I was born in Santiago, Chile during the military dictatorship. With both of my grandfathers in detention centres and the rest of the family on the run, there was no option but to leave Chile. Thanks to Scottish ancestory and much lobbying we were able to come to the UK.

I grew up among the Chilean Refugee communities in Cambridge, Birmingham & London until the 1990 plebiscite and subsequent removal of my fathers name from the exile blacklist. It was time to go back ‘home to Chile.

In November 1990 my father & I became part of the ‘Retornado’ phenomenon alongside thousands of others from Canada, Switzerland, France, Germany & beyond, who went back to Chile with the aim of rebuilding their lives post dictatorship. Despite making many friends, I couldn’t adjust to life in Latin America and was particularly upset by the prevailing repression & lack of salt and vinegar crisps.

I arrived back in Britain shortly after the New Labour win at the elections in 1997 but my experience in Chile haunted me, especially with regards to my now fragmented sense of identity. Desperate to understand my road to my now eternal exile, I became interested in discovering my family’s role in Allende’s Chile.

Through oral history, and the only recorded testament to what happened to my family in Chile; my grandfather Santiago Bell’s sculptures, I’m hoping to piece together the murky narrative that has overshadowed my Anglo-Chilean existence.

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  1. Hi Carole, I’ve been reading your blog with great interest. I’m doing a PhD at the Open University on Chileans in the UK who have moved here from the 1970s to the present day, looking at the changes in the community and their links back to Chile. I’d like to talk to you about it, if you be interested. Please send me an email if so. Thank you!


  2. Hi Carol, thank you for sharing your experiences with us, I grew up around the Chileans in London and feel very much your words. My daughter is Chilean and thanks to people like you she will have a better understanding of her people here, the past and plan for a future as history is being rewritten by the right people.


  3. I was also born a few years before the military coup. My father was a political prisoner in Chile for 3 years and my mother was for 6 months. When they were finally released in 1976 we were granted passage to the United States. The incarceration and torture took its tool and it destroyed the relationship my parents had. I totally understand were you are coming from. My cousins, my age, who grew up in Chile whom I only now through Facebook since I have never been back, do not understand me and thing I’m quite strange. Mostly because I “think” like an American, according to them. I will be going to visit in January after being gone over 40 years. I will be a stranger in a strange land. My child has no interest in going at all and neither does my American husband, sadly. I will be going alone to reconnect.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hey, thanks for writing! Despite feeling a little let down at your family’s lack of interest about this issue, maybe it’s better to go alone. Going back to Chile to face your past and your demons is heavy and better digested on your own terms. Chile is an amazing and equally tragic place and you will find warmth among your family. Please let us know how you got on. I found that writing a diary about my experiences there really helped sort out my feelings ( I guess this blog is an extension of that). It would be very interesting to read your account of facing the past! Keep us posted. X


  4. Hey, just read your posts, it has been a long time since I felt anything for Chile, coming here (UK, London) like yourself at a very young age made it difficult to have an attachment to a country that I knew from hearing my parents speak about it. Growing up with English, Jamaican, Moroccan, African and Irish friends made me everything else but Chilean. When people ask me what I am, I say Latino with a English Heart and Chilean blood.

    Ruben Maldonado

    Liked by 1 person

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