Southern California’s Chilean community organizes to help quake victims


Southern California’s small but tightknit Chilean community scrambled Sunday to contact loved ones affected by the magnitude 8.8 earthquake that struck their homeland Saturday, and began organizing to help victims.

“We have a lot of anguish,” said Jorge Rojas, 44, whose family is from Talca, a region hit hard by the quake, which was centered offshore of the southern city of Concepción. “You can’t see your family. You can’t even talk with them.”

Rojas’ San Bernardino group, Club de Huasos, which celebrates Chilean cowboy traditions, planned to meet with the consul general Monday to ask how club members might help. The group is small, Rojas said, but “if we can do anything to help them, I’ll be happy.”


The U.S Census Bureau puts the number of Chileans in Los Angeles County at about 8,000. Community leaders say it is about 20,000.

Migration from the country surged in the aftermath of the 1973 overthrow of President Salvador Allende. Since then, many have returned home as the country settled into a period of stability, said Nina Cuestas of the Centro Chileno Lautaro in San Francisco.

Members of Chile Sin Fronteras, a San Diego nonprofit whose name translates to Chile Without Borders, planned to meet Sunday to coordinate fundraising efforts. “We want to send goods, clothes, anything we can as soon as possible,” said member Lucas Johnson.

He said a few of his extended family members were vacationing in Chile’s capital, Santiago, when the earthquake hit. Johnson spent most of Saturday trying to get in touch with them. Phone lines were down, but he got through using e-mail and learned that they were unhurt. Houses, bridges and highways in the capital were reported damaged.

On Sunday, Johnson and a few compatriots planned to put together a network to help people in Southern California contact family members in Chile. They weren’t sure how to do it, but he figured that they might pool Internet and phone resources for the next few days.

Rincón Chileno, a Rosemead restaurant, has been a community institution since the early 1970s. Pancho Cid, 69, a customer for 35 years, said he and others were planning a fundraiser there in the coming week.

Cid said he had been trying unsuccessfully to call relatives in Santiago and trying to avoid despair. “The worst is over,” he said. “Now we have to come together.”