doi 10.4067/S0718-83582014000200002


Immigrant neighborhoods and populations: the case of the Municipality of Santiago1


Daisy Margarit Segura2, Karina Bijit Abde3

2 Chile. BA in Social Work and MA in Urban Development, Pontifical Catholic University of Chile. PhD in Sociology, Autonomous University of Barcelona. Director, School of Social Work, Central University.

3 Chile. Sociologist, University of Valparaiso, Social Research Diploma in Integration of International Migrants, University of Chile.


This paper focuses on the territorial experience of foreign migrants and local residents in neighborhoods located in the municipality of Santiago. It is also proposed that, from the perspective of the characteristics of the territory, such an experience constitutes a reality that constantly makes reference to the social structure and the cultural codes of those living in these spaces, thus giving rise to different feelings, images and reactions which are attached to the new immigrant neighbors. In this context, coexistence, exchanges and the arrival of immigrants coming from different places have shaped a heterogeneous urban landscape in which social, political and cultural inequalities have, in turn, led to the unequal distribution of land, and thus the emergence of a new expression of urban vulnerability and a new type of fractured and polarized city. A qualitative approach to territories, neighborhoods and neighbors (both locals and immigrants) in the municipality of Santiago showed that the concentration of immigrant population affects the relationship with territoriality in local/neighborhood spaces and the quality of life of those living in these areas.




Recently, foreign immigration to Chile has been characterized by the predominance of Latin American countries, its highly ethnic diversity and the arrival of individuals of working age, most of them female. Apart from these characteristics, the great dynamism of the migratory phenomenon during this century, mainly represented by a sustained growth, has been remarkable. Within the study of foreign immigration flows in a national context, the concept of territorial distribution is essential as it provides an interesting perspective when it comes to defining the localization trends of immigrant groups at local level and identifying the main factors that explain such a distribution and its effects on the territory. This revision offers insights into the purpose of this paper, which is the analysis of the impact of the arrival of migrants on the host country, which is an action that generates important cultural changes and new visions of citizens, including their relationship with territoriality in local/neighborhood level spaces and the quality of life of those living in these areas.

The analysis of immigration at the metropolitan scale4 is the focus of studies that seek to provide answers to the settlement patterns of immigrant groups in spaces that both historically and currently have constituted the recipient territory of immigrant flows. In this context, it is observed that large conurbations attract an important number of immigrants, mainly due to the job opportunities available in those areas. This concentration is complemented with a series of incentives such as the access to better amenities related to education and public health5.

In Chile, and most specifically in the Metropolitan Area of Santiago, it is possible to observe that despite the changes in some migration patterns (such as the origin of incomers), the migratory phenomenon is still concentrated in specific territorial areas. The latter indicates a certain “preference” for specific cities rather than others and certain residential areas within these cities.

This fact can be explained by the presence of focal points for immigrants, which can be expressed through objective variables intended for the improvement of living conditions. Some of these variables are job availability, territories with high connectivity and central areas that enable the access to different jobs and the existence of a real estate market that offers affordable housing for rent or purchase (these being the worst ranked in the residential hierarchy of the city, where purchase prices have dropped over the last years). Lastly one crucial aspect that emerges when analyzing the localization of immigrant groups within a given territory is the presence of fellow nationals who act as the primary social network for the newly arrived individual.

In this way a significant new aspect in the distribution and residential concentration in the municipality of Santiago that is related with the migratory phenomenon is, on the one hand, the dispersion of immigration to all of the neighborhoods of the city and, on the other hand, the growth in the number of immigrants in the peripheral neighborhoods of the municipality and the increase in the immigrant population over a short period of time6.


Characterization of Immigration in Chile

Over the last decades, the political and economic stability of Chile, and the crisis of countries that have traditionally received immigrants such as Brazil and Argentina, has led to a significant increase in the migratory flows from South American countries. In this context Chile is becoming an attractive destination for immigrants from neighboring countries, mainly driven by economic purposes.7

According to figures from the 2002 Census, 185,000 foreigners live in Chile. Of this number, 68 percent are South American immigrants, with 28 percent of which are Argentinians, 21 percent Peruvians, 6 percent Bolivians, 5 percent Ecuadorians and 2 percent Colombians. There is also a small group represented by Venezuelan, Brazilian, Uruguayan and Paraguayan people. As for immigrants from the rest of the world, 17 percent come from Europe, 6 percent from North America and 4.2 percent from Asia; African and Oceanic people account for a small number of total immigrants8.

However, in December, 2009, the Aliens and Migration Department (DEM) of the Ministry of the Interior estimated that 352,344 foreigners lived in Chile, representing 2.08 percent of the total population. Of this figure, 73 percent are South American immigrants. This group includes individuals coming from neighboring countries, representing 61 percent of total incomers, with 37 percent being Peruvians (displacing the Argentinian community who accounted for 17 percent of immigrants in relation to the 2002 Census). This group is followed by Bolivians (6 percent), Ecuadorians (5.3 percent) and Colombians (3.7 percent)9.

As for the territorial distribution, 64.8 percent of incomers are concentrated in the Metropolitan Region and the first two regions of northern Chile, namely, Tarapaca (5.81 percent) and Antofagasta (5.96 percent). A more detailed analysis identifies a high concentration of immigrants in the Metropolitan Area of Santiago. According to data produced by the 2002 Population and Housing Census, the Metropolitan Area of Santiago was home to 108,775 foreign immigrants who accounted for 2 percent of the total population of the Region. Despite this low figure, it is worth stressing that the last intercensus growth rate of people who were born on foreign soil is the highest recorded, reaching 5.5 percent10.

However, according to Nogue11, caution should be exercised in quantifying the migration phenomenon. This is because not only the terminology and statistical categories vary from one country to another, but also because there is no certainty about how many undocumented immigrants arrive at a given country (invisible figure). Likewise, we are facing a phenomenon that changes every day, month and year according to multiple and different circumstances. Stefoni12 points out that there are two independent processes that may explain why Chile is an attractive destination for migrants within Latin America. On the one hand, the traditional focal points for migrants (the United States and Europe) are closing their borders and designing restrictive policies, thus triggering the reorientation of migratory fluxes to more accessible destinations that offer job opportunities. On the other hand, the political and economic stability of Chile ensures more employment opportunities and the improvement of living conditions when compared to the country of origin.

In the words of Solimano and Tokman13 “the rapid growth of the Chilean economy during the last 20 years and the widening gaps in GDP between Chile the rest of the countries of the region has created the incentives for immigration to the country. Likewise, Chile has been showing favorable employment indicators in relation to the other countries of the region; such a situation is expressed in higher and less volatile wages, lower unemployment and lower levels of informality. The (relative) improvement of the employment situation in Chile over the last decade generated additional incentives for immigrants. However, the GDP of Chile is still lower than that of developed countries such as the United States, Spain and the OECD”14.

According to Tijoux, “over the two hundred years of its constitution as a State-nation, Chile has experienced different migratory movements; however, these episodes were never regarded as a problem. During the XIX century, white European immigrants were invited and welcomed as their presence would improve the race; this is contrary to the situation of current South American immigrants, such as the Peruvian people, who have arrived in the country over the last decades for employment purposes”.15

In this sense, immigration is acknowledged as a problem when the host society associates negative characteristics to the “foreigner”; such a situation creates a perception of incomers being excluded from society. Thayer16 explains this phenomenon by suggesting the identification of the imbalance between the expectation of recognition on the part of immigrants and the actual recognition on the part of society. Following this argument, this author observes that immigrants develop an approach to public spaces and services in which they lay claim to their legitimate right of occupancy. Material and symbolical appropriation, that is to say, physical occupation and the construction of a sense of belonging and ownership over these spaces show that immigrants understand their presence in the new society as something more than the contribution of manpower. Then, the spatial experience of immigrants is the space from which they claim their collective identity.17


City and Territory: The Scope of Its Meaning and the Spatiality of Residential Localization of Immigrant Population

The city has been regarded as the place where the changes and transformations that affect our societies take place and also as the privileged space for the configuration and manifestation of the social conflict and the identities of those involved in such a dispute. In this context, Capel18 suggests that immigration is consubstantial with the city and that immigration has been a permanent characteristic of cities since the dawn of history. The author also notes that, in all societies, ethnic minorities have always suffered economic, institutional and cultural discrimination, being segregated within the city.

Hopenhayn and Bello19 point out that ethnic and racial discrimination is based on the xenophobic feelings of the countries of the region. The racial contempt for the other is transferred to the foreigner, especially if this individual is not white and migrates from countries characterized by the predominance of indigenous, Afro-Latin or Afro-Caribbean population, such as the case of the larger immigrants groups living in Santiago.

Discrimination on racial and ethnic grounds generates cultural, social and even institutional systems and mechanisms of domination that prevent the equal access of large human groups to the benefits of economic development. While race is associated with biological distinctions attributed to genotype- and phenotype differences (especially those related to skin color), ethnicity is linked to cultural factors; often, these two categories are difficult to separate20. In this way, race and culture are generators of inequality, discrimination and domination on the part of a specific group that describes itself as superior or with better and more rights than those despised and excluded21.

It is worth pointing out that racism in Chile is not explicit as in other parts of the world; however, as Stefoni22 states, there are covert forms of ethnic, racial and cultural discrimination and intolerance.

Income inequality and the discriminatory practices of the real estate market are some examples of discrimination; this entails, on the one hand, a disproportionate concentration of immigrant groups in certain urban zones within metropolitan areas and, on the other hand, the reinforcement of spatial segregation patterns resulting from the defensive reaction and cultural specificity of immigrants; the latter because each ethnic group tends to use the concentration in neighborhoods for protection, mutual aid and consolidation of their specificity.

The growing number of immigrants in cities has gained social visibility through the appropriation and use of urban space. This visibility is becoming evident in neighborhoods with a large residential concentration of immigrants. Terrones23 suggests that immigrant groups occupy a place in the physical space delimited by a city. In this physical conception of space, a place could be defined as the area in which individuals are located and exist within the physical space, either as localization or as a relational point of view such as a position or rank. Therefore, the occupied site could be defined as the extension, the surface, the dimensions and the volume used by an individual or thing within the physical space.

The “appropriated” or “occupied” physical space may lead to competition or conflict among different groups; in this sense, the space used by immigrants is not an exception to this statement24. Indeed, the spatial dimension and the struggle for space have been the main protagonists of most of the great racist conflicts25. This is why territory is becoming increasingly important when referring to space as “a place of identity, relationship and history”26 in which a series of important social events take place. Within these social events, there is a complex network of territorial, environmental, social, productive and cultural variables that comes into action. The effects of this network affect the social environment of those living in a specific area and do not go unnoticed by local governments when designing urban planning and social management policies aimed at ensuring a better quality of life for people.

The concept of territory can be defined from different conceptual spheres. One of these spheres is the administrative point of view, in which the territory is divided into population centers that depend administratively on a local basic entity within the territorial organization of the State, that is to say, the Municipality. In this sense, the idea of territory refers to a portion of the surface over which the municipality has competence. Following this logic, the surface that is home to one or more residential groups provides the municipality with the economic resources necessary for the accomplishment of municipal goals27. On the other hand, territory can also be defined and understood from a historical perspective. Capel reminds us of the importance of this perspective by pointing out that “there is an urgent need of a good historical basis to study the territory and the city so as to know how they were in the past, what is new and what is old”28. In this sense, knowing the historical process involved in the formation of a territory implies, on the one hand, examining the past in relation to social, political and economic processes and, on the other hand, comprehending the relationship of this territory with its current reality in order to understand (at micro and macro level) its growth dynamics, development, structure and social organization.

With these elements in mind, the historical perspective of territory is understood as a space constructed over the course of history. In that connection, class division, population growth, migratory fluxes (both internal and external), the orientation of local governments when designing public policies (both economic and social) and urban policies, job markets, income distribution and housing development have directly affected the current urban morphology and social landscape of territory.

Social anthropology offers another approach to the concept of territory. In this conceptual sphere, authors like Garcia29 and Provensal30 point out that territoriality connotes a series of associations, chief among which is spatial reality; likewise, it is assumed that the term space contains an abstract and relative notion. In this vein, social psychologists Lynch and Piaget31 stress the way in which each individual, over the course of his learning process, uses his own body to shape the space that surrounds him. Therefore, the significance given by an individual to space creates a representation of the external environment in relation to him, thus generating the mental picture of space. Along these same lines, Capel32 suggests that “the experience of the subject is essential for the construction of the image of city; this is a conclusion that coincides with the thesis of Piaget33 (…), which is related to the formation of mental images based on the actions performed by the subject. These actions involve the use of certain urban forms that are clearly perceived thanks to their association with a concrete activity”34.

Likewise, there are external elements that give meaning to space according to social and cultural contexts. Following this concept, Tello35 points out that space, society and culture are the three aspects of life and, despite the obvious relationship between space and life, there are constant reflections on the former without regard to such a dimension given the thoughts about our spatial condition; this is like thinking about life and the material contexts and circumstances related to it. However, our relationship and identification with certain environments make us think and feel these spaces according to our own experiences. In this way the implication between space and life means that space is not inert, static or composed only of visible physical and measurable properties as these constitute our social relationships, knowledge, ways of life, etc.

Just as in the study of a given space, such as the neighborhoods where immigrants are concentrated, there are multiple relationships that either did not exist in the past or adopt new forms as the result of the emergence of new actors that set their daily relationships over these spaces. In this sense, and according to the description provided by Perec36: “Spaces have multiplied, fragmented and diversified. There are spaces of all sizes and types intended for all purposes and functions. Living means moving from one space to another (…)”.

In summary, modifying our ways of living generates changes in the use of space; this includes the ways we live and value a given place. Therefore, a territorial analysis shows that space is not only another element within the territorial context but it is an increasingly important element in the study of territories since “territoriality lies upon a spatial substrate (…) with specific social and cultural characteristics”37.

These spaces offer more chances to establish relationships; this can be possible through personal contacts with other people and the consequent building of social relations and networks in specific areas. According to Tello38, “the recognition, symbolization, use and appropriation of space lead to the construction of a cultural framework that contains all the relationships that are made and remade according to guidelines and knowledge which are, in turn, built and rebuilt as part of a cultural process”.

The use of territory is also a key process that should not be excluded from this analysis. As Garcia39 suggests, territoriality does not only encompass the rights to the use of land, but also the limitations or restrictions on its use. In this way, a territorial analysis should not overlook the fact that a territory can only be defined according to the relationships that make it different from other territories. In other words, the territorial unit of any social subject only makes sense when compared to other territorial units.

In this respect, there has been an increase in the use of public spaces on the part of immigrant population in the municipality of Santiago. This phenomenon has becoming increasingly important to local authorities given the growing deterioration and decay of certain spaces. Neighbor communities are also concerned about this issue; in their view, the use made of parks and other spaces have turned them into inaccessible places due to their dirtiness and insecurity.

Following this conceptual analysis, the neighborhood unit has been defined as the space of belonging for individuals and the space in which they feel part of a social collective. This is the first urban unit with potential for variety and is the first step for daily life.

Historical neighborhoods can be defined based on administrative, sociocultural or historical criteria. This definition is generally dominated by the administrative aspect, in which the local political administrative entity, namely the municipality, divides its territory for administrative purposes. In this way, Candel proposes a point of attention that results from the conflict between actual administration guidelines and the perception of individuals. This author points out that “a new building does not necessarily constitute a neighborhood. There is a difference between neighborhoods artificially delimited by municipalities and those created by people, just as an artist and his work”40. From the perspective of a subject who lives and perceives a neighborhood, Kevin Lynch41 complements this statement by pointing out that “neighborhoods or districts are relatively large urban zones of common nature that can be accessed by way of thinking. They can be recognized from the inside and sometimes used as an external reference when an individual heads towards them”42.

The different neighborhood conceptualizations based on the vision of subjects can also be applied to the definition of distressed or disadvantaged neighborhoods. Beyond the differences regarding historical transformation and urban configuration, these neighborhoods share common elements: unemployment rates higher than the city average, low income, truancy and school failure, low habitability, reduced economic activity, etc.

This is therefore a concentration of complex issues in enclosed areas; in this sense, breaking this decay or deterioration cycle becomes a difficult task. Authors from the Chicago school regard these places as “transition zones”; these areas are home to immigrant populations that “would only move if they afford to reject their deteriorated environment or the urban growth forces themselves to move even further”43. In this sense, Martinez Veiga44 suggests that those areas characterized by the presence of deteriorated dwellings and lack of services should also be included in the group of transition zones. It is worth mentioning that these areas are frequently waiting to be remodeled. This reality is overlapped by new social exclusion phenomena, such as the “urban marginality” of Wacquant45 and the diversification and the increasing complexity of social structures and ways of using the urban space.


Figure 1. Concentration of Immigrant Population: Municipalities Located within the First Ring, RMS

 Source: Elaborated by the authors. Fondecyt Project 1110034, based on data retrieved from the 2002 Census.


Methodological Strategy:

For the purposes of the construction of the socio-territorial profiles of neighborhoods that concentrate immigrant groups, this paper identifies the municipalities with higher concentration rates in the Metropolitan Region of Santiago (RMS)46 based on to the classification made by De Mattos et al47, which categorizes municipalities according to their location within the city. The first category corresponds to municipalities located in the historic downtown district and the second category, known as “mediterranean”, includes municipalities that share borders with the municipality of Santiago. Based on the classification made by De Mattos, research conducted by Arias48 suggests that the municipalities of Santiago, followed by Recoleta, Quinta Normal, Independencia and Estacion Central have the highest concentration of immigrants; these municipalities are identified as the main territories within the “establishment” phase of migration. In this way, Arias refers to, on the one hand, the relationship between the immigrant and the territory, and on the other hand, to the people that give shape to this space through the generation of new socio-territorial networks that relate to the place of residence of immigrants, their local daily mobility and places they visit within the territory, etc. (see Figure 1).

Consequently, this study focuses on the municipality of Santiago, which concentrated 54.4 percent of immigrants living in the RMS during 2002, followed by Recoleta (14.2 percent), Estacion Central (13.1 percent), Independencia (9.6 percent) and Quinta Normal (8.7 percent). (see Figure 1).


Table 1: Fields of Analysis of socio-territorial profiles


Focus of Analysis

Unit of Analysis

Source of Information

a) Foreign immigrant population

Immigrant residents

Residential concentration in neighborhoods

- Interviews with experts

- Interviews with local neighbors

- Field observation

b) Housing

Distribution of uninhabitable dwellings

State and quality of dwellings

- Uninhabitable resolution issued by the Municipal Works Department, Municipality of Santiago

- Interviews with experts

- Interviews with immigrants and local neighbors

c) Immigrant-based trade

Territorial distribution of businesses run by immigrants

Localization of businesses run by immigrants within neighborhoods

- Field work record (business surveys, observations)

- Interviews with immigrants and local neighbors

Source: Elaborated by the authors. Fondecyt Project 1110034


Socio-Territorial Profiles of Neighborhoods in the Municipality of Santiago:

The elaboration of socio-territorial profiles is carried out through a methodological strategy defined by Flick49 as a combination of methods, focus groups, local and temporary environments and different theoretical perspectives that come into play when dealing with a specific phenomenon. Denzin50 refers to such a combination as a methodological triangulation that combines qualitative and quantitative methods in different phases within the research process. In this way, the combination of quantitative methods derived from the analysis of statistical sources, geo-referencing and spatial representation techniques with qualitative methods derived from semi-structured in-depth interviews and participant observation are the most important aspects of the methodological process developed throughout this research.

The following fields of analysis were used to elaborate the socio-territorial characterization of the municipality of Santiago:

a) Foreign resident population

b) Immigrant-based trade

c) Housing

Each of these fields was developed according to data retrieved from primary and secondary sources. Regarding primary sources, access to information was carried out through field work in the case of businesses run by immigrants, interviews with incomers and “local neighbors”51. Secondary sources included: the 2002 Population and Housing Census, statistics issued by the Study Department at the Ministry of Education and CASEN 2011. There is also information collected through interviews with experts of the Municipality of Santiago and the Ministry of Housing and Urban Planning.

Each of these complementary sources contributes to the construction of the social and territorial landscape of the neighborhood studied. From a statistical perspective, these references provide useful elements to characterize, at a socio-territorial level, the neighborhoods that are home to immigrant populations in the municipality of Santiago; such source material is also essential to evaluate the importance of neighborhoods when incomers chose their place of residence. It is worth pointing out that the use of these sources implies some methodological difficulties. In the first place, there were some obstacles when defining territorial units as different disaggregation levels emerged; in this way, figures showed full information about municipalities, neighborhood units and census units. Lastly, the most recent information available dates from 2002; such a situation handicaps this analysis given the dynamic nature of the migratory phenomenon.

Table 1 gives details regarding each of the fields mentioned above.


Analysis of Results: Characteristics of Neighborhoods with High Concentration of Immigrants in the Municipality of Santiago

The municipality of Santiago is located in the middle of the Metropolitan Area and covers 22,400,000 square meters (22.4 km2), representing 3.22 percent of the surface of Greater Santiago. According to estimates issued by the National Statistical Institute (INE) in 201152, this area has a population of 163,952 inhabitants and a population density of 7,452.36 inhabitants per square kilometer. The organization of this territory forms a central triangle that concentrates governmental activities, the provision of businesses and services and a system of mixed neighborhoods with their own identities in which housing coexists with economic activities.53

Sixteen neighborhoods located in the municipality of Santiago were chosen as case studies (figure 2).

These neighborhoods are distributed according to the following geographical zones:

i. Northern Zone: Balmaceda, Yungay, Brasil and Concha y Toro;

ii. Central Western Zone: Estacion Republica, Ejercito, San Vicente;

iii. Central Eastern Zone: Almagro, Lira, Parque O’Higgins, Bogota;

iv. Southern Zone: Pedro Montt, Huemul, Franklin, Sierra Bella.

Since this analysis is focused on neighborhoods with a high concentration of residents, and given the fact that they are not intended for residential purposes, the Historical Downtown, Santa Lucia and San Francisco districts were not included in this study. While understanding that these neighborhoods have been greatly transformed by trade activity, they are used on a transit basis by civil servants employed by the different ministries and services located in the civic center. Likewise, since Parque O’Higgins is an urban landmark that contradicts the residential logic, the Parque Club Neighborhood is also excluded from this analysis.


Figure 2. Analyzed Neighborhoods Located in the Municipality of Santiago

Source: Elaborated by the authors. Fondecyt Project 1110034


a) Immigrant Resident Population

- Location within the Territory: From the City to the Neighborhood

The establishment phase of incomers is a settlement pattern that determines the preference for specific zones rather than others. During this phase, the representations of the original place of residents and those generated in the new territory are given new meanings. In this sense, the city and the neighborhood emerge as interesting places to observe the interaction between the images acquired in the country of origin of the immigrant and his vital, daily and direct experience. Such a situation may also occur through the voices of those who have already experienced living in Chile and their comments on the changes in the ways of life and their respective visions of the territory.

It is worth mentioning that before their arrival, immigrants constructed social representations of different destinations, job opportunities and the gender-specific advantages of these opportunities. This interaction between the images transmitted by incomers who already arrived in the country and the direct experience generated through the contact with the new environment is a source of confusion, in that there is a conflict between the representations of the territory and the actual experience of immigrants.

In certain occasions, the contact with this new territory generates fear among immigrants. Such a sensation is based on information transmitted by the media, which reinforces the image of “illegal” immigrants and the mistreatment they suffer in the hands of the host society. This information is processed along with the experience of relatives who reinforce the fear generated by the unknown.

Interviews with experts confirm that the neighborhood generates the first sense of fear as this is the first place that transcends the private and family spheres. The experience of being the “other”, which represents the dualism between integration and exclusion (sensation of attraction and danger), takes place in the neighborhood during the establishment phase. In this sense, the direct daily experience on the street offers the possibility to either build relationships with each other, friends, acquaintances, etc.; however, this experience can also generate differences and the feeling of being a “stranger” which, in many cases, ends in discrimination; in the words of one respondent:

“many times I walk by and people say ‘this is a Peruvian’ and use some words that I prefer not to repeat, but I hear them, I look at them and continue walking, no matter what they say, their words do not hurt me, on the contrary, I am very proud of my country” (Peruvian woman, Yungay neighborhood).

“I heard that someone shouting ‘yeah, you Peruvians, you come here to take our jobs’ and things like that (…) I was so hurt by those words because we are not taking away jobs from anyone, there are plenty of jobs and there are people who do not even work, they are doing nothing and job is not going to look for them, on the contrary, they have to look for a job” (Peruvian woman, Yungay neighborhood).

On the other hand, the establishment phase is also the scenario in which the immigrant is able to recognize some possibilities (source of resources) that will make his life easier within the new context of scarcity. To do so, the incomer builds a map of territorial and social resources associated with his neighborhood. During this phase, the characteristic of this network, which is based on trust and cooperation, is the reciprocal exchange among members. In this respect, according to those interviewed:

“My buddy is Chilean, he is my neighbor, he lives here and we always get together (…) if I have something to tell him or something to do and need help I call him and say, ‘hey buddy, you know what? I need you to come and see me, I have to pay this and you live closer” (Peruvian man, Yungay neighborhood).

“Yes, I have a Peruvian friend who has been living in Santiago for ten years; she has credit cards from all department stores, she gave me her credit cards (…) I bought a freezer, a microwave, a blender, I bought a lot of items for my business and I am very grateful for that” (Peruvian woman, Yungay neighborhood).


- Residential Concentration in Neighborhoods

Here, this paper examines, in the first instance, the composition of immigration based on nationalities according to the 2002 Census; then, an inter-municipal analysis explores the distribution and impact of these groups on the use of spaces, borders and the sense of fear/insecurity. All these elements have consequences on the coexistence between local neighbors and immigrants.

In the municipality of Santiago, Latin American people account for a larger share of immigrant population. As graph 1 shows, Peruvians represent 68 percent of total incomers; they are followed by Argentinians (13 percent), Ecuadorians (11 percent), Bolivians (4 percent) and Colombians (3 percent).


Graph 1. Percentage of immigrant population in the municipality of Santiago

Source: Elaborated by the authors. Fondecyt Project 1110034, based on data retrieved from the 2002 Census.


The main reasons why immigrants settle in certain zones are the ease of access to rent individual or shared rooms, urban amenities, connectivity and the presence of solidarity and information exchange networks among immigrants. In the words of a respondent:

“The most important thing is that everything is at hand. The subway is two blocks away from here and a supermarket, a mall and the main avenue are three blocks away from here. You go out, take the bus and everything is at hand. Besides, I like this neighborhood; I know all the people here and nothing would be the same if I move to another neighborhood” (Peruvian man, Yungay neighborhood).

The main problem that justifies the exploration of this field of foreign resident population is the high diversity of immigrants. This fact transforms immigrant communities into a diverse group of cultures that settle in a territory and coexist with the social structures of the host society; such a collective is also characterized for leaving a strong imprint on the urban landscape54, thus modifying local socioeconomic structures. Therefore, the emergence of immigrant-led businesses focused on providing services based on an approach which differs from that of traditional trade (regarding extended opening hours, even on weekends and holidays) has generated territorial dynamics that coexist with those of local population. According to the opinion of a neighbor from a northern district:

“There are lots of foreigners, Colombians, Peruvians, and all of them have their businesses, all of them are micro-entrepreneurs, they brought life back to this old, dead neighborhood (…) and people like new flavors, there are nice Peruvian restaurants, and as for amenities, there are businesses with Internet access, photocopies” (Neighbor, Yungay neighborhood).

This concentration refers to the occupation of a physical space on the part of a section of the population. In this sense, the smaller the occupied urban area is, the more concentrated and segregated this area becomes.55 This residential concentration of immigrant population is seen by local neighbors as a threat to coexistence and the image of the neighborhood. According to the perception of local neighbors, the arrival of immigrant population brings insecurity to the neighborhood; this may be due to an attribution of bad habits given to the incomers own culture such as the celebration of parties until the early hours of the morning, the extension of the private space of housing to the public space when celebrating a special event (birthdays, anniversaries, etc.) or the intensive use of public spaces for recreational purposes.

The analysis of immigrant groups identifies the neighborhoods located in the Northern Zone of Santiago (Balmaceda, Yungay, Brasil and Concha y Toro) as those with the greater visual presence of resident immigrants. The explanation of this perception lies in the morphology of these neighborhoods, declared as part of national heritage56, in which urban renewal and the consequent construction of high-rise buildings was not complete as in other areas. The presence of immigrants is perceived by local neighbors as a threat when they observe that many families live in overcrowded subdivided rooms and that this is fueled by the fact that local people benefit from the leasing and subleasing of rooms.

However, there is also a positive aspect related to the arrival of immigrants; they revitalize the neighborhood with the creation of new businesses, generating a different use of the space adjacent to commercial areas, in other words, they create a meeting place for immigrant communities. The street is used for recreational activities such as football or as an extension of the private world when immigrants set out their chairs and tables to share some time with each other.


b) Housing

The characteristics of these neighborhoods coincide with a morphology composed of buildings dating back to the early1900s that were home to the creole bourgeoisie. These spacious houses have large rooms and hallways leading to inner courtyards, elements that allow immigrant families to reside there through the subdivision of rooms. In this way, it was observed that one room was used by more than one family, and in some cases, there were more than six families sharing the same space.

During the 1870s, Benjamin Vicuña Mackenna, acting as a hygienist and reformer, designed the beltway that set the boundaries between the “proper and Christian city” and the “barbarian city”, namely la Chimba, which was the place where the poor, indigenous and uncivilized people lived. These limits originally extended from Matta Avenue and Blanco Encalada on the south to Vicuña Mackenna Avenue on the east. The Yungay neighborhood was establshed by the emergence of the Dieciocho neighborhood, which covered España Avenue, Republica, Dieciocho, Blanco Avenue and San Ignacio; this neighborhood was built around attractions such as Parque Cousiño and Club Hipico. The large neoclassical houses were abandoned in the early 1900s when their owners decided to move to the then new affluent neighborhoods.57 The sector declared as part of national heritage is characterized for being the first Republican neighborhood of the city. The emergence of this space created a homogeneous and continuous urban structure, rich in architectural and stylistic typologies and urban space; examples of such a structure are urban forestation, consistency of heights and pedestrian and local scale streets.58

The 2010 Chile earthquake revealed the vulnerability of immigrant population living in deteriorated sectors and dwellings. According to figures issued in March, 2010 by the help desk for incomers affected by the earthquake59, 980 immigrant households were damaged; out of this number, 44 percent of dwellings were located in the municipality of Santiago, 18 percent in Estacion Central, 16 percent in Independencia, 11 percent in Recoleta and 4 percent in Quinta Normal. Fifty-seven percent of the total of damaged households were inhabited by Peruvian families60. Figure 3 identifies the dwellings regarded by the municipality of Santiago as uninhabitable; these households are concentrated in the neighborhoods located in the northern, central eastern and southern zones of Santiago. These locations are also the areas identified as presenting high residential concentration and immigrant-based trade.


Figure 3. Dwellings Regarded as Uninhabitable

Source: Elaborated by the authors. Fondecyt Project 1110034


In order to settle in their new place of residence, and given their condition of foreigners, immigrants have to satisfy a wide range of needs upon their arrival in the country. In this context, housing is the most urgent need to be satisfied. For these people the path from the first place of accommodation to the definitive residence may vary according to the actual possibilities of finding a place to live. During this phase, incomers face the need for adequate resources to rent accommodation and comply with the requirements of the leasing system. In most cases, incomers have to meet abusive requirements to demonstrate their financial capacity; some of these conditions include bank guarantees of more than six months, advance payment equal to 12 monthly charges, etc. These requirements restrict the access to decent housing, reducing the real estate market to a poor provision of dwellings characterized by the lack of inhabitable area, inadequate illumination and ventilation and infrastructure deterioration.

The scarcity of accommodation forces immigrants to live in sub-standard housing and share their spaces in subdivided rooms. It is worth pointing out that the experiences generated by these shared spaces and daily coexistence spark conflicts between immigrants and local neighbors; according to a respondent:

“this was a quiet neighborhood, there were no conflicts until these people arrived (…) they get drunk and there are conflicts here, across the street and over there, they are not relaxed if they do not drink and there is no brawl, they go to the street holding knives (…) I think that La Legua is a more decent place. I used to sweep the streets but I do not do that anymore, what is the point in sweeping the street if these …? Do you know what I mean? Now I have to call the municipality because this place is full of rats… those hovels, there are lots of people, there are at least 40, 50 people live there and at the weekends…, women return from work on Saturdays, they get together on Saturdays and Sundays” (neighbor, northern zone).


c) Immigrant-based Trade

The territorial transformation generated by the arrival of immigrant population is an interest topic that emerges from the analysis of the socio-territorial configuration of neighborhoods. In this context, those businesses run by immigrants determine the use of spaces and the borders within neighborhoods, configuring zones regarded by local neighbors as spaces degraded by immigrants.

At international level there is an extensive literature on trade initiatives developed by immigrants in the host society, in which the concepts of ethnic economy and ethnic economic enclave are the most common terms to tackle the analysis of immigrant-based trade. The first concept refers to the creation of self-employment on the part of immigrants and the ability to offer job opportunities to fellow nationals, without this implying a spatial concentration of trade.61 The concept of enclave, on the other hand, is related to trade activities or companies run by incomers who, apart from being geographically concentrated, hire a significant number of fellow nationals.62

As for national literature, there are contributions made by Garces (2007, 2011); Luque (2004), Stefoni (2005) and Ducci and Rojas (2010). In the case of Garces63, his study is focused on the presence, use and appropriation of the public space on the part of Peruvian immigrants in the historical district of the municipality of Santiago, most specifically in the streets next to the main square of the city, namely Bandera, Catedral, Santo Domingo and Puente. This space generates spontaneous meetings, informal commerce (street selling) and the emergence of immigrant-led businesses focused on the remitting of funds or the provision of food and communication services. A study conducted in 2011 by the same author, apart from focusing on the abovementioned area, also analyzes Vega Central and Rivera street, located in the municipalities of Recoleta and Independencia, respectively. According to that research, the first two sectors provide limited accommodation opportunities for immigrants given their trade oriented nature; on the other hand, Rivera street and its adjacent areas show greater residential concentration and a reduced presence of immigrant-based trade in relation to the other two areas. In this sense, the author proposes the replacement of the concept of ethnic enclave by that of migrant centrality as a theoretical alternative to the analytical limitations posed by the immigrant concentration phenomenon. This is because local immigrant-led businesses are based on family work rather than on a pronounced social division of work between immigrant entrepreneurs and fellow national workers, which is the basis of the ethnic enclave concept.64

Likewise, Luque65 analyzes the Peruvian migration in downtown Santiago, most especially in those streets next to the main square of the city and sectors located in the municipalities of Indenpendencia and Recoleta, respectively; however, this research is focused on the emergence of a transnational citizenship based on transnational political activities carried out by immigrant communities. Despite analyzing the formation of ethnic enclaves in the abovementioned areas, this contribution does not question or explore this concept.

Along these same lines, Ducci and Rojas66 focus on the presence of Peruvian immigrants, the emergence of immigrant-based trade in the same areas (Catedral, Rivera and La Vega) and their impact on the city; this contribution pays special attention to those immigrant-led businesses located in the northern area of Catedral street and its shopping arcades. On the other hand, Stefoni67 analyzes the social, cultural and economic conditions that enabled the emergence of ethnic-led businesses, mainly Peruvian restaurants, in the area surrounding the main square of the city and Vega Central.

Fieldwork conducted during this research enhanced the results of the abovementioned contributions; all immigrant-led businesses located in the zones demarcated for the purposes of this study were surveyed. The following information derives exclusively from fieldwork. (See Figure 4).

The nationalities of individuals in charge of the administration of the businesses located In the 16 neighborhoods of the municipality of Santiago are distributed as follows: Peruvians (84 percent), Bolivians (9 percent), Colombians (4 percent) and Ecuadorians (3 percent). (See graph 2).

Most of these businesses are neighborhood oriented and can be found in areas characterized by immigrant residential concentration, most especially in the northern and southern zones, which are home to 62 and 16 percent of surveyed commercial premises (see graph 3). These businesses satisfy the demands of the neighborhood by providing products and services oriented to locals and fellow nationals. Some of the most important businesses are those that provide mixed services (grocery stores that include phone booths and internet access) and food, such as restaurants, eateries that serve grilled chicken, bakeries, and cafeterias (see graph 4). However, the selling of garments is another important activity, which is common to Bolivian stores. Such an activity is part of a different approach given that these stores can be found in Alameda, which is a trade oriented sector located in the northern zone.


Graph 2. Nationalities of Individuals in Charge of the Administration of Immigrant-led Businesses

Source: Elaborated by the authors. Fondecyt Project 1110034


Graph 3. Immigrant-based Trade Distributed by Zone in the Municipality of Santiago

Source: Elaborated by the authors. Fondecyt Project 1110034


Graph 4. Percentage of Immigrant-led Businesses According to Activity

Source: Elaborated by the authors. Fondecyt Project 1110034


Other trade oriented businesses are those that provide computer and technical services; these stores are run by Peruvians and can be found in the Franklin Neighborhood (see figure 4). As in the case of Bolivian garment stores, these Peruvian businesses adapt to the supply conditions of the neighborhoods they are located, thus competing with local stores. In both cases, those in charge of running these businesses do not necessarily live in the area; however, despite this occupational concentration, the concept of enclave cannot be applied as the internal dynamics of these businesses is sustained by the administrators and/or their family networks. Most of surveyed stores emerged as a survival strategy and not as a job alternative for a significant number of fellow nationals, as in the case of enclaves.

This research identified an important social function of immigrant-led businesses. Such a function lies on the fact that these businesses are part of an information network as they allow the exchange of information regarding job offers, accommodation, celebration of religious activities, etc. In this sense, these commercial premises are meeting spaces for immigrants, facilitating the presence of solidarity and identity revitalization networks.

For this reason, the zones with the higher concentration of immigrant-led business are those that concentrate the higher number of immigrants. This fact supports the cultural explanation in which trade emerges to meet the special and cultural needs of immigrants. Sassen points out that the economic dynamism of segregated immigrant communities turns disadvantaged neighborhoods into poles of economic development (generating internal markets through a specific demand for a specific service), thus creating a revitalizing process (neighborhood upgrading) that is not always recognized as such.68 However, apart from positive aspects, there is a negative perception in which locals have negative views about the neighborhood; such an opinion is related to the competitive threat posed by these businesses: “I think of this threat as a business man; a lot of businesses have emerged in the neighborhood and the municipality does not do anything about it, there should be restrictions to the establishment of immigrant-led stores because this affects my business and the businesses of my colleagues (local neighbor, northern zone).


Figure 4. Nationality of Immigrant-led Businesses According to Activity

Source: Elaborated by the authors. Fondecyt Project 1110034


Conclusions and Reflections

Results from fieldwork allow a comparison among the different fields of analysis; in this way, it is possible to understand the relationship between the socio-territorial characteristics of neighborhoods and the different groups of Latin American immigrants within the municipality of Santiago.

The socioeconomic changes experienced by societies over the first decade of the XXI century have resulted in the fragmentation of immigrant populations into groups that gained mobility into the middle class and groups that were pushed into poverty and social and territorial exclusion. In these areas, different physical, economic, political and social factors are part of a dynamic of vulnerability and exclusion that emerges as a new type of urban poverty based on spatial concentration and segregation from the communal social dynamic of the city.69

As Bayona70 points out, the territories inhabited by immigrants are characterized by issues such as urban isolation, immigrant ghettoes (social enclosures), low cultural level, unemployment, low-skilled jobs, lack of basic services and sub-standard housing. These elements fuel the perception of neighbors that they are living in a marginalized and excluded neighborhood and as such are excluded to a certain extent from the rest of society.

Apart from any socioeconomic and territorial indicators that may be designed to measure the vulnerability and marginality of a neighborhood, local and immigrant residents feel they are living in a marginalized place; and more so since the arrival of immigrants. People assume and express such a condition, which is fueled by the negative perception of the rest of the city about these distressed spaces; in this way, any existing problem within these neighborhoods is exacerbated. The media are also responsible for the generation of stereotypes about marginalized neighborhoods inhabited by immigrants as they only disseminate information related to drugs, violence and catastrophes (fires) increasing the formation of stereotypes of marginal neighborhoods where immigrants live.

Beyond those figures that reveal the distribution of residents in a given territory, it is important to point out that the socio-spatial configuration of a city is the result of individual actions and macro-structural forces associated with State policies.71 In this sense, the neighborhoods located in the municipality of Santiago cannot be regarded as isolated or neutral territories; on the contrary, these are territories in which the interaction of a series of elements have generated identities based on the relationship among residents and the relationship between these residents and their neighboring areas.

In essence, the socio-territorial configuration of neighborhoods is the result of social, political, economic and labor relations established in these territories; hence the importance, according to Santos72, of understanding the socio-historical processes that gave rise to the spatial distribution of any city, in which the history of the area, the conditions during the internalization process and the play of relationships between the new and the old make the same global process, as in the phenomenon of international migration, have particular results according to the location in which they take place.



1 This paper releases the results of Fondecyt Project 11100034 , funded by the National Commission for Scientific and Technological Research (CONICYT).

4This paper refers to the General Law on Urban Planning and Construction, Art 34:”Inter-municipality urban planning is that which regulates the physical development of urban and rural areas of different municipalities that, given their relationships, configure an urban unit. If this unit exceeds 500,000 inhabitants, the category of metropolitan area shall be applied for planning purposes”.

5Vinuesa, 1991.

6Bayona, 2008.

7Cano y Soffia, 2009.

8Martínez, 2003.

9Ministerio del Interior Departamento de Extranjería y Migración, 2010.

10Arias, 2010.

11Nogue, 2001.

12Stefoni, 2002.

13Solimano y Tokman, 2006.

14Ibid., p. 51.

15Tijoux, 2011, p. 18.

16Thayer, 2011.

17Ibid., pp.95-96.

18Capel, 1997.

19Hopenhayn y Bello, 2000.

20Ibid., 2000.

21Oommen citado en Hopenhayn y Bello, 2000.

22Stefoni, 2001.

23Terrones, 2005.

24Bourdieu, 1999.

25Terrones, 2005.

26Augé, 2004, p. 83.

27Reglamento de Población y Demarcación Territorial, 1996.

28Capel en Equipo Bifurcaciones, 2005, p. 4.

29García, 1976.

30Provensal, 2000.

31Lynch, 1960; Piaget e Inhelder citados en Capel, 1973.

32Capel, 1973.

33Piaget e Inhelder citados en Capel, 1973.

34Capel, 1973, p. 47.

35Tello, 2005.

36Perec, 2004, p. 25.

37García, 1976, p. 25.

38Tello, 2005, p. 32.

39García, 1976.

40Candel, 1972.

41Lynch, 1960.

42Ibid., p. 84-85.

43Hannerz, 1993, p. 39.

44Martínez Veiga, 1999.

45Wacquant, 2001.

46The 1980 Constitution establishes that Chile is a unitary State and its territory is divided into regions, which, in turn, are divided into provinces. For the purposes of local administration, these provinces are divided into municipalities, which are the basic units within political administrative division.

47Mattos, Bannen, Fuentes y Riffo, 2012.

48Arias, 2010.

49Flick, 2004.

50Denzin, 1989.

51The term “local neighbor” refers to Chilean residents who have been living in the same neighborhood for more than 10 years and feel identified with the place they live in.

52Data retrieved from the National System of Municipal Information. Under-secretariat of Regional and Administrative Development. Chilean Government. (Ministerio del Interior, Subsecretaría de Desarrollo Regional y Administrativo, 2013).

53Municipalidad de Santiago, s.f.

54Urban landscape can be defined as “one of the most exceptional identity-related elements and one of the most valued cultural heritages […] It represents the cultural projection of a society within a determined space; this is why urban landscape is a heritage should be preserved by acknowledging its dynamics and constant evolution” (Albet y Nogue, 2004, p. 169).

55Martori, Hoberg & Surinach, 2006.

56In 2008, the Association for the Protection of the Yungay Neighborhood requested the inclusion of the Yungay-Brasil neighborhoods and the Parque Portales and Concha y Toro surroundings on Typical Zone list of West Santiago.

57Rosello, 2012.

58Consejo Monumentos Nacionales, 2009.

59This help desk was composed of different non-governmental organizations and national and municipal agencies.

60Centro de Derechos Humanos, 2010.

61Bonacich y Modell cited in Solé & Parella, 2005.

62Portes & Wilson cited in Solé & Parella, 2005.

63Garcés, 2007.

64Garcés, 2011.

65Luque, 2004.

66Ducci y Rojas, 2010.

67Stefoni, 2005.

68Sassen, 1997.

69Pedone, 2000.

70Bayona, 2008.

71Wacquant, 2001




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Received: 26.06.13
Accepted: 05.05.14