Memories of Chile Connect Advocate with Immigrant Children
As an advocate for immigrant children, Antonieta Diaz gives them the time to tell her their stories. She will listen.
“I got to learn the stories through their voices. It’s really fascinating,” she says. Diaz speaks of a client who had crossed a river with her infant child at the age of 17, only to be apprehended by immigration upon reaching the other bank. She mentions a young girl whose grandmother had attempted to fake her way into the country to escape an abusive mother in Mexico, but who was detained upon discovery.
It’s stories like these, and countless others, that motivate Diaz to volunteer with the Immigrant Child Advocacy Center. Diaz has been an advocate for child immigrants for four years now, providing emotional and legal support for clients as they struggle through complicated immigration trials.
“It makes a difference, the fact that I also migrated here. They know that I had to learn English, reinvent myself and created this whole new life,” says Diaz, who moved to the U.S. 20 years ago. While she and her clients may have gotten to the United States through different means, she can still relate to their feelings of fear, disempowerment, and confusion.
As a child growing up in Chile, Diaz led what she describes as “an interesting childhood.” With a mother with strong ties to the Democratic Party, and a father in Socialist president Salvador Allende’s “close circle,” her house was full of political discussion and debate. But in 1973, when Diaz was just nine years old, things began to change. With a military coup d’état on the horizon by right-wing military general Augusto Pinochet, the politics on both the streets of Santiago and within the hallways of her house were shifting.
“I saw my father, during the day when he was supposed to be at work, in the back yard in our home burning documents and magazines -- all of his connections with the communist and socialist party,” Diaz recalls. “I said, ‘don’t! Don’t burn those magazines!’ because they were so beautiful! The paper, the color.”
As a young girl, Diaz couldn’t possibly understand why her father would destroy the lovely magazines he’d received from Cuba, China and Russia. “He wouldn’t tell me anything,” she says. “In my country, children are second class citizens. You don’t ask questions, they don’t share anything with you. ‘What are you doing?’ -- I would never ask that, or ‘Why?’ That was not my place.”
Even after the military had raided her house three times, moments in which she and her mother shielded her younger siblings from the image of the marching rifles entering their home, where her father may be hiding “was not a topic of conversation.” Diaz and her siblings were kept in the dark.
But amid the darkness and confusion of missing a father, “we were so lucky that my mom and my grandfather had very steady balance,” Diaz says. Their steadfast support would turn a potentially traumatic experience into a contributing, but not defining, aspect of Diaz’s life story.
It’s this balance and stability that Diaz now hopes to give back to that young mother crossing the river, or the granddaughter stepping off the plane. “One time somebody ask me, ‘how do you talk to these children or these teenage girls?’” Diaz says, “And I say the same way that you and I are talking, there’s no difference. We don’t give them enough […] value. We don’t have to change the tone or belittle somebody to have a relationship."