Monday, July 13, 2009

Chilean Youth: Social Responsibility and Civic and Political Political Participation

In the past three weeks I have been engaged in a number of conversations with colleagues at the Universidades de Talca, Concepción, La Serena, and Tarapacá regarding social responsibility and community-based learning and research (CBLR). It has been a surprise to be invited to give faculty workshops on this issue at Talca and Concepción, since my Fulbright talks have been about "Religion and Politics in the United States."

As noted in my blog of 1 July I was in Talca to give workshops on CBLR and during my stay I was invited to talk to about forty engineering students at the Coquimbo campus, which is located in a very high agricultural zone very similar to the areas between Modesto and Fresno. In particular there is a high production of table grapes, citrus, and vegetables. Many of these students will go into jobs related to the agribusiness in the area.

I asked my hosts who work in the area of social responsibility at the university if I could conduct the time as a huge focus group related to values formation and social responsibility. After my visit I read important statistics from the Biblioteca Nacional de Chile regarding youth voting:

La progresiva baja en las cifras de jóvenes inscritos en los Registros Electorales, es claramente visible en la base de datos que se manejan en las oficinas del Servicio Electoral (Servel), donde se aprecia que las personas que se ubican en el rango de edad entre los 18 y los 34 años pasaron de 2.305.275 inscritos en el año 2000 a un total de 1.213.521 en 2008.

Un aspecto relevante de estos datos es que al contrastar estos números con las estimaciones del Instituto Nacional de Estadísticas (INE) sobre población según sexo y edad, estas cifras reflejan que a comienzos de la década el 55,3% de los jóvenes en edad de votar estaban inscritos, mientras que en el presente año sólo el 27,2% de dicho segmento etáreo ha realizado este trámite.

Esta tendencia a la baja sólo se vio levemente revertida en 2005, cuando por primera vez en 16 años se anotó un crecimiento en la inscripción de jóvenes de 33.761 respecto al año anterior.

El último censo poblacional realizado en nuestro país en 2002, estableció que 10.444.605 chilenos tienen más de 18 años, lo que significa que hay cerca de dos millones 400 mil ciudadanos que no se han inscrito en los registros electorales, pese a reunir los requisitos para votar.

De éstos, según las cifras del Servicio Electoral, casi dos millones tienen menos de 29 años, de lo cual se desprende que sólo el 62% de los mayores de 18 años está inscrito y, peor aún, los menores de 30 años representan apenas el 7,6%.

De esta manera, muy lejos queda la época del plebiscito de 1988 cuando cerca del 95% de las personas aptas para votar estaban inscritas. Hoy día, si se observa sólo el caso de los más jóvenes, las estimaciones señalan que de cada 100 chilenos entre 18 y 24 años, sólo siete ejercen su derecho a voto.

This trend is incredibly disturbing after twenty years of democracy.

I started the discussion with the engineering students with a basic question: "I know that you are all engaged in community projects, but what do you personally bring to the people you are serving? What are your values? Where do they come from?"After an initial period of silence, a male student responded that his values come from his family. But he had some difficulty saying specifically what those values are. Other students started to add to the family values: respect, honor, tradition, the mother. I was not surprised by this focus on the family because all of my interviewees have said that the family is the most important of their lives, especially parental influences.

The conversation turned to the school as a place where values are formed, particularly the idea of obeying authority. It was quite clear that the authority of a teacher is quite strong and in relation to parents is the next most important figure in these students' lives. At school these students learned the value of solidarity among classmates and identity from the school. This bore out the sentiment of many of my interviewees that the "colegio" was a place of learning to be social. In Chile students enter a colegio in the first grade and very often stay in the same school through the end of high school. This is particularly true for private and Catholic schools which also inculcate a particular kind of spirit ranging from liberal to conservative Catholic to liberal free thinking a la Masonic philosophy.

The most interesting part of the discussion came from values of "la calle": street values coming from one's barrio or neighborhood. These students did not mean street as one would in the U.S. Calle is more like the families in one's neighborhood and particularly the childhood friends that form the values of friendship, honor, confidence, and getting along.

Lastly there was a discussion of religion and voluntary associations. I was struck by the actual lack of knowledge the students had of how these two areas of life form values. One student mentioned the Ten Commandments and I asked her if she knew how they developed. She did not, so I interjected a brief decription of how Moses was in the desert and that the commandments were developed to organize the people and keep them together as a people. Either the students in this public university did not want to talk about religion for fear of offending anyone or being labeled religious or they had little reflection to share or both.

When I finally asked if there were any specific values that were Chilean, the only answers that emerged were patroitism such as from Arturo Prat and the value for democracy. Like religion there was not much developed. All in all I could sense from this limited group a perception of value formation that was more from private life and less from public life except for school. Family, school, and the street were the places that these students learned values of obedience, respect, friendship, solidarity, and loyalty seemed to be the most conscious values.

I was told by my colleagues in Talca that these students are mostly first generation university students who work very hard and have great hope for the future. Their goal is to get a good job in the local area. This is the group that has low motivation to engage in politics. It would have been great to start a conversation on politics, particularly in this period of the presidential campaign. My guess is that the majority will vote for Sebastian Piñera, the candidate of the conservative coalition, because of his private industry focus and his campaign for change after twenty years of the Concertación. This is a new generation that has no memory of the dictatorship and enters a world where the promises of the past period of change have been largely realized. The questions I need to ask are:
  • What are your values and what do you have to contribute to your country?
  • What do you see as your future in five to ten years and what do you think will be your commitments?
  • What sustains you as a person and as a Chilean to contribute to a better nation?


  1. Joseph Palacios is not only racist but an insult to Christians and the values of Georgetown. If this is supposed to be a humorous reaction to political correctness then one has to wonder how low one needs to go to create political humor. Joseph Palacios needs to do a self-examination of his deeply rooted racism, anger and sarcasm, and anti-Christian attitudes.

  2. Having been raised in Lima, Peru, from 1960 - 1980 (I've lived in L.A. California for 30 years now), I don't understand why Mr. or Ms. "Concerned Academic" insults you with being a racist!
    I've read your commentaries on Chile, and you nailed it: Chile & California share many common features. The experiences lived by the Chilean people during Allende, Pinochet and the current democracy since the end of the General's dictatorship, have shaped Chile into the super-emerging (and likely positive model) Latin America country it is maturing to be.
    I am not a sociologist, but I can only imagine how many times you must roll your eyes at the reactions (I can only guess based on plain ignorance) you receive from individuals who, one would suspect, should understand your contribution.

    I'm thrilled that a few do get it! Good wishes.

    Sydney Dalmau-Guildner
    Tujunga, California