Today, talking to two firemen while I was filling up my car with petrol, I brought up the subject of migrants and they both said that they were the country’s biggest problem, and one of them referred to migrants with rudeness, disqualifications and an angry attitude. This conversation prompted me to reflect and write this opinion column.

Yeserley is a young Venezuelan woman who, together with her family, arrived in Chile after weeks of walking and travelling in trucks and buses, wondering if they were being cheated. Her journey was no different from that of millions of migrants who suffer hunger, cold, abuse, danger, uncertainty, violence, solidarity, affection, welcome and other experiences that leave lifelong scars.

She and her family have been incorporated into Chilean society. They have their residency papers in order. Her mother and father work; she and her siblings study and work. They are active in their communities. At the beginning they felt accepted and welcomed, but over the years they are feeling and living discrimination and bad treatment.

It was with much bewilderment that we heard hate speeches from political leaders in other parts of the world a few years ago. The then US presidential candidate Donald Trump referred to Mexican immigrants as “rapists and criminals”, Marie Le Pen in France said that migrants were “a danger to France and should be expelled from the country”, and Jair Bolsonaro said that African migrants were “the worst kind of immigrant”.

Recall that hate speech refers to any type of communication, whether oral or written, or behaviour, that attacks or uses derogatory or discriminatory language in reference to a person or group based on who they are, in other words, based on their religion, ethnicity, nationality, skin colour, ancestry, gender or other forms of identity.

Today in Chile, hate speech against migrants is part of everyday conversations and part of the political communication and editorial line of some media outlets. Xenophobia and racism have proliferated.

The transition from hate speech to violence is very rapid. Hate speech contributes to creating an environment in which violence against certain groups of people, including migrants, is justified or legitimised.

It is important to recognise that violence does not come out of anywhere, but is the result of a process in which the limits of healthy coexistence are broken, creating a climate of intolerance and dehumanisation of the groups of people who are the targets of these discourses, in this case, migrants.

Yeserley studies at a high school in Santiago. She has good friends and feels welcomed by the adult world of her school community, but outside of it, she begins to feel afraid. She knows that the only way to counteract hate speech is to invite empathy and that with a hand on their hearts, they should be able to respond to the invitation:

“Put yourself in my place”.

Seed Foundation