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 or at least, quite soon. These people kept the suitcase firmly packed, waiting for the call home. I fell into the latter category and my father assured me every year that we would be going ‘home’. Those conversations always un-nerved me and I’d think of my friends at school and my little unstable life that didn’t need further interrupting.
My other Chilean friends were a mixed bag. One lived in a lovely leafy area and parents never mentioned leaving, they seemed to move seamless 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 them up as though they were still back home hence she was forced to live a weird double life being Chilean girl at home, and herself in the street.
I loved my crisp-eating English life so each time those conversations swung round, I would twitch and just wish it to go away. But the conversation 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 I grew up and then into my teens, with this gnawing worry that I’d be taken back to this horrible hell hole and never be allowed to come back.
One day on a grey October day in 1990 my dad came home and told me that we were moving back to Chile. At 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…