I hear the familiar sound of French in the street but I don’t understand a thing—it’s Haitian créole. I buy bread at the Colombian bakery and empanadas with traditional Peruvian fillings. I wish I were a guy to enjoy these fancy Dominican barbershops that stay open until late at night and from which men leave with sleek hairstyles.
Santiago is more international than ever.
There are immigrants from Haiti, Colombia, Venezuela, Bolivia and Peru and probably many other countries. I suspect Argentinians crossed the border as well because there’s an unusual number of alfajores and facturas in the city. I found a little Koreatown and Chinatown and I shop in Pequeña Lima. Wait, is that traditional Andean clothing that I see? Must be hot under the sun in the lowlands!
Many of these immigrants came fairly recently. President Michelle Bachelet led an open-border policy and the country’s economy is pretty healthy.
These newcomers, at least those from South America, may have gone unnoticed to my novice eye but they brought along their culture and offer it to us all in Santiago.
And that’s fucking awesome.
This is how I discovered Colombian bizcochos de achira (made with roots from an Andean plant) and pancitos (sweet bread), how I tasted lomo saltado (sirloin with tomatoes, onions and spices) and ají de gallina. Peruvian pretty much set the standard for “fancy yet affordable food” in Santiago while teens dance to K-Pop and Feng can find his Chinese dumplings fix.
Straight down Plaza de Armas, on the right side of the Catedral metropolitana, the first block is what I refer to as “the immigrant street.” This is not a disparaging label, just a shorthand between Feng and I for these few hundred metres of Calle Catedral always packed until late at night.
During the day, this is where many newcomers do business. Copy services for immigration papers, Internet access, money transfer services, cellphone repairs… the main post office is a block away, and the lineups are long to apply for residency. I’ve seen Haitian camping there all day.
“¡Choclo, choclo, CHOCLO!”
In the evening, the street turns into a small informal market with vendors selling pancitos, Choclo con Queso (boiled Andean corn served with cheese), bottles of Inca Cola (it’s… ahem, an acquired taste), ceviche, leche asada, fried chicken, papas rellenas, pastel de choclo, humitas and other foods from the Andes, Chile, Bolivia, Colombia or Venezuela. I never thought corn and beef pie was street food until now and I’m pretty sure I’d need to practise before attempting to eat it standing in a very busy corner of the city.
“¡Hay pancitos, hay pancitos!”
The going rate for a slice of creamy chocolate cake (see comment above…) or a full meal seems to be 1,000 pesos ($1.65).
There’s no need to ask Venezuelans or Haitians why they chose to come here—Chile is a temporary shelter, and most of the people I talked to are waiting for the situation to improve at home. Apparently, nearly 1% of Haiti’s population has fled to Chile.
Meanwhile, Sebastián Piñera, the new pretend-to-be-centrist-but-actually-right-wing president is taking office on Sunday and he’s already blaming immigrants and promising tighter border control.
Maybe I’m biased and naïve, but I find Santiago is a better place with the current mix of cultures.