The South American Dream
Combining his own photographs with those of immigrants, Cristian Ochoa tells a human story of immigration that undermines the stereotypes that still prevail in Chile.
For Colombian people from El Cauca, a southern department that has been largely abandoned by the government due to the violence of conflict and to a devastating unemployment rate, Chile appeals like a golden land. Social media features its northern coast as a paradise made of sun, beach and opportunities, so Colombians, mainly Afro-Colombians, cross the border in large numbers to seek a better life.
Once arrived, the reality is darker. They usually settle in crude dwellings, face rampant racism and struggle to make a living. “50% of Chileans refuse to acknowledge that they have indigenous roots”, photographer Cristian Ochoa says. “But the truth is that we are all Metis!”
Determined to confront racism – strong enough to provoke a March against Colombians in 2013 - Ochoa started, in 2016, a series of workshops in El Bosque, a shanty town in Antofagasta, in northern Chile. More than teaching, he invites young Colombian migrants to document their surroundings and private circles, making use of old photography techniques as well as digital technology.
The result takes the shape of a book including Ochoa’s and the students’ photographs, as well as transcripts of the interviews he conducted with some of them. Each workshop is also concluded by an intervention in the city, in which photos and texts are pasted on the walls of one of Antofagasta’s busiest streets.
In that sense, Ochoa’s approach to photography is both active and activist. And photography becomes the medium of interculturalism to tell “a human story of immigration”, one can read in his book. Indeed, he included early on the voice of his subjects because he aims to give visibility to a culture made of music, gastronomy and language that belongs to “those uplifting our lives”. As one of the students says, “things are going to change, it’s a matter of time”.
Diversity comes in his photographs as colours - those of the many lights at a party, those of the bouquets of balloons from a birthday party, those of the old toys piling up in a city dump. That, ultimately, of the skins. “There will be more dark skinned girls speaking Chilean, and those girls, who will have spectacular skin and curly hair, will say they are Chileans, not Colombians or Ecuadorians or Haitians. When that happens, things will go off. In a few years time you will see immigrant male and female politicians”, a transcript goes.
Laurence Cornet is a writer and curator based in Brooklyn focusing on cultural and environmental issues.