By Enrique Tessieri
This is the second of a four-part series of a few short biographies that appeared in 1994 in an English reader called Why did you come here? The book was authored by Russell Snyder and myself. Angel Barrientos was at the time of the interview 45 and had moved to Finland as a refugee from Chile.
What is Angel’s message? Read on…
…After many months of clandestine living (after the military coup of September 11, 1973), I found my way to the Finnish Embassy in Santiago. I used to know people who worked at the embassy. I am grateful to them for helping me get safe passage to Finland.
I did not know anything about Finland before coming here. The only images I had were terribly long, cold winters and pine forests. After an exhausting flight from Santiago, the plane landed in Helsinki-Vantaa Airport on a wintry January day.
At the time all Chilean refugees were hopeful that (Augusto) Pinochet’s government would fall in a few years. We had to wait for seventeen years.
My greatest tragedy is that I did not really foresee how radically my life would change by moving to Finland. I have suffered very much. It is not easy being an outsider in this country.
I admit it is my fault that I do not speak Finnish well enough. The truth is that I have never had any motivation to learn this language. I never considered Finland to be my permanent home.
I feel that when I am living in Finland, I am living in two places at the same time. One foot is entrenched in my native land and the other is here. I cannot plan for the future because I am constantly thinking about moving back to Chile.
Do you have any idea what I feel because I cannot express myself linguistically or culturally after twenty years of living here? It is a sinister feeling that eats me up from the inside. I am convinced that my stomach ulcers are caused by these factors.
I graduated as an interior designer. As an interior designer, my job was to design the interior of large office buildings, to choose the appropriate furniture, curtains and wall paper.
During the boom years of the late-1980s, there was work for interior designers. I am presently unemployed. Around 40-50% of all interior designers are without work.
I have lived with two women. With Sirpa, my first finnish love, we have twin daughters. Our separation was a long and painful process. It is too difficult to explain in a few words.
My new wife is called Hanna. We have a three-year old daughter, Paula. I have always spoken Spanish to my children. It is important for my children to speak another language because it opens up new worlds for them.
I am especially concerned about the future. The poor economic situation and the deep recession (of the early 1990s) do not encourage me to see the future optimistically. Living off unemployment benefits forces me to live frugally. Because of my age, I think I will have a hard time getting work even during better economic times.
Sometimes I have a great urge to return to the days of my youth. Back then, people like myself were convinced we could change the world. All we needed was a few determined men and the masses to create a revolution. We were so naive.
What will I do in the future? Who knows…If the economic situation does not improve, I might pack my bags and move back to Chile with Hanna and Paula. But my age worries me, it is not easy to begin life again in another country. Maybe in Chile I would also suffer a similar fate as I did here. I would be a stranger in my own land.