Paige: You're listening to Coffee with Gringos. I'm Paige Sutherland.
Mariah: And I'm Mariah Wika. Welcome back to the podcast. Today we are with another Dynamic English teacher, with Martin Rojas. And he is here today to tell us a little bit about himself and also share his interest in history, so it's a special episode today. Martin, we're excited to have you here with us.
Martin: Thanks for having me.
Paige: Just to start, obviously you're new to the podcast, so tell our audience a little bit about yourself - where you're from, when you came to Chile, why you came to Chile...
Martin: Sure. Some listeners might have guessed from my name being Martin Rojas, or alternatively Martin Rojas *pronounced differently. My father is Chilean. He went to the United States in the 70s, like a lot of people did. My mother is American. So I grew up in a bilingual, somewhat bicultural home. I visited Chile a lot. My Chilean grandparents live here, I have an uncle here, a lot cousins of varying closeness who all live here. So I grew up bouncing back and forth between the two. Recently I got Chilean citizenship, so I am here now experimenting with being Chilean, as I like to put it. I got here in January, started working for Dynamic shortly thereafter, and the idea is to stay for two or three years and sort of decide if I want to stay here permanently or if it's time to go back and admit that I'm just another American.
Paige: What struck me is you said, "experimenting with being Chilean." What have you found so far in this experiment.
Martin: What a question. It's interesting because... so my mother is, like a lot of Americans, a big mix of various European countries. German, Irish, Scandinavian, Swiss, French, etc. etc. etc. And like a lot of Americans, she doesn't really care. She doesn't take any of that seriously. But my father grew up in Chile and took being Chilean very seriously, and he thought it was very important that his children know a lot about Chile and be familiar with Chile and understand Spanish and all of these things. So I sort of grew up thinking of myself as Chilean in a meaningful sense, even though I was definitely also American. But when I come to Chile, it's very apparent that I am American. America is where I went to school, America is fundamentally where I grew up. And that's kind of an interesting... a moderate form of an identity crisis. Chileans kind of have two reactions when I give them the background. On the one hand, they're very flattered that there's somebody who could live in America but is living in Chile and does care about Chile and enjoys spending time in Chile. But on the other hand, they will be very upfront and be like, "Well, look... if I could live in the US, I would just live there. I wouldn't ever live here." That's kind of an interesting duality to navigate.
Mariah: And how has your experience been thus far in this trial run of whether you could live here long-term. Because you said before, you visited with family before, maybe short visits for holidays... but now you're giving it a go, you're doing adult life here.
Martin: Yeah. Doing adult life here. Definitely. On some level, I want to give the answer that it's too early to tell, but that's not a great answer. Especially not in a podcast interview format. When I'm in Chile, it's sort of a bit of trivia that I grew up in America, but with a Chilean dad. And if I live in America, people see my last name, and they're like, "Oh, whoa, what's that about?! Tell me about that! You don't look Mexican. This is weird." Either way, I sort of have this curious dynamic to my background that I guess I might never shake no matter where I am. I don't know, maybe I should go to Japan...
Mariah: So you said that it was important to your dad that his kids knew about their Chilean culture and about his experience here, what were some customs that you maybe experienced in your childhood or grew up with from Chile?
Martin: Sure. So, I come from a very nerdy family. My dad is a translator, my mother is a librarian, and my Chilean grandparents are both retired professors of literature at a PhD level. So a lot of it was just books. My dad thought it was equally important for me to know who Bernardo O'Higgins was as it was important for me to know who George Washington was. I was always trying to keep my knowledge of Chilean history at pace with my knowledge of American history. And that applied just as much to a lot of cultural things like music or literature or things like this. For more normal everyday stuff, there definitely wasn't as much because there are not a lot of Chileans in the United States... more than people think, but still not a lot. And Chile is also very, very far away from the United States, so there isn't Chilean culture or Chilean products at hand the way there are Mexican culture and Mexican products, same with Cuba or a lot of Central American nations. But there were a few things, my dad would get a hold of mate. I started drinking it as a teenager, and I love it. We would make empanadas at home sometimes, which are delicious. A lot of my students don't believe me... empanadas are NOT readily available in the United States, you can't just go anywhere and get empanadas. I found one restaurant in Washington, DC that sold empanadas, and it was owned by Chileans. My dad also, when he went to Chile, would bring back lots of products with the Chilean flag on them, like baseball caps and T-shirts and things like that. That was the one kind of push in regards to Chilean culture that I was really resistant to because when you wear anything with a Chilean flag on it in the United States, people look at it, and they think that it is the flag of the state of Texas, and they immediately start to talk to you about how awesome Texas is and how they are from Texas and how they're so excited to meet a fellow Texan, and they want to know what part of Texas you're from. They say how everything's bigger in Texas, everything's better in Texas, and then you awkwardly have to say, "Oh no, as much as you love Texas, you can't actually fully recognize the flag because the Chilean flag is slightly different, and is the one I am wearing. It is a very small and very faraway Latin American nation that you know nothing about." And then it just nukes the conversation, and it's so uncomfortable because they feel uncomfortable and then you feel uncomfortable, and there's nowhere you can really go from there. People sometimes try to talk about soccer, which I don't know anything about, or they'll commit the constant ugly American assumption of thinking you're basically talking about Mexico. So they want to talk to you about Mariachi music, which is also terrible and obnoxious. So, yeah. Never wear anything with the Chilean flag on it.
Mariah: So Martin, you said that as you were growing up, it was important for you to keep your knowledge of Chilean history on pace with your knowledge of US history. You're a history buff! You know a lot about history. What inspired you to continue studying US and Chilean history?
Martin: No need for inspiration, I just genuinely really enjoy it. I read more non-fiction books than novels. As you can see, I have with me a 500 or so page book about the history of the Chilean right between 1964 and 73. To me, it's actually way more enjoyable to read this than a novel... most novels. There are some great novels out there. You know, and from a vocation to an obsession, I guess. There's a big Chilean historian named Francisco Antonio Encina, who wrote a fourteen volume history of Chile. I am actually a descendant of his illegitimate son. I'm actually his great great grandson, but from the illegitimate side of the family that was never recognized. So my last name would actually be Encina, if he had given his last name to his illegitimate son, but he did not, and the mother of said illegitimate son... her first last name was Rojas. And that is where Rojas comes from, which is somewhat amusing because Rojas is the third most common name in Chile. Francisco Antonio Encina is still fairly known at least in academic circles or in nerdy intellectual circles. Encina is definitely not a common name. Moreover, all of Encina's legitimate children were girls, so there is no direct descendant of his with the last name Encina. There are actually no Encinas. So, how about that.
Paige: You obviously read a lot, mostly non-fiction. Do you read mostly in Spanish, English, or a little bit of both?
Martin: That's a great question. It's hard to maintain that balance. Right now I am trying to really read just in Spanish while I'm here in Chile, since this is the big experiment for staying here. Basically, I can read faster in English certainly. What will happen is I will get lazy, and I will start reading in English again and fall into that pattern for a few months, and then suddenly this wave of guilt will arrive, and I'll be like... I have not read a book in Spanish in six months, I'm gonna forget Spanish. I'm a traitor to my inheritance. This is so awful. I can't believe I'm behaving in such a disrespectful manner, and then I will start reading in Spanish again, so it sort of bounces back and forth like that. But right now, I'm really trying to just read in Spanish, especially since I'm teaching English as a job, so I'm using English quite a bit at work. I have to balance that out, definitely.
Mariah: I feel like every has a time period that they really focus on. Is there a specific part of Chilean history that you really enjoy learning about?
Martin: What a great question. Yeah. It's sort of a complicated answer because there a few period in Chilean history that I find really interesting. Part of the reason that I'm really interested in them is because there's not a lot written about them, which means that I don't actually know that much about them, nor have a read that much about them because it can be really, really challenging to find books on certain things. There are certain things that are really in vogue to study, and there are other things that nobody knows about. So, what I'm trying to learn more about is the 20th century's first military dictatorship which lasted from 1927 until 1931 under Ibáñez del Campo, which nobody knows about this brief period, which I find fascinating because it was sort of like the first military dictatorship in the 20th century. It was in many ways the precursor for what would come much later on. It's been largely forgotten. Ibáñez just became so unpopular, he resigned in 1931, and there was a very chaotic period thereafter, including a very, very brief socialist republic. They actually renamed Chile the Chilean Socialist Republic. It lasted about 90 days or so. That is also absolutely fascinating. Very, very brief. It's kind of similar to the Paris commune in the 19th century where it's this blip of radicalism. They held onto power for just a second. What's interesting about that is that that government issued a lot of edicts, which were later used by the Allende regime. The constitution didn't actually change between the time of that socialist republic and the time Allende was elected. So they issued a lot of these declarations, one of the big ones was that if a company or a factory was being really inefficient, the state has the right to take it over. And that was never approved by congress or anything during this socialist republic, but it was never done away with. It was just forgotten about, and that was actually a legal tool that Allende would go on to use quite a bit.
Martin: There definitely are these impacts, and it's the same way with the people who brought together the coup in '73. They definitely looked to Ibáñez del Campo in the 20s and 30s as the model, as the fact that this could be done, the fact that it had been done, that it was relatively successful.
Paige: So you read a lot of books about Chilean history. Your dad obviously really tried to keep you in the know about the history, and you visited a lot. But was there anything that you learned about in books, through your dad, through your visits that you were surprised by or maybe clicked for you now that you're living here and being Chilean now?
Martin: That's another great question. I think something that maybe made an impression on me is the difference in relative wealth because from afar, it's always talked about and written about that Chile is considerably wealthier than the rest of Latin America or even countries that have similar amounts of wealth like Argentina, Chile is still way less corrupt. There's a lot less crime. So because you hear that so much, I think it's easy to forget that there still is this really big gulf between Chile and the United States. My dad and his parents both live in this small town in the north, kind of in isolation. Here's a vocabulary word for you listeners - they kind of live in the boonies. They kind of live in the boondocks of northern Chile. So because of that isolation, when I visited a lot when I was a teenager, in my early twenties, I visited them a lot and wouldn't interact as much with Chilean society as a whole. So I think the difference in wealth... especially because when you land in Santiago and you look around, you see all of these big buildings. Buildings are kept up, they're well maintained, nothing's crumbling. Even the graffiti is really pretty here. So it's easy to sort of, even once you really see Chile, you've got these buildings with elevators and big shopping malls that are kept spotless clean. There still is this really big difference in day to day purchasing power.
Mariah: So you've told us a lot about your knowledge of history, I know that I've learned a lot today, and I'm sure you have too, Paige. Is this something that you are pursuing as a career? Is it a hobby that you're really passionate about? Where are you headed with history?
Martin: I've done a lot of ghost writing in the United States related to history and politics, which by contract, by definition, I'm not allowed to get into here. Sorry! So, that's to say, I have done a lot of writing in English about American history and politics. And one of the goals is to get to a point where I can at least kind of do that in Spanish. I can write in Spanish, but it takes a long time, and it's kind of awkward. The prose can be a little more awkward. So the goal is to get better at that. So far I've been published only once in Spanish. So yeah, we're getting there.
Mariah: Awesome. Well, thanks again for sharing. We've really enjoyed having you on the show.
Martin: Thanks so much!
Mariah: Thanks for listening, and we'll talk to you soon.
KEY VOCABULARY, PHRASES, AND SLANG
To bounce (verb) - another way of saying to physically jump OR describing changing from one thing to another
Example: I grew up bouncing back and forth between Chilean and American culture.
To experiment (verb) - to test, to participate in a process of discovery
Example: I’m experimenting with being Chilean.
Meaningful (adjective) - important and significant
Example: My dad really cared about his Chilean heritage, so I did grow up thinking of myself as Chilean in a meaningful sense.
Apparent (adjective) - clear and obvious
Example: When I come to Chile, it's very apparent that I am American.
Duality (noun) - when there’s opposition or contrast between two ideas or concepts
Example: Sometimes it’s challenging for Martin to navigate the duality of his Chilean and American identities.
Trial run (noun) - a test to see if something functions
Example: This is a trial run to see if I would like to live in Chile long-term.
Upfront (adjective) - direct and honest
Example: Sometimes people are very upfront when they give me an opinion about where I should live.
Nerdy (adjective, slang) - very smart and interested in reading and learning, this word can be used positively but can also be used to make fun of other people.
Example: I come from a very nerdy family. My dad is a translator, my mom is a librarian, and my grandparents are retired professors.
At pace with (phrase) - at the same level as
Example: It was always very important for me to keep my knowledge of Chilean history at pace with my knowledge of American history.
History buff (noun, slang) - a person who is very, very knowledgeable about history
Example: Martin is a history buff! He knows so much information about both US and Chilean history.
To nuke (verb, slang) - to explode or destroy
Example: The uncomfortable comment nuked the conversation.
Legitimate child - historically, this described children who were born in marriage
Example: All of Encina’s legitimate children were women, so the family name was eventually lost.
Illegitimate child - historically, this described children who were born outside of marriage
Example: Martin is a descendant of Francisco Antonio Encina’s illegitimate son.
Awful (adjective) - terrible, very bad
Example: When I read too much in English, I feel awful! That’s why I have to make sure I read a lot in Spanish too.
In vogue (phrase) - in style, popular
Example: There are certain things that are really in vogue to study, and there are other things that nobody knows about.
Brief (adjective) - short, in the context of time
Example: The first military dictatorship was just a brief period.
Precursor (noun) - something that occurs before something of the same kind
Example: The first military dictatorship under Ibáñez del Campo was in some ways a precursor to the eventual military dictatorship under Pinochet.
Hold onto (phrasal verb) - to maintain
Example: They held onto power for only 90 days.
Take over (phrasal verb) - to take control
Example: If a company or a factory was being really inefficient, the state had the right to take it over.
Gulf (noun) - a large difference or division
Example: There’s a significant gulf between social classes.
The boonies OR the boondocks (slang) - a very remote, isolated place
Example: My family lives in the boondocks of Northern Chile.
Ghost writing - to write a book for somebody else without sharing your identity
Example: Martin has done ghost writing for history books in the United States.