SANTIAGO, Chile – For the young Chilean couple, Ángel Pérez, 21 and Valeria Acevedo, 22, 2010 “was a very intense year” and, at least for them, finding out they are expecting a baby was “the best news.”
“Thank God the baby will be born in 2011,” Acevedo joked.
“Earthquakes or tsunamis are things as a country we must learn to live with and overcome,” Pérez added.
Acevedo said that in 2010, the year of the country’s Bicentennial, Chileans found a way to unite in the face of adversity.
“On my street there were many people who did not know each other,” Acevedo said.”But after the earthquake, we began to be concerned about each other, and that continues up to the present day.”
One of the strongest earthquakes in history, along with milestones such as President Sebastián Piñera’s taking over for the highly popular Michelle Bachelet, the unprecedented rescue of 33 trapped miners and a good showing at the World Cup gave the Chilean Bicentennial unexpected distinction.
The 8.8-magnitude earthquake and subsequent tsunami that struck much of the Chilean coast were centered near the city of Concepción, in the VII Region.
Rolando Silva, 51, an employee of a compensation fund, attributed the earthquake and tsunami of Feb. 27 to “bad luck.”
“Although I know that Chile is a country plagued by natural disasters, the events that occurred on February 27, 2010 were very impressive, especially because the Chileans from other areas were able to follow live everything that happened in the south,” Silva said.
The year has been a “crash course” for Chile on “how to handle situations of different kinds,” says Marcelo Cerda, 25, a Boy Scout leader in Santiago.
“Like never before in our history, this sequence of happenings gave us the opportunity to improve ourselves in many ways,” Cerda says. “This also gave us the chance to rearrange ourselves as a nation.”
“The year 2010 can be studied as a complex phenomenon, impossible to address from any single perspective,” said Eduardo Santa Cruz, a communications and culture analyst at the University of Chile in Santiago. “The activities for the Bicentennial – some planned since 2000 – that were going to represent a definite step toward progress for Chile, were marred by tragedy. These events give 2010 an epic feel.”
For children, understanding the array of events was the hardest part, says Macarena Rivas, a 29-year-old kindergarten teacher in Las Condes, a suburb of Santiago.
“[After the earthquake] it was clear that all the children needed to vent,” Rivas said about her pupils. “They had a high level of anxiety, but they also were worried about the well-being of their classmates.”
“In the case of the miners, we prayed for them every day,” Rivas said. “When the rescue was imminent, each of the children sent a letter and a drawing to the miners, as a way for them to connect with that reality.”
Santa Cruz said the perseverance displayed by Chileans in 2010 reinforces their national identity.
“Chileans believe that they are condemned to constantly rebuilding things,” he said.
The year also had its bright spots, including rescue teams freeing 33 trapped miners in front of a worldwide audience of about a billion and the country’s soccer team making a run to the round-of-16 before losing to Brazil.
“The rescue of the miners at the San José mine showcased the ‘Chilean way,’” said Claudio Rolle, a historian and professor at the Catholic University of Chile. “[It means] a certain pride in the way we do things.”
The rescue of the 33 trapped miners at the San José gold and copper mine was a rare opportunity to show the world the capabilities of Chilean professionals, says 60-year old librarian Paula Muñoz.
“[The rescue] was an opportunity for Chile to open to the world,” Muñoz said. “We demonstrated that we have top-level professionals in this country.”