obligatory free learning. Back at home, Chileans value education as they consider it a way of ensuring a better life thereafter. Children are urged to complete their education before taking their other steps in life such as marrying. Should they have limited resources, boys are often preferred to be educated. They have carried in America along this virtue. Most Chileans are pursuing their bachelor degrees in higher learning institutions. While they enroll in various programs, the most preferred by Chileans are Engineering and natural sciences as they are viewed as fields with promising career options. In employment, individuals who had advanced skills and well educated acquired good jobs and became successful professionals in a wide variety of fields after a period of adjustment. Those who did not have sufficient skills and proficiency in English acquired low-level jobs. Therefore, they soon took English classes and even joined colleges, a factor that improved their employment opportunities and enhanced their lives and economic statuses (LaLonde & Topel, 1992).

Health Coverage

In Chile, health has improved dramatically over the past two decades. The infant mortality rates have fallen remarkably and life expectancy increased. With a decline in importance of other illnesses such as pneumonia and malaria, Chileans have given close attention to cardiovascular diseases and cancers, which are non-communicable lifestyle diseases. Most Chileans believe in traditional methods of disease treatments such as herbal tea. For a long time, the healthcare system in Chile was nationalized, which has made many immigrants to be comfortable with the healthcare system in the United States (Kandula et al, 2004). However, the system of health largely became privatized in the recent past. Just like other people living in America, Chileans Americans differ in the kind and amount of healthcare coverage they have, which mainly depends on whether such benefits are made available by their employers.

Politics and Politics of Chile Americans

For Chileans living in the United States, party preferences vary according to individuals’ socioeconomic classification as well as the background. While most of Chilean Americans from affluent upper backgrounds favor the Republican Party, those from low class stratification who fled their country due to the oppression of Pinochet’s regime are in favor of the Democratic Party. Most Chileans had not practiced active politics, especially those who arrived during the last one and a half decade when the union membership had started to decline. However, Chilean Americans who have been born and brought up in America are becoming more and more involved in issues surrounding domestic Latino politics.


Chileans living in the United States have changed between two worlds. Back in their country of origin, Chileans faced a wide range of economic conditions and political instability, which greatly contributed to their coming to America. Chileans from rich families who had acquired adequate skills and education got good jobs and were professionally successful as compared to those from low class. The change in Chilean Americans has been felt from a broad perspective and dimensions such as in their art and culture as well as cuisine, in their languages and English and Spanish proficiency. In addition, the issues of education and employment, health coverage, politics, as well as politics of Latin Americans are areas that have been felt abroad. In essence, Chileans are friendly and speak the Spanish language, which has greatly enhanced their relationships with other people from the Latino communities either at work, in the neighborhoods, or at religious places. They have high intermarriage rates with Latinos as well as the United States’ citizens, a factor that has contributed to their acculturation and assimilation into the mainstream society.


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