After my early childhood in the cold, dry Patagonia, my father took a job with the Anaconda Copper Mining Company in Chuquicamata, Chile. On my seventh birthday, I moved to the driest place in the world: the Atacama desert.
The Chilex Foreign School educated around 120 expat kids, and the boys were free to roam around the mine debris and the surrounding hills. There we would explore and examine the interesting rocks containing copper and other metals.
Our bunch of gold seekers soon found competition: groups of Chilean boys of our age, sons of the mine workers in “New Town”, which was a development a short distance away built by Anaconda for its Chilean workers.
We threw rocks and insults at each other. We soon found out that the worst insult the Chilean boys had was “Chichecrai”, so we nine-year-olds heartily yelled it back at them together with the rocks we threw.
My mother wanted to be sure that we didn’t lose our Spanish, so my brother and I started taking classes at the home of Profesor Hernan Cortes, a teacher from the Chilean school, who lived in New Town.
We befriended his son, and one day asked him what “”Chichecrai” meant. He said it was a very bad insult that the American bosses yelled at the Chilean workers in the mine when they were mad at them.
I later found out that the “yanquis” were yelling “Jeeeesus Christ” to vent their anger. The workers heard “Chichecrai”.
Through Señor Cortes’ son, my brother and eventually got friendly with other Chilean boys in Chuquicamata and would discuss our different points of view. I found I could easily empathize and understand both Americans and Chileans.
By the time I finished sixth grade, I had been to six schools and been exposed to the Argentine, Bolivian, American, Chilean and British school systems.
I had often been bullied as a newcomer and sometimes become a bully in self preservation, but I always could feel for the other, and the bullying at the Scots School in Buenos Aires bothered me.
Remembering "Chichecrai" I usually found ways to include the bullied. I like to believe that in some small way I contributed to the strong bonds of camaraderie and solidarity that characterized the class of 1961 at St. Andrew's Scots School, and have made it unique through sixty five plus years of friendship.
Multicultural empathy was a hallmark in my multinational executive career with The Coca-Cola Company and my subsequent consulting career. Learn more about my career and the places it has led me on my About page.