I've mentioned it before, but it's worth restating how much Chile and California have in common. It starts with their physical geography, where both have long Pacific coastlines, low coastal mountains, fertile central valleys, and high interior mountain ranges. In both, summer-drought Mediterranean climates with heavy coastal fog are balanced by wet winters.
In the early 19th century, though, Chile was miles ahead of California in its political and economic development, and had many northern European immigrants - at one point, the port of Valparaíso had two English-language newspapers. California, by contrast, was a thinly populated backwater until declaration of a "Bear Flag Republic," the Mexican-American War of 1846-48, and the discovery of gold eventually led to its absorption by the United States.
Valparaíso, of course, was the first port of call for ships rounding the Horn en route to San Francisco, and Chilean residents soon found their way north during the Gold Rush. Among them were merchant Faxon Atherton (his namesake suburb is one of the Bay Area's wealthiest communities); James Lick (a piano builder and landowner who donated an observatory on Mt Hamilton, near San Jose, to the state of California); and Irish engineer Jasper O'Farrell, who arrived under Mexican rule, but remained to be San Francisco's surveyor. Most of these men were married to Chileans.
During the Gold Rush, though, Chilean miners were a notable presence, commemorated through place names such as Chileno Creek (Marin County) and Chili Bar (Placer County). At the foot of San Francisco's Telegraph Hill, near Francis Ford Coppola's Zoetrope Studios (916 Kearney Street), an historical plaque commemorates the neighborhood known as "Little Chile." Not all of them were anonymous, as Vicente Pérez Rosales (for whom a Chilean national park is named) wrote of his Gold Rush experiences in Recuerdos del Pasado (a new edition recently appeared in English as Times Gone By).
Michelle, Ma Belle
Given these geographical parallels and historical links, it's unsurprising that Chilean President Michelle Bachelet would give an address at the University of California, Berkeley, last Thursday. The University of California and the Universidad de Chile have long provided reciprocal assistance to academics conducting research far from home, and the Chile-California Chamber of Commerce encourages business contacts. In the aftermath of Chile's 1973 military coup, many political exiles found refuge in the state, among them novelist Isabel Allende. Allende, who now lives in Marin County, linked Valparaíso and San Francisco in Daughter of Fortune (1999). Many Chilean winemakers have come to work and study in California, and some producers have vineyards and wineries in both places.
Before an adoring audience, which gave her a standing ovation after a question-and-answer period, Bachelet spoke in generalities about globalization and Chile's economic fortunes, reduced poverty rates since the return to constitutional government, education (including sponsoring talented Chileans here for post-graduate work), and the need for multilateralism in addressing issues such as global warming (which came across as soft-spoken criticism of the current U.S. administration). Most questions had to do with Chile's energy crisis and the issue of renewables - part of the reason her stop included a visit to the Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory - but none of them dealt with the controversial issue of damming Patagonian rivers. All the questions were written and thus subject to screening; because of time limits, only a few could be answered.
My own time limits prohibit any further analysis here, but video for the hour-long event is available through the website of Berkeley's Center for Latin American Studies. Bachelet has a good command of English (not so fluent as Arnold Schwarzenegger, but better than George W. Bush).
Win This Book!
For those who have made it this far, a simple contest: the first respondent who can tell me which of the photographs in this post come(s) from California, and which from Chile, gets a free copy of my guidebook Moon Handbooks Chile.