September: the month of Chilenidad

September: the month of Chilenidad

Chilenidad. What a great word. It means “Chileanness,” and Chileans take it very seriously indeed. And September, the month of Independence Day on September 18 (also taken very seriously) AKA “El Dieciocho” and Fiestas Patrias (ditto) and especially this one, the 200th 18th, makes for some pretty good reasons to think just exactly what Chilenidad is all about.

Chilean Flag banners in Andean Town © M Snook

A small Andean town deep in the Elqui Valley prepares for "18" with Chilean flag banners

Wikipedia (c’mon, admit it, we all use it!) says Chilenidad is:

“The term used in Chile to describe the set of cultural expressions that have originated or been adopted in Chilean territory and whose use has lasted over time, been transmitted from one generation to the next, and that now make up the national identity.”
(my translation)

I’d like to spend this month exploring Chilenidad here at Cachando Chile. So, barring work crises and other factors beyond my control, I’ll be rummaging around in the Chileanest of all Chilean things that contribute to the sense of national identity, to Chilenedad… Sure, that’s what Cachando Chile is about all the time, but let’s get down to the nitty gritty and find out what Chileans think about what makes them Chilean.

We’ll look at food, and symbols, and beliefs, and language, and traditions, and customs, and fiestas, and celebrations, and games, and music, and dances, and characters, and shared history, and wildlife, and anything else that I—make that WE—can come up with to define what is Chilean! That’s right—WE—I would REALLY love your suggestions!

So let’s start right now:

Are you Chilean? What does Chilenidad mean to you?

Are you a foreigner in Chile? What does Chilenidad mean to YOU?


49 responses to “September: the month of Chilenidad

  1. For me, definitely las empanadas (the right Chilean pronunciation is lah empanáh) and the “poh” expression (ya poh, no poh, sí poh…).

  2. Absolutely Po! And did you see that el Wikén has their results on Chile’s best “empanás” today? I have a post pending on the results from the Círculo de Cronistas Gastronómicos marathon empanda tasting last weekend too.

  3. Yes, I saw the Wikén this morning and felt like tasting them all! I was with my wife and she said her Grandmother’s empanás are the best. I didn’t disagree.

  4. I bet! A friend insists that her mother’s are the best… my guess is that not much can beat homemade with love!

  5. You’re right. Love is the thing. But in the case of empanás there is something more. For some reason the homemade ones that I have tasted (my mother’s, my grandma-in law’s and others) are quite juicier than those I get in stores or restaurants. I think it’s because when I’m eating at home I can change easily if my clothes get stained.

  6. Ah! the famous empaná caldúa! A lot of people say that a good empanada has to really drip and dribble!

  7. Right! They have to “chorrear” just like a juicy ripe fruit! Even if your best dress has to pay the piper.

  8. Have you ever noticed how messy Chilean food can get? An English friend always talks about how impressed he is that his Chilean wife can eat an entire completo without spilling a drop, a feat he has not yet accomplished!

  9. I’ve asked myself that question all my life. How somebody could came up with a food that makes you feel stressed when you should be comfy? It’s a problem for me too and I don’t know the answer. And I’ve always lived here in Chile!

  10. hahaha- good point… probably worth an entire blog post! Uncomfortable comfort food!

  11. I’m amazed and envious that your mothers (anyone’s mother for that matter) even cook, let alone make empanadas. My mother, born and bred in Chile, never cooked! Alas, I have no idea what homemade empanadas taste like BUT I can chime in that some of the best ones I’ve had are from this little, middle-of-the-road (quite literally) spot between Santiago and Viña!
    Growing up in the States, something that always brought me back (figuratively speaking) was when the adults played cachos, listened to cuecas and drank Casillero del Diablo. Those three things together alerted me to the fact that yeah, we’re Chilean. Even more so when living abroad.

  12. Yes, there are some favorite spots for empanadas along Route 68 between Santiago and the port.
    Cachos! You’re right!!I had forgotten about that game–a true Chilean favorite, kind of like a combination of Yahtzee and poker!
    Pregunta… (1) does your family celebrate 18 in the States? and (2) will you be doing anything special THIS 18 for the Bicentennial?

  13. The 18th is huge for Chilean expats living in the States…I always joke that we overdosed on nostalgia, the adults even more so because they actually lived here most of their adult lives! But it was a really warm feeling, getting together with other Chileans and eating typical food, while listening to the tiki-tiki-tiiii! When I was younger I remember there being many events but as I got older, and so did the kids of the expats (many who were born in the U.S.) the celebrations got smaller, were fewer and far between and I think it was because life got in the way and because globalization and “Americanization” took the lead. But yeah, it was a big deal for many.

    As for doing something special, we’re trying to actually get out of Santiago (can’t find a place to rent to save our lives!) but I’m sure we’ll do the “typical” and go to the fondas, which I really enjoy!

  14. Ah! I thought you were still living in the US.
    Chileans always seem surprised to learn that for me trying to celebrate the 4th of July here in Chile is a no-go… just another day in the week, although it’s completely different when I’m in the US. Part of it is that it is a mid-summer holiday in the US, with picnics and camping and swimming and parades and fireworks, and here it’s just another dreary gray winter day.
    Sound like your Chilean 18 in the US were a lot of fun!

  15. My Chilean friend Nelsons Mum does the best homemade empanadas I have tasted. Her Pisco Sour is pretty good too.

  16. To me this is what being Chileno means:

    I have lived in poverty
    But I have built a new more modern country
    Nature has repeatedly destroyed my home
    But I have rebuilt a new one
    I have wrecked the country’s economy through hyper inflation
    But I have built one of the healthiest economies in the free world
    I have incarcerated and killed my brothers
    But I have reunited them through democracy
    I am ashamed
    But I am proud
    I am Chilean
    Viva Chile Mxxxxx!

  17. Wow John. You sure touched on a lot. I’m sure there are many people who will agree with you whole-heartedly and others who will disagree (such is life), but I thank you for expressing your opinions.
    This makes me recall my feelings shortly after the earthquake about the persistence and determination of Chilean people… It was absolutely amazing to see how quickly people picked themselves up, stretched a hand to their neighbors, and all pitched in to start rebuilding without waiting for someone else to come fix it for them.
    And I suppose that if the president himself can say Viva Chile Mierda on national television… you can too.
    Now here’s a question… I’ve always heard that expression but have no idea where it comes from! Does anyone know?

  18. I wish I did. To me it sounds very typically Chilean, meaning, quiet, somewhat reserved, but ready to express her inner most feelings.

  19. To me Chilenidad means driving somewhere south of Temuco and seeing a sign for a turn off to a village called Peor Es Nada and winning a bet months later that such a place existed. Chilenidad is being in a very small andean village called Belen and having an old woman make my wife and I some “Inca” pop corn. Corn kernels as big or bigger than your thumb nail popped one at a time with loving care. Chilenidad is watching a young woman feeding a very small baby a nursing bottle of… Coca Cola! Chilenidad is reading this blog and feeling homesick for Chile even though I am not Chilean …!

  20. Oh John M! You just made my day! And I’m not Chilean either (¡aunque chilena de corazón sí!)… This incredible country is so diverse, there’s so much to see and do and experience and savor!
    And glad you won your bet about Peor Es Nada! There are other odd names too, like Putaendo!
    Soo- you’ll have to think of us on the 18th, fly your Chilean flag, find the best Japanese empanada in town, and think about the next time que Vas Para Chile!

  21. Speaking of “Si vas para Chile” here is the late Laura Branigan’s interpretation:

  22. Genial! Gotta give her points for the effort!

  23. Finding out what exactly makes up Chilenidad is the reason I read your blog. I must say, my understanding of this grows more and more each day. Thanks! I am the wife of a Chilean expat living in the US. To answer the question about celebrating el dieciocho in the US, it really depends on geography. Some cities that have high concentrations of Chilean expats have the big parties, other places don’t. My husband went to to Fiestas Patrias celebrations only a few times in the many years he has lived here, and really had little contact with other Chileans. This year, however, we are starting a new tradition. We are celebrating with our own backyard asado complete with Chilean colors, traditional foods, and of course, flying a volantin. I just started blogging about our experience at

  24. Wow- that makes me feel good! (the part about why you read this blog!) And I’m looking forward to read yours too! Same experience, but “al revés”!
    Sounds like your 18 should be a lot of fun!

  25. Chilenidad…mecla mapuche, española, mora, italiana, alemana y de tantos lugares que han hecho de esta angosta faja de tierra entre los Andes y el Pacífico…empanadas, curanto,sopaipillas,cazuelas de ave,prietas,agua con harina,mote con huesillos…y pizzas, wantan,completos,hamburguesas……cachái? agilado? al tiro…víste tipo?
    Difícil reunir tantos elementos disímiles para definir la chilenidad.

  26. Hola Carlos- Tienes toda la razón que Chile es compuesto por muchos elementos culturales y naturales. En un país tan largo y tan angosto que incluye todo tipo de geografía y las culturas que se desarrollan en su entorno. También los aportes de los diferentes grupos indígenas y de inmigrantes. También los elementos criollos y netamente locales. Hay mucho, mucho que podemos identificar como chileno, y eso es lo que quiero que exploremos este mes. Elementos nostálgicos, elementos hasta cliché y estereotipados. No es para decir que cada chileno lleva cada cosa en su corazón, sino que son elementos que reconocemos como parte de la cultura en que vivimos… y agradezco el aporte de todos!

  27. Not easy try to say the idea of chilenidad…people so different like the mixture of mapuches…italians…germans…frenchs or orientals people…
    empanadas, cazuelas, curantos. pailas marinas, sopaipillas, pizzas,cochayuyo,wantan,locos con mayonesa…agua con harina…mote con huesillos.
    Arica,La Serena,Valdivia.Los Ángeles,Puerto Montt,Santiago…its too much for definition.

  28. Carlos-I’m glad you wrote in both languages! the thing I want most from this blog is for it to be a space for dialogue & exchange of ideas between Chileans and non-Chileans–a place to discuss what it is that makes this place and this culture tick–and people are very welcome to write in either Spanish or English (sorry, I don’t speak any others!)… so thanks for helping keep this bicultural and bilingual!
    You’re right- Chile is very diverse in many ways, but there are certain elements that we all recognize as Chilean, of Chilenidad–the symbols of Chileanness, the things people miss when they are away, the things that are part of the collective sense of belonging. Those are the things we will be exploring this month. Many will seem cliché or stereotyped, but that’s part of the whole thing too. It doesn’t mean that everyone feels the same about these cultural elements, but we all recognize that they exist.

  29. Hola Margaret! En cuanto a tu consulta del ¡Viva Chile Mierda! hay un par de hipótesis , pero la más acertada (a mi parecer) es que provenga de la gurra del pacífico .Algunos dicen que salió en contraparte del grito que usaban los peruanos y que decía ¡Viva el Perú , carajo! Otros dicen que el grito original era ¡Viva Chile mi hermosa patria! Un grito muy largo y que a la hora de la batalla y para dar ánimo a las fuerzas , se empezó a usar el “……mierda” , y otra dice , que una de esas tantas batallas de la guerra del pacífico, los chilenos estaban muy complicados y machucados, pero a puro ñeque y pundonor salieron airosos de esa batalla, y al ver esa gesta heróica, salio el grito de¡Viva Chile Mierda! Ojo! que siempre se dice al final .Bueno , eso es lo que yo te puedo contar por el momento, saludos y que estes bien.Bye….

  30. Hola Nano- Me es increíble pensar que nunca había preguntado de dónde venía esa expresión. Pensaba que habría tenido sus raíces en el descontento político de los años 70 y empecé a preguntarme recién, al escucharlo tanto en relación al bicentenario y especialmente cuando Piñera lo dijo cuando anunció que los 33 mineros estaban vivos, que recién dudaba de sus origines.
    Ahora, la explicación que nos das me hace aflorecer el nerd linguistico que llevo adentro para preguntar si debe tener una coma después de Chile: “Viva Chile, mierda” (como damn it), como para agregarle fuerza al “viva Chile”… sin la coma siempre he pensado que la “mierda” se refería a Chile, como punto de falta de respeto… ¿Estoy muy perdida? Creo que voy a tener que hacer un post entero sobre esto!
    También tengo que agradecerte otro chilenismo que no conocía:¡ ñeque!
    Al glosario va!

  31. Estuve pensando si deberia incluir la version de mi post en Castellano o no. Despues de leer la insercion de Carlos Rodolfo dije, por que no?
    Que Significa ser Chileno Para Mi

    He vivido en la pobreza
    Pero he construido un nuevo país más moderno
    La naturaleza ha destruido mi casa varias veces
    Pero he reconstruido una nueva
    He destrozado la economía del país a través de la hiperinflación
    Sin embargo, he construido una de las más mejores economías del mundo libre
    He encarcelado y asesinado a mis hermanos
    Pero los he reunido a través de la democracia
    Me da vergüenza
    Pero estoy orgulloso
    Soy Chileno

    Viva Chile Mierda

  32. Margaret,
    You write it without the comma because that’s the right pronunciation, straight, without pause: ¡VIVA CHILE MIERDA!
    But the comma is there, between “Chile” and “mierda” (not a beautiful word in any other context) and you just know it.

  33. Gonzalo- Thanks! this is finally starting to make sense! I always thought the “mierda” referred to Chile and that it was a sign of disrespect! So obviously it really surprised me to hear the president use the expression (well, that and the fact that presidents don’t usually swear in public)… but what you’re saying makes sense and my husband confirms that I have been absolutely mistaken about this curious expression–that the “mierda” is a way to add emphasis to the “Viva” part and to show pride in Chile!
    Man do I learn a lot with this blog!

  34. It’s funny but in fact the president was swearing, and I don’t remember another Chilean president doing that. But perhaps this is the only swearing allowed to a president, because it is a sort of battle cry, in which the bad word “mierda” stands for the anger and aggressive spirit (maybe the word is for the enemies) the situation demands. And the president was trying to show what a good patriot he is.

  35. My guess is that it wasn’t something spontaneous, but something he consciously decided to do and say as kind of a way to show that he’s “one of the people.” And you’re right- using this expression is not like swearing in anger or just sprinkling vulgar terms into everyday speech, which I’m sure plenty of presidents around the world do (just like most everyone else)… it was, as you say a battle cry, or a call to rally, to raise spirits and to celebrate the wonderful news that the whole country was already cheering about!

  36. I absolutely agree with you: he wasn’t being spontaneous, he’s never spontaneous, he’s too rational and calculating as to allow himself to take any chance. And I’m not saying he doesn’t feel passion, but rather that he uses reason as a strainer before action.
    The problem is though that nobody likes a cold and calculating guy as president, no matter how good the decisions he could make. So he has to deal with the issue of how to appear more spontaneous and less rational without stopping being rational.

  37. Hola Margaret! Me encanto tu post de la chilenidad. Para mi algo que refleja muy bien entre otras cosas, la chilenidad, es ”Al pie de la bandera” del autor (premio nacional de literatura) Victor Domingo Silva: La chilenidad la muestras tambien tu en ”cachando chile”. Chilenidad es el arte de ser o sentirse chileno y por lo tanto actuar como tal.

  38. @Gonzalo – I like the way you express your ideas. Come on, start posting on your blog! I want to read more of your stuff.
    (Sorry Margaret, but I don’t any other way on contacting Gonzalo).

  39. @Lily-Muchas gracias… y que digas que la chilenidad está en Cachando Chile me llena de felicidad y, porqué no decirlo, con orgullo.
    Muchas gracias por enseñarnos el poema de Víctor Domingo Silva. La incluirá en un post sobre la bandera. ¿Sabrás acaso si alguien lo haya traducido al inglés? (Traduzco mucho, pero la traducción de la poesía es un desafío especial!)

  40. No Margaret, I don’t know any translation of this poesy. I talked with my english teacher from high school, back in Chile, she also said ”son palabras mayores”. sorry , I’ll keep looking for.

  41. Lily- thanks for the effort!

  42. Pingback: Viva Chile, Mierda! | Cachando Chile: Reflections on Chilean Culture

  43. Pingback: September in Chile: Who Doesn’t Love a Good Empanada? | Cachando Chile: Reflections on Chilean Culture

  44. Dear Gringa (by now, you should know that “gringo (a)” is an affectionate word in Chile):
    I love your bolg! Now let me give you some ideas about “Chilenidad”.
    I’m not very fond of fondas, or of Chilean food in general (empanadas, yes; other stuff, less so). I suppose I’m not a very typical Chilean.
    Something I find very Chilean is what we might call the “insular mentality”: we know we are at the end of the world (that’s what “Chile” means, supposedly), but we keep hoping to be known by the brest of mankind. That is a bit pathetic, but I guess people from, say, Tonga probably feel the same…
    ¡Feliz dieciocho! Viva Chile, m…!

  45. Sort of agree with Raul’s comment. Chileans definitely have a sense of insecurity (inferiority) about themselves. One of my grade school teachers once told the class why Chilenos have such an inferiority complex. She explained that this is typical of countries that have been dominated by another culture for long periods of time.
    The Spaniards of “then” were not the kindest or friendliest bunch ever known to humanity. They were simply brutal and truly uncivilized. After all they are known as Conquistadores. Their purpose was to come over, dominate, subjugate and pilfer the countries where they set foot.

    Having said all this, that was then, and this is now. Modern Spaniards are friendly, hard working loving people, and they are welcome in our house.
    Viva España!

  46. @Raúl- Thanks for writing (and for the complements, always love those!)
    1- yes, I realized pretty quickly that people usually call me Gringa with affection… although I start to worry when I hear the word “Yankee”!!
    2-About Chile’s insular mentality- it’s pretty logical really, the country was cut off from the rest of the world by distance, geography, and politics for centuries and it’s only in the past 20 years or so that people are traveling more and more outsiders are coming here. More interaction, more globalization–for better or for worse! Personally, I think it’s very important to find the balance between the two. I’m all for modernization, but there are some very Chilean things that should be held on to. For example, I was very sad to see that when they installed the new bus system (Transantiago) they left the old bus signs behind- I love that very Chilean aesthetic and there was really no reason to drop that! It could have been incorporated into a new system with modern buses just as well!
    Viva Chile!

  47. Hi John- Can’t say as I can’t buy into the blame the Spanish for any sense of inferiority complex- Many other counties (Canada and US included) were colonies and I wouldn’t agree either of them have an inferiority complex!
    I would say that there are many different factors involved- colonization may be one, geographic isolation another, and certainly many more factors… a complex and interesting thing to think about!

  48. Dearest Margaret – I would never ‘lock horns’ with a person I like and respect. However, I my humble opinion, I see a huge difference in how the US and Canada were colonized, as compared to Chile. Both the US and Canada were English colonies.
    Unlike the native Indians in Chile, the English weren’t shooting the settlers on a daily basis. Surely they had their battles, but it was a battle of equals. One can hardly describe the situation in Chile as a ‘battle of equals’.
    The Spaniards came armed to their teeth; the Araucanians had never seen a gun. The Spaniards came over with one goal in mind; to exterminate the natives.
    When they ran into the Araucanians, they thought they would be able to get rid of them pretty much the same way they had done with other natives throughout South America.
    The Spaniards fought the Araucanians for 400 years and were never able to defeat them! After 400 years the penny dropped and the Spaniards decided the only way to conquer the Indians in Chile was by integrating with them. From this unholy union a new nation was born – Chile.
    The ‘new Chileans’ were always made to feel as second class citizens by the ‘Conquistadores”. Not unlike the case of the Afro-American population in the US, which only recently has began to make progress in American society.
    There lies the beginning of Chileans inferiority complex.
    In the case of England, they were ‘conquerors from afar’. I do not see the similarity between the Chilean situation and the US and Canada v/s the British.

  49. creo que el tema de la inferioridad no esta relacionada con el sentido estricto de la palabra inferior, sino mas bien con una forma en que nuestra cultura ha interpretado la historia y la islación impuesta por la geografía que nos ha hecho mas graves comparados a nuestros hermanos sudamericanos al momento de enfrentar la vida en conjunto. Eso lo puedes comprobar con lo iconoclastas que somos comparados con nuestos vecinos argentinos o con lo soprendidos que suelen encontrarse los extranjeros que suelen imaginar Chile como un pais sudamericano de folclor colorido como pueden ser Brazil o Colombia y en cambio encuentran nuestra chilenidad que tiene más un caracter “telúrico” desde la transitoriedad. Despierta bravío en música y comidas en ciertos periodos precisos del año o en actividades como elevar volantines en un momento tan específico como septiembre. transforma las ciudades como si de una gran “Chingana Urbana” se tratara, con fondas y ramales que luego se desvanecen a la espera de la próxima ocasión.

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