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The Latin-American cultural presence in Sydney goes way beyond tacos and salsa lessons. More than 100,000 of Latin-Americans live in Australia and the majority of them chose New South Wales as their home.  Latin-American communities in Sydney are both growing and getting stronger and people from different places of migration, ages and backgrounds are getting together in charity and people oriented organizations. These groups not only promote Latin-American culture in Australia but also help communities in need in their home countries.
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In the past two months alone, three big events were held by Latin-American organizations in Sydney. They raised more than $25,000 for people and institutions in need in Chile, Uruguay and Australia. Hundreds of Latin-Americans made donations when attending different events where the main language used was Spanish. They enjoyed singing, dancing, and sharing traditions from their home countries.

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A bit of history

Elizabeth Rivera emigrated from Chile to Australia in 1977. She was only 18 years old when her father applied to be a political refugee in Australia. “Chile was under a military dictatorship and many people were disappearing, getting killed, and our economic situation was really bad,” said Mrs Rivera.
Elizabeth Rivera arrived in Sydney in 1977. Photo Courtesy: Elizabeth Rivera
Elizabeth Rivera arrived in Sydney in 1977.
Photo Courtesy: Elizabeth Rivera
She was part of the first immigration wave of Latin-Americans who came to Australia. It happened in the 1970’s and the majority of the migrants came from Uruguay, Chile, and Argentina. These countries were under a difficult political and economic situation at the time and most people who immigrated did so under the Australian Department of Immigration’s Special Humanitarian Program.
40 years later, Latin-Americans are still migrating to Australia, but under different circumstances. “I came to Sydney looking for a new perspective. I worked many years in politics in my country and I wanted to learn something different,” said Carolina Poli, a 28 year old Argentine who is pursuing a Master’s degree in Public Policy at the University of Sydney.
Carolina Poli arrived to Sydney in February 2015.
Carolina Poli arrived in Sydney in February 2015.
Ms Poli is from Argentina, a country that had a military dictatorship in the 1970s, but she represents the second wave of migrants to Australia as she was not forced to migrate due to violence or a lack of opportunities. She willingly moved because Australia is one of the few developed countries in the world that allows immigrants on a student visa to study and work at the same time. She moved to learn new skills and improve her English.
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Top ten Latin Americans in Australia by country of origin from 1971 to December 2012 Source: ABS Census 2011 plus the Department of Immigration net additions from 2011 to December 2012.
This immigration wave started in the 1990s and has slowly but steadily enlarged in the past two decades. The migrants largely hail from Brazil, Colombia, Mexico, Venezuela, Peru ,and Ecuador. Unlike the first arrivals in the 1970s who were mainly unskilled working-class immigrants looking for shelter, these groups of people are mostly skilled middle class migrants looking for opportunities to study and grow professionally.

Helping the community

Although Mrs. Rivera and Ms Poli belong to two different generations, they have a lot in common. They are both South American women who consider themselves politically and socially active and try to give back to their home countries from thousands of miles away. They also both happened to be at the same charity event at the Uruguayan club of Sydney about a month ago.
The fundraiser organized by the ‘Uruguayos Unidos’ charity raised $9,000 to donate towards a hospital in need in the province of Chuy, Uruguay.  ‘Uruguayos Unidos’ was formed in 1989 and their goal is to help hospitals, schools and other institutions in need in Uruguay. They gather, buy and send to their home countries containers full of goods such as medical equipment, medicine and furniture. The organization also helps other countries when major catastrophes happen, such as the earthquake in Chile in 2010. ‘’We are here to help South America,we are a big family,” said Silvia Bazzano, secretary of the charity. Not only Uruguayans but a wide range of Latin-American communities actively participate and help in their events.

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“Just like many others, when I got to this country I did not know anybody.  With the passing of the years we started to get together in groups to share experiences and maintain our culture alive. We also realized that our privileged situation here allowed us to help and give back to our home countries,” reminisced Mrs Rivera, who since 1990 has helped Hispanic charity organizations in Sydney. For a long time, she served as the secretary for the organization ‘Amigos del hogar de Cristo‘, which in English means ‘Friends of Christ’s Home,’ another Latin-American charity that assists underprivileged Chilean students to get higher education. Through monthly dinners and events, they gather money to provide scholarships and to help communities in need. They have been active since 1997.
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Elizabeth Rivera as presenter of one of the ‘Amigos del Hogar de Cristo’ fundraisers. Photo Courtesy: Elizabeth Rivera
“The Latin-American unity has always been present in Sydney. Every time there is an event to raise money and help people we go to enjoy ourselves and at the same time happily donate to the cause regardless of where we come from”, commented Omar Iturrieta, president of Chile Somos Todos, a new Chilean charity that was founded just last November. Their first big fundraising event happened only three weeks ago and challenged citizens’ will to help when a violent hailstorm swept across Sydney’s inner west. Despite the terrible weather which resulted in the venue flooding, dozens got together to raise money for landslide victims from Atacama and Antofagasta in Northern Chile. A total of $10,000 was collected.
‘Uruguayos Unidos’, ‘Amigos del Hogar de Cristo’ and ‘Chile Somos Todos’ are only a few examples of the many groups that exist in New South Wales which get together hundreds of Latin-Americans from different nationalities . Although not all of the groups manage to be formally registered as non-government organizations or charities, people keep creating them. Facebook is used as their primary communication platform.
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Screenshot of ‘Unidos por Salgar’ Facebook Group Page
Only last week, a new group emerged under the name of “Unidos por Salgar/Colombia”. This group was created to help the victims of an avalanche in the rural town of Salgar in Colombia. The tragedy happened on May 18th and left 58 people dead and thousands homeless. They are planning a fundraising event in July and many Latin-American organizations and citizens are offering their help.
‘Uruguayos Unidos’ is also in the planning stages for their annual festival in Fairfield on August 23th. More than a thousand people is expected to attend and donate. Last year almost $20,000 were raised.
Education and age differences disappear when migrants find each other working towards a common goal: the preservation of their culture and language. Political figures of Sydney area have recognized the importance of these initiatives.  “The Latino community plays a very important role here in our city, they are well established and their efforts make our city a vibrant, successful, multicultural community.’’ said Frank Carbone, Mayor of Fairfield. With Australia being a melting pot of cultures and races, striving towards understanding and helping others in need has never been easier.

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