Several weeks have passed since the 33 Chilean miners were rescued from the underground mine where they were trapped in for 69 days in the Atacama Desert. The world watched for two days in October as they emerged one by one in steel cages from the bowels of the earth to a cheering crowd.
Chile was in the spotlight and its people were united by a catastrophe with a happy ending. Still, for some Chilean expatriates in New York City, this event made them feel further away from home than ever.
For Fabiola Corominas, 28, who grew up in Santiago, Chile, the ordeal ignited a dormant sense of patriotism. “What I felt was a huge honor for the people, for the Chileans,” said Corominas, who now lives with her husband and their child in Morris Park. “For some to be able to survive such an experience and for others to rescue them safely.”
Corominas is one of the over 6,700 Chileans living in New York City according to the latest U.S. Census.
Two years ago, Corominas decided to follow her boyfriend across the world and into the Bronx. She studied for an associate degree in accessories design at the Fashion Institute of Technology for a while, but had to put her studies on hold when her daughter was born.
Corominas was immersed in her life as a mother when on August 5th the 33 miners were trapped. It was only after her mother-in-law called that she realized the magnitude of the accident. By the time of the rescue, she was hooked on the suspense, and stayed up all night to watch each miner emerge.
“I saw everything,” she said in Spanish. “The miners inside the mine, the rescue team, the president and all the people outside.”
The emotion of the event overshadowed the negligence of the mine’s owners, and instead brought the Chilean people together with a wave of nationalism.
One clear benefactor of that patriotic fervor was Sebastian Piñera, who had a rough start as the newly elected president of Chile. Days before taking the helm, Chile was struck by a devastating earthquake that killed over 400 people and caused millions of dollars in damages across the country. Six months later, the miners were trapped and all eyes were on him again.
For Montserrat Nicolas, a Chilean political journalist and consultant in Washington D.C., the public perception of politicians in Chile is very low. “The fact that Piñera managed to get the miners out, is seen as a great achievement,” said Nicolas in Spanish. “It means that expectations are low.” Nicolas does not believe that President Piñera’s image will ever be better than the 65 percent of support he has now. Not everyone agrees.
For Chilean journalist Juan Carlos Bustamante, the rescue of the miners has strengthened the image of President Piñera and has pushed him toward a possible reelection four years from now. “As Chileans, we understand that any democratic government would had done the same,” said Bustamante in Spanish, later adding that any government would have received the same support Piñera’s did during the catastrophe, regardless of their inclination.
According to Bustamante both catastrophes — the earthquake and the rescue of miners — prove the ability of Piñera to handle crises. Comparing the political impact of the miner rescue on Piñera to the World Trade Center attack on U.S. President George Bush, Bustamante said the outcomes might seem similar, but they are not. “From the rescue of the miners all we have left is an act of happiness,” said Bustamante. “From 9/11, we are almost forgetting the victims because of how badly Bush’s administration handled the crisis.”
For Chilean journalist Jose Ignacio Stark, 26, the media coverage was more entertaining than journalistic. He chose to follow the story through Twitter and the official government television signal.
“The eve of the rescue was tainted with an inordinate feeling of overexposure,” said Stark in Spanish “I remember reading articles about what kind of underwear the miners’ wife were going to use when they were rescued.”
Others, like stay-at-home mom Fabiola Corominas could not get enough. “I didn’t want to stop watching until all the rescuers were out the mine,” she said. “But that part wasn’t shown and it made me feel as if the whole thing wasn’t over yet.” The new mom was most struck when Florencio Avalo’s son started crying after seeing his dad emerge from the mine. “That was when I started crying,” said Corominas before bursting into the typical Chilean cheer “CHI-CHI-CHI LE-LE-LE.”