Chilean Immigrants in Arizona Band Together After Tragic Earthquake

A Maipú building complex heavily damaged by the earthquake in Chile - Photo: Esteban Maldonado A./Flickr

A Maipú building complex heavily damaged by the earthquake in Chile. (Photo: Esteban Maldonado A./Flickr)

PHOENIX, Arizona — Patricia Ewert hasn’t been able to hear her brother’s voice on the phone since a magnitude 8.8 earthquake hit her native Chile last Saturday. But a message from him on Facebook put her at ease.

“Necesito escuchar tu voz,” he told her in Spanish: “I need to hear your voice.”

The rest was bittersweet news.

“They don’t have water, they don’t have food. They lost everything, they weren’t even able to take their toothbrushes,” Ewert said about her family’s ordeal. They’re afraid of the ongoing aftershocks that rattle their town of San Carlos, near Concepción, the second largest city in the country.

Ewert who came back to live in Arizona six months ago, has banded together with dozens of Chilean immigrants in Maricopa County who are sharing their sorrow and organizing to send aid to their compatriots.

Hundreds of people died and thousands have lost their homes in the massive earthquake.

“We don’t want to have a repeat of what happened in Haiti, it’s been more than a month and there’s still people that need help over there,” said Pastor Magdalena Schwartz, a well-known community activist and a Chilean immigrant.

A Christian concert, food sales and raffles are among the events that several members of this immigrant community are planning in order to help their country.

“Our heart is there. We want to be there to offer them our spiritual and moral support,” said Elizabeth Cruz, the pastor of Iglesia Comunidad de Vida in the city of Gilbert.

Cruz and Schwartz are sisters. Their parents, two brothers, a sister and numerous other relatives lived in the central city of Chillán, one of the areas hit hardest by the earthquake.

Ewert said that the catastrophe has made a lot of Chileans come together and sometimes meet for the first time.

Through the Internet, she hears horrible tales of what is going on with her relatives that survived the quake.

“In Concepción people are going around the streets with sticks and knifes. The people that are protecting their homes, those that are stealing, everybody carries a weapon,” she said.

Ewert still fears for the life of her brother, who has been traveling between San Carlos and Concepción, trying to help others when there are tsunami warnings.

She had her suitcases packed and was ready to go to Chile. But then her husband convinced her that it would be best to wait at least two weeks to ensure her safety. It was a major shock when she found out that the ocean took a former boyfriend of hers away in the tsunami that followed the quake.

She knows she is not alone in the sorrow.

On a recent day, Cruz was on the phone with her father when the family felt a tremor. He didn’t want to hang up, so she heard as the children ran to a corner of the room trying to protect themselves.

“I lived through the emotions of fear as if I was with them,” she said. “And I prayed.”

Other Chileans like Juany Aguilera, 42, didn’t have family in the area affected by the earthquake. Most of her relatives live in Santiago, the capital.

Yet, Aguilera chokes when she sees TV images of beach resorts she and her husband used to frequent when they were young, now completely destroyed.

“I’m crying till this day,” she said. “I think of the people that lost it all and now have to start over again. But we’re a strong country and we will overcome this.”

Aguilera contacted Schwartz as soon as she heard the news to see what she could do to help. She has been planning a bake sale with her church, anything that could help send money.

Schwartz said she has received a number of calls from other Christian pastors, who expressed their willingness to help organize a concert to raise funds. The money will be used to purchase basic things like food, diapers and tents for those who have been displaced by the earthquake.

Cruz said that there are talks about sending a container with some of these items, but they still have to decide what would be the fastest course of action to get the help. She said that even if there are international organizations helping out like the Red Cross, there could never be enough help.

“The rainy season is coming and winter is cold over there. So there’s going to be a lot of people that will need shelter,” she said.

Ewert believes that this natural disaster is a good opportunity to reflect on solidarity and love.

“Let’s save the money that we spend making bombs and let’s buy more bread,” she said.


*** Anyone interested in helping the “Iglesia Comunidad de Vida” Church in sending aid to Chile may call 480-430-2897 or 480-593-7186.

AboutValeria Fernández
Valeria Fernández is an independent journalist from Uruguay with more than a 14 years experience as a bilingual documentary producer and reporter on Arizona’s immigrant community and the US-Mexico borderlands. She co-directed and produced "Two Americans,” a documentary that parallels the stories of Sheriff Joe Arpaio and a 9-year-old U.S. citizen whose parents were arrested by the sheriff’s deputies that aired in Al Jazeera America. Her work as reporter for the Arizona Center for Investigative Reporting on the economic and social impacts of a mine spill in Northern Mexico broadcast in PBS, San Diego and won an Arizona Press Club recognition for environmental reporting in 2016. She freelances for a number of print, digital and broadcast media outlets, including Feet in 2 Worlds, CNN Español, Radio Bilingue, PRI's Global Nation, Al Jazeera, and Discovery Spanish.