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A love affair with Peruvian nannies

Although many Chileans treat Peruvian immigrants with disdain, they prize their nannies.

SANTIAGO — On her first night in Santiago, 20-year-old Julia Chavez slept on a bench in the capital’s main square, her suitcase by her side. She had arrived that day, and although she had enough money to rent a room, there was one little problem: She was Peruvian.

No one would give her a place to stay. Peruvian? No way, too many of you here already, Chavez heard from potential landlords. “People looked down on me and I felt so bad," Chavez recalled of that night in 1998 when she moved to Chile from Trujillo, Peru (where she worked as an asparagus peeler) to try to make a living for her siblings and widowed father.

But though her entry into Chile wasn't smooth, Chavez would soon join the ranks of what has become a virtual institution in Chile: Peruvian nannies.

Chileans love Peruvian nannies. They are polite, respectful and hard-working, and they pronounce Spanish infinitely better than Chileans, who are by far the most incomprehensible Spanish speakers in Latin America. In fact, some Chilean women say their children have learned to speak well thanks to their nannies.

And the popularity of Peruvian nannies has to do with more than their skill in the nursery.

“I’ve had two Peruvian nannies and both were excellent cooks," said Lucia Concha, a public relations officer. "The first one was practically gourmet. On Saturdays, she would go all out in the kitchen; everything was delicious. Chileans don’t cook as well."

Some nannies take the jobs with clear financial goals in mind.

For Concha’s second nanny from Peru, Ester Loyola, that goal was higher education for her son. She wanted him to go to university which, although free in Peru, comes with numerous other expenses. “Ester understood perfectly well that it was the only way to break the vicious cycle of poverty,” Concha said.

Loyola left her two children with her husband in her hometown, Chimbote. She kept little of her salary for herself, instead sending most of it home. The distance, however, weighed on Loyola. Her employers insisted she not lose sight of her objective, and they used the mileage they accumulated from flights to get Loyola plane tickets so she could visit her family twice a year.

Loyola's dream was eventually realized. Her son is now studying at a university in Lima, and she is back in Chimbote, where she opened a restaurant, Concha said.