[r] Hello, I’m [name], I’m 73 now, and… I am already… almost 42 years here in Belgium. I come from a small village in Chile, close to the sea, 500 kilometres from the capital, from Santiago. I was a sports teacher in a high school there. I’m a musician, I play piano, guitar, and … other (typical) instruments from Latin America. I was a high school teacher for 6 years and then came the coup d’état of Pinochet. After two years we had to leave Chile, due to political problems. My music was protest music, against the Pinochet regime. We had to leave. We came here at the end of the year ’76, with our 2 children. We immediately arrived in Antwerp. The music of that time in Chile was completely different than it is now. There were two kinds of music: folklore and protest music, political music. The protest music was political music that gave more attention to the people, to the social situation of the people there, at that time. Here in Belgium we also had a small group with friends, to see if we could do something with our music…

[i] I’ve got a little question, [name]. What kind of problems did you have there, with your music, with your group? Why did you say: we had to leave?

[r] Yes, after the coup, during Pinochet, there was a lot of control, a lot of repression against everyone who was against the system. Our songs, our lyrics were about seeking freedom, they talked about people’s rights. The texts made people’s minds broader. Hence… I was a musician and, there was a lot of control, the police came to our house to look for me.

[i] At home?

[r] Home. I wasn’t there. Maybe the reason was my music, which was close to the people, and that wasn’t good for the people of the system… I wasn’t someone with a gun. I wasn’t a terrorist. I was just a musician and for the system that was enough (to chase us) Well, I wasn’t on the same page…

[i] Why did you choose Belgium? Did you get support from the embassy?

[r] No, almost a year before us, my parents-in-law came here. They had to leave Chile, my father-in-law had been in prison there for 2 years. To get out of prison, he had to leave Chile. Belgium offered him asylum. He and his family came here through the United Nations Refugee Agency. The Belgian government of the time helped us a lot, a lot. Because my parents-in-law were already here, we also had a place to arrive, so, we came here. Via Via via we looked for money for the tickets, we sold our house very quickly, got rid of our furniture, we came here, and here we asked for asylum, here in Belgium. At that moment the procedure went fast, a month after the request I got an answer: I could stay here as a refugee. We… I was here for 12 years as a refugee.

[i] 12 years?

[r] 12 years. In order to go back to Chile, I stopped my refugee status. I was no longer a political refugee. Because if I was no longer a refugee, I was allowed to go back to Chile, otherwise I would not. If you are a political refugee, you cannot go back to your country. That’s why I changed my status. I got a new passport and I could go back to Chile.

[i] But… as Chilean?

[r] Yes.

[i] And what status do you have now?

[r] Now?

[i] Yes, after 12 years.

[r] if…

[i] Refugee?

[r] No, I’m here if, my status is: “Permitted stay” I can continue to live here, with all, … I have an identity card but, I still have to go to the municipality every 5 years, to have my card renewed. I can continue to live here, and I’m retired here in Belgium. Finally, I’m here in Belgium, but with Chilean nationality.

[i] When did you arrive?

[r] We arrived in November, at the end of October.

[i] In what year was that?

[r] 1976. We went directly to a group of people: the Chili Committee, a group of Belgian people, organized to help the Chilean refugees. That was very good. They were people from all over the country. The first few months I learned the language here in Belgium, a strange language, a special language, but the people were like us. It was a Catholic culture, we also have a Catholic culture in Chile, the way of life was like in Chile. The food was also very good, almost like ours, only the situation was different. Here it was quieter. And then, after the first two months, no, after a month, I started my first job: I was a dishwasher. Washing pots and pans, washing pots and pans,…

[i] Did you find that job yourself?

[r] It was all through…

[i] The Chili Committee?

[r] No, it was through the social service of the municipality.

[i] Which commune was it? Wild?

[r] Deurne. In the beginning everything went via the municipality of Deurne. Renting an apartment, finding a job, registering children at school. We had two small children, 2 and 4 years old. Everything was more or less well organized, with my work and with the children. After 2 months I went to a language course of 6 months, 8 hours a day, of the RVA of that time. 6 months, 8 hours a day was way too much, We were a group of 10 people all from Chile, but yes, in the course more Spanish was spoken than Dutch. But the course was very good. I learned a lot of grammar, a lot of grammar, but not, but little to listen to and to talk to the people. But it was good. That was for 6 months. After the course I went to a course of the RVA, a course to become a driver: installing radiators, installing boilers, etc., a technical course of 8 months, that was a very good course, it was my job until now… And then, after those 8 months I still went, not because of the RVA but for myself, to follow a course in evening school, for a higher level in my job. The first was a basic course (radiators, boilers) and then I learned more technical things: electricity, thermodynamics. I always learned a little more and more, I have been in evening school for almost 10 years, to learn more and more, always, for about 10 years. The courses were recognized by the Ministry of…

[i] Labor?

[r] The Ministry of Health I think, I was allowed to work as a controller, control and regulation of gas installations. That work was totally different from in the beginning. I’ve always done that job, for 28 years or more, until I retired. For the last 10 years, I’ve also taken an air conditioning course. To learn even more, always in the heating sector. Checking: how does the cold and the heat work…

[i] You were very motivated.

[r] It was very good, because Belgium is a country with a long winter, so…there was always work. In the winter a lot, and after the winter people ask for an inspection of the machines. I always had a job, all year round. This was my job, but my hobby remains to make music. I had a group of 6 people, 6 men, we played guitar, quarena, charango (Latin American instruments). The group tried to support actions for Chile. If there was an action for Chile, we were there to make music, to inform the people, to show our situation here.

[i] The 6 people came from Chile ?

[r] Yes, all from Chile.

[i] And the name of the group was?

[r] The group no longer exists, the name was: Canto Libre – Free Singing. (This means that we sing in freedom, without censorship) We played for 10 years. Two or three times a week, here in Belgium and also in Holland, France, Luxembourg, England…

[i] Just for a Latin American audience?

[r] No, for everyone, we were for almost 4 or 5 years a regular group for the Chiro, the Belgian Catholic boys. We were a regular group. Every weekend we were there to play for those boys.

[i] Were the songs your own songs? Or folklore?

[r] A bit of everything, some of our songs, but also of our classical musicians: Violeta Parra, Victor Jara, or groups like Inti Illimani and Quilapayun. It was a bit… [Inaudible] It was a good group, it wasn’t bad.

[i] What instruments do you play?

[r] Latin American instruments: quarena, charango, zampoña,…

[i] And can you play all three?

[r] I can play a lot…

[i] And can you sing too?

[r] Hardly, very, very little. In choir yes, but only not singing, my voice is not so good. The group was very popular, with our audience were people from many countries of Latin America. At that time in Belgium there were also people from Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay, also there, in those countries there was a dictatorship, we also performed for them. For Belgians, too. We also played in halls, where we were the only foreigners. The others (in the audience) were all Belgians, Dutch, etc., we were the only “weird” people. That was very good because we could talk to these people a lot, we could get to know these people. Some of them are still our friends. It’s been 40 years. People from this time are still our friends. We also played with real Flemish folklorists. A few times in a row we have played with Wannes van de Velde. We also played with someone once, I don’t remember his name, he is already dead, someone who played the violin, I don’t remember his name. Also with Juan Masondo.

[i] Your colleagues of the group, the other Chileans, do they still live here in Belgium?

[r] Yes, everyone in Belgium, almost all of them from here and two people from Brussels. We had to rehearse once or twice a week, so we didn’t have to come from far away. That’s all we can do.

[i] Do they still live here or have they already gone back to Chile?

[r] There are, there is one that has left for Chile. The others still live here, they are married, with children too. All separate. We have played together for 10 years, and for another 5 years a bit, after that it was less and less every time, and also the attention of the Belgian public around Chile was reduced. There were other countries that had problems, and those people also came here: Nicaragua, Argentina,… People from Africa, who have other problems, have also fled here. For Chile, it was no longer necessary. When Pinochet was gone, many people went back to Chile, my parents-in-law for example. In the beginning there were about 4000 people here, here in Belgium, people from Chile, and if there are still 800, it is a lot. Most of the Chileans went back.

[i] You have decided to stay here.

[r] There was a time when we wanted to go back to Chile as well, but our children are married here, to Belgians, and we also have grandchildren here. What are we going to do in Chile? So we stay here. Everything is here now. In Chile live my sister, my cousin and my brother, they still live there, but (the rest of) my family is here.

[i] How do you feel when you are on holiday in Chile? Do you go every year?

[r] If possible, I go to Chile on holiday every year.

[i] How do you feel there?

[r] Now well, at first it was a bit weird, the people… The way of doing things there is a little different.

[i] For example?

[r] For example, the first time I went to Chile.12 years after my arrival here it was the first time I returned to Chile. I was there and I felt very strange, the way of doing things, the way of thinking had changed. The people who had stayed there… those people had a different way of thinking…

[i] The people there have changed?

[r] Yes, but so have we here. We are here, more or less, programmed to do something. Here in Belgium. In Chile, the people were very open, very friendly. (Inaudible) They wanted to do everything for us, it was very good, but, but the ways of doing and thinking were very different. Then, a long time ago.

[i] Maybe people were still afraid because of the repression?

[r] Not anymore, but the people of that time were. They were afraid to comment. That’s when Pinochet left.

[i] Were they closed?

[r] They were afraid to say something, but not anymore. Now it’s completely different. Then we could only talk to the people we knew very well. If they were people we didn’t know, we wouldn’t be allowed to say anything. That was a long time ago, but not today. The people there are very open, friendly, talk a lot, they do everything for you, but it’s totally different, (Unintelligible)

[i] During your first 12 years here, did you always have a plan to go back to Chile?

[r] We always planned to go back to Chile. We went to the bank to borrow money, we sent the money to Chile to buy another house in Chile. We no longer had our own house. We wanted to buy our house with money from here, from the bank. My father found a very nice house there, with a backyard and a front garden, two floors. We bought the house, for us, but in that time our children went here to study, and eventually we stayed here so far, with our children and grandchildren.

[i] Your feeling here in Antwerp has changed, have you always felt good here? If you have to compare with your first time here, has your feeling changed a bit?

[r] After the trip to Chile?

[i] The first period before the trip to Chile and after that.

[r] After a week there in Chile we had to adjust the hours, after a week there I feel like I’ve always been there. I don’t feel weird. When we come back from Chile, we also have to adjust the hours for two days, but after a day or two we are back home here. There are people who drop everything here and go back to Chile, they go to the mountains, to the sea, to the rivers. It is very nice for a holiday, but to work that is not. To live there, that’s completely different, and it’s hard, too hard…