Nearly 7,000 Chileans settled in Canada after military overthrew democratically elected government
Gisselle Del Carmen Vivanco Leiva flips through a family photo album, coming upon a small black and white passport photo of her and her older sister, taken when they were kids. Her eyes well up with tears.
She says it stirs up good memories of her time back home in Chile: trips to the beach house, birthday parties, and playing.
But it also reminds her of the bad ones.
One thing that's very prominent in my memory is the military coming into the house, she said. "We were sleeping, and them coming upstairs, their faces all painted black, looking for weapons.
I remember them beating up my mom and throwing us from the bed like rag dolls.
Vivanco Leiva is one of nearly 7,000 Chileans who settled in Canada (new window) after the democratically elected socialist president, Salvador Allende, was overthrown in a coup d'état led by Gen. Augusto Pinochet on Sept. 11, 1973. The coup was supported by the CIA. (new window)
Some 200,000 Chileans fled the country amid the authoritarian government's political suppression campaign that targeted those with leftist associations. Documented human rights abuses included assassinations, disappearances, and blacklisting.
Fifty years have passed but many still grapple with trauma endured during their final days, months, and years in Chile before they were granted refugee status in Canada.
Vivanco Leiva, 56, says her cousin went missing shortly after the coup. She recalls that her parents had been politically active and feared for the family's safety, so they fled to Peru where they lived in a house with 18 other families that were also seeking asylum.
A year and a half later, they were accepted into Canada, arriving on Vivanco Leiva's birthday, Oct. 1, and staying in a Vancouver hotel for a week before they were sent to Edmonton, where they lived for two years.
It was scary ... confusing, we didn't speak the language ... we did experience racism at that time.
The family then resettled in Metro Vancouver, where Vivanco Leiva has been ever since. She says she spent years building connections with the local Chilean and Indigenous communities. She works at a non-profit in New Westminster where she supports at-risk women.
Now a mother, Vivanco Leiva says she still tries to reconcile where she came from with where she is now.
I've always felt that people in my situation ... we don't have a home, she said.
I feel like I kind of live in limbo.
For Angelo Moroni, 55, the transition was different. He was five years old when his family fled Chile. He remembers watching helicopters fly low to the ground near his grandma's house in Santiago. In another memory, he and his brother packed up their toys after being told they were going on a long trip.
Moroni's family settled in Vancouver, moving into a housing complex in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside. He said part of what made his adjustment easier was the diversity of families who lived there.
It was overwhelming, of course, all of a sudden we found ourselves in a new country with a different language and culture, Moroni said.
But I trusted my mom and my father, fully, so I basically enjoyed it. I enjoyed the discovery of new cultures, new places, new languages.
Moroni said the biggest challenge for his family was dealing with the past trauma. In Chile, his father was a government mailman who, after the coup, was targeted by the Pinochet regime. He fled to Argentina, but was then jailed there along with many other Chilean refugees. He was released a year later before moving his family to Canada. [So they didn't move to canada in '73?]
Moroni said his father was never able to overcome the trauma he endured.
The torture scarred him, and his medication was alcohol, said Moroni.
He died of liver failure, and it was a slow death.
Still, Moroni says he's found support and strength in the roots he put down in Vancouver. He's active in the local Chilean community, and works as a community peer support worker in the same neighbourhood where he first settled.
I feel grateful and blessed that I'm supporting and working here, because it feels like home, and I understand some of the struggles people here in the Downtown Eastside experience, he said.
Gloria Diaz, 69, had recently graduated from high school in Santiago when the coup took place. She remembers hearing missiles strike a government building. Her father was a union member and was jailed for eight months by the regime.
He moved the family to Canada after he was released, but Diaz says she had to apply for asylum on her own because she was 19. She stayed behind for an extra year with her brother before reuniting with them in Edmonton.
Everything was white! It was so cold, she recalled, laughing.
But we were so happy to be with Mom and Dad.
Diaz is now a mother and grandmother, and has lived in Vancouver for the last 27 years. Looking back on the 50th anniversary of the coup, she says the pain and suffering endured by many needs to be heard and acknowledged.
There's a lot of mending to do, said Diaz.
Justice has come slowly but steady.
Jon Hernandez (new window) · CBC News