1970s >> Memo & Alvaro Aravena >> Chile

Memo and Alvaro Aravena. Photo: © UNHCR/Florencia Saluzzo Memo and Alvaro Avarena arrived in Ireland in 1974 with their family, having fled Chile following the Pinochet coup.

Both live near Dublin with their families. When they left they took almost nothing with them except for a small wooden boat which had been whittled out of a branch found in the woods where their father hid in exile for three months.

“They happened more than 35 years ago, the darkest days of the Aravena family. In May 1974 my parents were forced to leave Chile. I was 12 years old. We had just disembarked a KLM flight from Holland at Dublin airport alongside my parents Eduardo and Ruth, my brothers Eduardo and Alvaro and my sisters Patricia and Claudia. I remember very well that it was raining that day in Dublin.

“They happened more than 35 years ago, the darkest days of the Aravena family. Our journey began in Chile, my native land and the country that we left behind and love so much."

Our journey began in Chile, my native land and the country that we left behind and love so much. My father had only 50 dollars in his pocket. The Pinochet coup in Chile in 1973 changed everything for our family and for thousands more who never lived to tell their story.

My father was a member of the Communist Party of Chile, so for him Pinochet in power meant only one thing - if he stayed he would be killed. There were brutal consequences in store for those who espoused the communist, socialist model.

We were among 12 Chileans refugee families accepted into Ireland by the Irish Government. The first few weeks in Ireland were a touch bizarre. The Government put us in a big house in Lucan where there were refugees from Northern Ireland as well. We had no knowledge of English and we knew very little about this country. Soon along with other Chilean families we were moved to Shannon in County Clare.

Ireland in the seventies, especially the West of Ireland, was a vastly different place to what it is today. We were newcomers. We were rare because of our darker skin and because people didn’t know where Chile was. Time passed and we got a certain level of acceptance through common interests such as football.

The toughest battle though was for my parents. In Ireland in the 1970s there were no jobs and like so many of the Irish, my parents emigrated to England for a time in order to find work. We moved to Dublin, first living in a two room house in East Wall and then to a two bedroom house on Home Farm Road in Drumcondra. In 1990 my parents went back to Chile after 20 years in exile.”

Memo Aravena

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