When Chileans arrived in the UK they had a choice; either accept and embrace exile, put away the suitcases and hang pictures up on the wall OR decide that Pinochet would be brought down and return was imminent. The latter kept their suitcases packed, waiting for the call ‘home’. My family fell into this latter category, my father assuring me every year that we would be going back. Those conversations un-nerved me and added a sense of chaos to an already unstable life that didn’t need further interrupting.
My other Chilean friends were a mixed bag. One lived in a lovely leafy area. Her parents never mentioned leaving, they transitioned seamlessly from the concentration camp to life in the UK and quickly became mortgaged, fully engaged members of English society. Another friend had very traditional parents intent on bringing her up as though they were still back home, hence she was forced to live a weird double life playing the traditional Chilean girl at home and her wild English persona in the street.
I loved my crisp-eating English life. Each time those conversations swung round, I would desperately wish for my father to shut up. But the threat of leaving the UK never did go away no matter how integrated we were or how good a job my dad would have. It followed us around like a stench and so I grew up with the gnawing worry that I’d be taken back to this horrible hell hole to rot.
One grey October day in 1990 my dad came home and announced ecstatically that his name was finally off the black list and were moving back to Chile. I was 16. I felt my life was over. That night I dreamt I was being attacked by huge swooping Condors, shuddering under my bed as their bloody beaks snapped at my head. That day was the beginning of the long, broken road back to my own exile…