“I have been a foreigner all my life, first as a daughter of diplomats, then as a political refugee and now as an immigrant in the U.S. I have had to leave everything behind and start anew several times, and I have lost most of my extended family.” Isabel Allende (1942 – present)
On being displaced
Isabel Allende is one of the most well-known Latin American female writers. Now aged 79, she has published a multitude of fiction books throughout her life. What few know about her, is that she was also a refugee. Allende had to flee her country not only once, but twice.
First, she fled from Chile to Venezuela. Years later, she fled from Venezuela to the United States. The motivation behind her first migration was political. In 1973, the then Chilean president Salvador Allende was assassinated. Allende was related to him, as he was her father’s cousin. Her family thus felt that it was not safe to stay in Chile and decided to flee to Venezuela. Allende then moved to the United States for personal reasons, where she resides today. On her website, she describes herself as being ‘with one foot in California and the other in Chile.’
Allende’s breakout novel is The House of the Spirits (1982). The novel is part of the literary tradition of ‘magical realism’. Magical realism blurs the lines between fantasy and reality. It uses realistic narratives but mixes it with magical elements. The book follows four generations of a family living in Chile, going through the country’s various historic moments.
A lifelong feminist
Allende says she has been a feminist since kindergarten. She expresses it not only in her novels, where she explores the feminine condition, but also in her life. In 1995, she founded the ‘Isabel Allende Foundation’ to empower women around the world. Today, she uses her voice and influence to support women’s rights around the globe. She recently spoke for agencies such as the Human Rights Watch and UNHCR.