Chilean Cultural Context

Geographically distant from centers of the Spanish empire, Chile developed separately from the rest of Latin America. After Chile gained independence from Spain in the late 1800s, the new government promoted European immigration. The relatively stable government did not appear on the world’s radar until Salvador Allende became the world’s first freely elected Marxist in September, 1970. A military coup toppled the Marxist government in 1973 and 16 years of military dictatorship ensued under General Augusto Pinochet. By the time democracy returned in 1989, many of the country’s economic problems had been attenuated.

Chile has experienced several waves of migration. The initial wave consisted primarily of Spaniards. By the mid-1800s, Germans began to take up the lake regions to the south. Middle Eastern Christians from Lebanon, Syria and Palestine began to appear in the late 1800s with a second push after the nation of Israel was created in 1948. Other Europeans that have migrated include those from the former Yugoslavia. Chile is home to the fifth largest concentration of Croatians in the world. Immigrants tend to be well-educated and have blended well into the cultural fabric.

The Andes Mountains run the length of the country, which is one eighth of the Earth’s circumference. It shouldn’t come as a surprise, then, that Chile has significant climate variation with everything from deserts in the north to glaciers in the south. The country is divided into twelve regions plus the Santiago Metropolitan Region. In 2000, the population of Chile was 15 million, with a growth rate of 1.6 percent. 6 million live in Santiago, which has a higher growth rate due to migration from other parts of the country.

Central Chile has a mild climate with winter (June 21 – September 20) temperatures ranging from 32F to 65F and summer (December 21 to March 20) temperatures ranging from 50F to 85F. Most homes are not air-conditioned because they have been built to withstand heat buildup during the day.

Schools begin the academic year in March to December with a two-week break in July. Primary education is free and runs eight years from ages 6-14 with the first four being general education and the last four devoted to further specialization.

While there has been a formal separation of church and state since 1925, religion continued to exercise an influence in government well into the 1970s. The Christian Democrat party attempted a middle road between conservatives and leftists under Eduardo Frei Montalva just before Allende took office. After Allende’s overthrow, the Catholic Church served as a sort of political asylum for the Marxists. Today, 80% of Chile is at least nominally Roman Catholic, with competition coming from the growing influence of Evangelical denominations. The Roman Catholic church has sought to widen its influence by focusing on social issues through “Liberation Theology.”

Castillo-Feliú, Guillermo I. Culture and Customs of Chile. Westport, CT: Greenwood, 2000. Print.

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