Interview Ambassador Republic of Chile María Teresa Infante
The Republic of Chile is such a beautiful and lively country with so much culture to explore, that we were thrilled when Ambassador María Teresa Infante agreed to talk to us about all things Chile.
Thank you so much for doing the interview with us! How long have you been living here in the Netherlands?
I arrived in the summer of 2014, so six years. I’m beginning my seventh year as an Ambassador here, which actually makes me one of the most longstanding ambassadors around. I remained here as there were several responsibilities and cases going on, which I took on.
That’s quite an achievement! Which other countries have you lived in before you moved here?
Spain and Switzerland. My main positions have been in Santiago. I was in charge of quite a few subjects and spent more than 10 years working there. I have visited a lot of the neighbouring countries too. My work has allowed me to travel all around the world and with that, allowed me to experience a lot of different cultures. The last time I was in Chile was during Christmas and New Year, visiting friends and family. Christmas is quite different there, it’s very warm! It was lovely.
Have you visited the Embassy Festival? If so, you could you elaborate on your experience at the festival?
Yes, we joined the Embassy Festival three years ago and have been participating since. It’s been very successful for us. It truly shows the spirit of community. I met so many locals and foreigners there. I love that, it’s very enjoyable. I enjoyed the music and visited other countries while I was there. We offered Chilean foods and wine to everyone and had several cultural objects there to show people. We even had a quiz! We also offered gifts to people, to give them something to remember Chile by. What surprised me was the quality of it all. I’ve enjoyed some great things from the Latin American countries, for example. Chocolates and coffee if I can remember correctly. There was coffee there from all around the world! From several African and Asian countries and many more. It was very nice. The spirit and the sense of community there was fantastic. It was very impressive. There were residents of the Netherlands there, Chileans I had never met before, but also just the sharing that goes on between the different countries. The community is very alive. It was also very beautiful to see so many countries offering visitors a chance taste all these different wines from their native countries.
What do you hope people know, or take away when they visit Chile?
The variety of things we offer. Chile is a country that has been shaped by conflict, discovery and political processes. We have such a diverse population. We have indigenous populations and lots of people that came to Chile throughout centuries, so it’s a combination of lots of different ethnic groups that you’ll find in Chile! And there’s so much to explore. The geography is lovely. The mountains, the desert, the sea! It’s country with so many striking features. More and more areas by the sea are now also being protected, to protect certain species.
If you’re visiting Chile and arriving in the capital, Santiago, I would recommend to also visit other areas. Try to go to coast to get a hint of the economic evolution of Chile. Around Santiago there are also quite a few wineries. It’s also quite interesting to go to the more deserted areas, as you’ll discover small indigenous communities actively involved in preservation, tourism and agriculture. San Pedro de Atacama for example, in the North of Chile. When you’re travelling there, there are also volcanos, small valleys and other wonders to explore. Arica is also very beautiful and worth visiting, as is Iquique. Down in the South we have lots of lakes, glaciers, volcanos and native forests. Nature is very important to us. It’s majestic. Please also visit Punta Arenas, located on the Strait of Magellan, which connects the Atlantic and Pacific oceans.
On one of the islands, there is also a very important connection to the Netherlands. Cape Horn, in southern Chile, was first sighted in 1616 by the Dutchman Willem Schouten, who named Kaap Hoorn after the city of Hoorn in the Netherlands. They discovered it when they were trying to discover a new route to the Indies.
We also have an island in the Pacific Ocean called Rapa Nui or Easter Island. That was actually also “discovered” by a Dutch explorer, Jakob Roggeveen. It was discovered on the day of Easter, so it was named after it. It also hosts the Tapati Party in February, celebrated with lots of traditional clothing and body painting, called Takona, which is the festival’s main characteristic. The islanders paint their bodies with symbols of their mythic origins using natural pigments.
‘The spirit and the sense of community at the Embassy Festival was fantastic. It was very impressive. There were residents of the Netherlands there, Chileans I had never met before, but also just the sharing that goes on between the different countries. ‘
At the Embassy festival, we celebrate unique and inspiring traditions and experiences that the participating countries offer. Could you please elaborate on some of your customs and, something that is typical of your country?
Traditions are subject to quite a lot of change nowadays, and I must say that the traditions in Chile have been shaped by faith, discovery, heroism, and by a mixture of the indigenous population together with the Spaniards and other people that came to our country. Something we celebrate in September and is very important to us is Fiestas Patrias. On the 18th of September this is in commemoration of the proclamation of the First Governing Body of 1810, and marking the beginning of the Chilean Independence process. Within Chile the Fiestas Patrias are often referred to as the Dieciocho, or “18th” because the celebration occurs on 18 September. Unofficially, the celebration can last for around a week, depending on when it falls. There is also the Christian calendar of course, with holidays such as Christmas, and civic celebrations as well. But there are also the traditional festivities in Andacollo, Las Peñas and La Tirana, to honor the Virgen, among others. The La Tirana parade is celebrated in July and is one of Chile’s most anticipated events. It is characterized by musicians playing drums, flutes and whistles while dancers clad in macabre carnival style masks and costumes enact the diablada (dance of the devils) to exorcise demons. The festival pays homage to Chile’s patron saint, the Catholic Our Lady of Mount Carmel, who represents a blending of local indigenous and Catholic traditions and beliefs. People with indigenous heritage make processionals to the Virgin’s sanctuary, take part in masses then rejoice in street parties with stalls selling handicrafts and food.
What surprised you when you first moved to the Netherlands?
The cleanness! And the way you have organized water. The way you’ve claimed land in the sea and built the country. The way you manage it. You really like and care for water! And The Hague, with the Peace Palace as it’s pinnacle. Once you enter the building you see and experience something that just convinces everybody of its meaning. And the library there is just fantastic. Also, I’ve always been very attracted to your art and museums, which are very friendly. People should really cherish it. Some of my favorites include Rembrandt, Van Gogh, Vermeer and Mondriaan. The Netherlands has a lot of creativity.
Since living in the Netherlands, as you’ve done for quite a few years now, are there any Dutch customs that you’ve taken on yourself?
You cycling culture is very striking. It’s so entrenched with normal life. It’s something we could learn from. Your geography helps, of course. But other countries could still adjust, I believe. I cycle a little, mostly in the weekends and short distances. I wasn’t used to cycling, before. I didn’t cycle much in Chile, so I hadn’t developed the control, the balance, like the Dutch have. It is difficult, but I really try my best, and do try from time to time. And then there’s the holidays you celebrate. Of course, we had to join in and celebrate King’s Day! It’s such a sacred day in the Netherlands and I enjoy being among so many Dutch nationals and to try and feel what they’re feeling and get that sense of enjoyment and taste the spirit of its community. We have also been involved with the Gay Pride in Amsterdam, together with other embassies. We form part of the Equal Rights coalition and feel the responsibility to give our support, join the movement and stand against discrimination.
If people would like to hear music, typical of your country, what would you recommend they listen?
If you’re talking about popular music, you could listen to Violeta Parra, who was a famous poet and musician. ‘Gracias a la Vida’ was her most famous song. It’ll give you a sense of Chilean nostalgia and romance. Inti Illiminani is one the most famous folk music group from Chile, and one of the longest lasting and most influential exponents of the Nueva Canción Chilena (New Song) movement. Then there’s the new generation, of course. Their music tends to be close to pop music, jazz, urban, but also electronic music. Nicolas Jaar, for example, is very famous.
‘ Of course, we had to join in and celebrate King’s Day! It’s such a sacred day in the Netherlands and I enjoy being among so many Dutch nationals and to try and feel what they’re feeling and get that sense of enjoyment.’
One of the best ways to get to know a different culture is through its food. Could you tell us about a signature dish from your country, that you would recommend people try, to get a sense of your country? And what is it that makes this dish special and typical of your country’s culture?
I would very much recommend one of our traditional dishes called Caldillo de Congrio, which is a fish stew. It’s cooked with fish and a lot of small vegetables. It’s very tasty and very traditional in all parts of Chile, from North to South and East to West. It’s to be enjoyed with long conversations and a nice glass of white wine! Chile is also very famous for its great wines. Carménère for example. That’s a very good sweet red wine. I highly recommend tasting a glass. We also have a lot of seafood, depending on the region. Many foods are also made with corn, that’s a big part of our culture.
What makes you most proud when you think of Chile?
I should mention that Chile has a rich literary tradition and has been home to two Nobel prize winners, the poets Gabriela Mistral and Pablo Neruda. They are very representative of the Chilean personality. I’m also very proud of our democratic institutions, and the ongoing efforts to keep improving social and economic conditions. I’m very proud of the people of Chile. I’m also proud of the commitment against climate change. Chile is highly committed to reach ambitious goals with regards to climate change. Chile is in conversation with a lot of countries regarding this and I’m very proud that we are able to hold the conversation.
How are you participating with the Embassy Festival this year?
We’re very committed and happy to participate this year! We have recipes in the Recipe Booklet, like the Caldillo de Congrio we talked about before. We’re also joining in with the Embassy Festival Surprise Box. With different olive oils, desert salt and merquén, a spice used by the mapuches, an ethnic group originating in Chile. Chilean/Dutch composer Tomás Mauro contributes with his music.
I really think that what the Embassy Festival has done this year is so imaginative. It’s almost a chapter-based festival this year. You can just go from one chapter to another.