Stakes [Pull Up / Put Down]: An Interview with Patricia

I conducted this interview as part of Stakes [Pull Up / Put Down]. For more information about the project, read the project overview. To read additional entries as they come available, subscribe to The Letter.

Patricia and I connected because a mutual Twitter contact shared my call for conversations for this project.

We talked via Skype videoconference in my early evening in Lausanne, Switzerland, and Patricia’s midmorning in Bogota, Columbia, both of us between meetings and errands and to-do list urgencies.

Note: Patricia preferred I use only her first name and passed on providing a photo, given the personal information we covered in our conversation.

When Chile became Home

Five years into their stay in Chile, at the time of their second visa renewal, Patricia and her husband—U.S. citizens—had an a-ha moment: They didn’t want to leave. Chile had become home.

“It was more than a year into it,” she said. “We looked at each other, we were both anxious, and we realized that we both didn't want to leave. It was a huge weight off our shoulders. We’d felt like we had to go, and we together realized we didn't want to leave.”

Patricia and her husband had raised their two daughters in Chile. They’d had their formative years as a family in Chile. They’d had rich experiences. They’d bought a house. They’d built a home with all its attendant memories and pets and love.

Ultimately, they’ll return to Chile—home—to retire. They have permanent-residency status. Patricia and her husband envision a home in the south with some land. For now, they live in Bogota, Columbia. Her husband’s job moved them to Bogota in 2017. “I am an expat in Columbia but a long-term resident and future national of Chile,” she said.

“I feel liberated,” Patricia said, when I asked about how it felt to look at the future and not see moving back to the United States in it. “Yet let’s not sugar-coat it: I have a U.S. passport. I have the liberty to go back when I want to. I’m cognizant of my ability to move there if I want to. And I’m appreciative of the choice.”

Patricia acknowledges that if their daughters choose to move to the United States after college—they both have U.S. citizenship, after all—she and her husband will likely spend part of the year in the United States, for proximity. However, even if this happens, they do not envision returning to live in the United States full-time.

How Patricia Got to Chile

Though Patricia had done study-abroad work during high school and college and had traveled extensively, she first lived abroad in Venezuela, where she and her husband moved after graduate school.

They’d met at the University of Chicago in an international-relations master’s-degree program. When they graduated, they couldn’t find jobs in the United States. Her husband, who had moved to the United States from Venezuela, discovered that he could get a job in government there, and she could get a job at a newspaper.

“It was such a fantastic experience,” she said. “I’d always wanted to leave, even when I was little. Even when I was in high school, college, and grad school. I studied abroad in Jordan and Egypt. My mother sent me abroad in high school.”

After a couple of years in Venezuela, Patricia and her husband moved back to the greater New York City area, where Patricia grew up with three siblings and parents who had emigrated there from the Dominican Republic. Her three siblings still live in New Jersey; Patricia’s parents died a year or two before our conversation.

Patricia and her husband stayed in the New York City area for ten years after their return from Venezuela. They had their two daughters there. However, after September 11, 2001, the stress felt toxic.

“It was a hard time to be in that part of the country,” she said. “There were constant threats and fear and chattering. Yet you couldn’t talk about why it happened. It was considered unpatriotic.”

At that time, they began to think about moving back to Latin America. Her husband’s job offered them an opportunity in Chile. They decided to make the move and planned to stay two years.

They ended up staying fourteen.

Kids with a Different Cultural Upbringing

When they moved, their two daughters had lived for only a few of their youngest years in New Jersey. At first, the eldest daughter didn’t like Chile, but she grew enamored with it after a while.

“Our kids, though they were born in the U.S. and they understand intellectually that they are from the U.S. and have U.S. passports, they don’t feel connected to it,” Patricia said. “They spent their formative years in Chile. They identify as Chilean. I wonder what my grandchildren will identify as.”

Patricia and her husband have tried to impress American cultural values upon their children. “It’s been a bit hard with the current administration,” she said. “Trump is undermining my sense of identity as an American. But I still believe in the foundational cultural values of the United States. We want our children to know those. Even if they don’t seem representative today.”

She said she wanted her daughters to see the inequalities and injustices of Latin America through the lens of “traditional U.S. political ideals such as social mobility and freedoms. We wanted the girls to see the U.S. from afar and to appreciate the good things.”

From their years in Latin America, she and her family more directly appreciate the conveniences of the United States, that “you can get everything you want in stores, that the lights will work when you flip the switch, that the water is generally clean.”

Patricia feels that they made the right decision in moving to Chile as such a young family. “As a family of expats, we were so much closer. You have to rely on each other in a strange setting. No one has friends yet. We had some major experiences as a family.”

Taking Virtual Conversations to Face-to-Face Conversations

Patricia will speak at a conference in Geneva later this month, so we may meet in person then, if our schedules align. I hope they do!

For more information about Stakes [Pull Up / Put Down], the project that generated this interview, read the project statement. If you would like to participate as an interview subject or have a participant to recommend, please contact me. To get updates on the project, subscribe to The Letter.