Young, Well-Educated, and Adaptable: Chilean Exiles in Ontario and Quebec, 1973-2010.
With Young, Well-Educated, and Adaptable, Francis Peddie, an historian at Nagoya University, offers a well-written, accessible, and rich social history of Chilean exiles who fled to Canada after the 1973 coup against Salvador Allende's Popular Unity government. A fantastic look at these exiles' migration and settlement, the book offers keen insights into the lived experiences of twenty-one Chileans and the process by which many of them came to view Canada as a home rather than a place for temporary reprieve. These Chileans, who arrived in Canada between 1973 and 1978 and settled in Quebec and Ontario, form the basis of this bottom-up study. Their story, as outlined by Peddie, is one that touches on many themes familiar to experts who look at exile and diasporic communities: identity, belonging, and the seeming clash between the national and the transnational. The central thread here is why, after the end of the dictatorship, did so many Chileans opt to stay in Canada rather than return "home"?
After offering some historical background on Allende's Chile, the Cold War context, and Canada's immigration and rights regimes, Peddie begins with an excellent overview of the coup against Allende. He details the atrocities and repression that the military junta under Augusto Pinochet meted out to anyone who had supported Allende's government, or who was suspected of left-wing beliefs. Under surveillance, excluded from the economy, and harassed by the military, 140,000 Chileans fled their country between 1973 and 1978. Peddie is clear to note that although Canada accepted 7,000 refugees from this initial wave, it was not the most welcoming of havens, given a desire on the part of the Trudeau government not to allow socialists and communists into the country. The government's lack of a timely response and grudging attitude are black marks on Canada's record, and a timely and important reminder in light of the current Syrian refugee crisis; despite the self-aggrandizing view of themselves, Canadians, or at least their government, can be callous. In any event, Peddie does a first-rate job of examining the push and pull between government officials and a variety of activist groups pressing for more refugees.
Next, Peddie turns from the contested political terrain to the early years of exile. He drew on a variety of primary and secondary sources, and conducted interviews with nine female and twelve male Chileans as well as two non-Chileans with links to Toronto's exile community. As the title of the book attests, all the Chilean interview subjects were well-educated, and had worked as teachers, doctors, professors, or union officials in Chile. In Canada, they were forced to adapt to very different circumstances. Drawing on his interviews, Peddie traces his respondents' early memories of their new lives in Canada, experiences full of loss, pain, and insecurity, but also gratitude toward the individual Canadians who welcomed them. As well, he documents the support networks built up by the Chileans in order to maintain a collective identity, and to speak out and organize against Pinochet. The former factor was important given the Pinochet government's effort, in effect, to deny the exiles their identity as Chileans. It was these self-help networks that maintained ties to the homeland as well as bonds between fellow exiles, thereby nurturing Chilean identity in exile.
The following and final two chapters are the really outstanding parts of the book. In them, Peddie looks at how his respondents dealt both with their trauma and with that issue confronting many exile groups: the need to resolve incorporation into the adopted polity and society, with their sense of their own national identity and their longing to return. Through the interviews, Peddie traces the trajectory of his subjects' shifting sense of identity and belonging, as well as shifts in employment, gender roles, interpersonal relationships, and social and family life, all the result of exile. There is a rich, diverse tableau here, no doubt of interest not just to those interested in the Chilean exile experience, but to scholars of diaspora and exile in general. Certainly, one is reminded of parallels, but also differences, between the experience of Cuban exiles in Miami or elsewhere. Ultimately, this book serves as an interesting and important look at the Chilean exile experience in Canada as well as a case study to further more general understandings of exile and adaptation.
Asa McKercher, McMaster University
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|Publication:||Canadian Journal of History|
|Article Type:||Book review|
|Date:||Sep 21, 2016|
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