Chileans are a diverse people whose roots are found in both South America and Europe. The original inhabitants of Chile include the Ona and Yahgan tribes in the south, the Mapuche in the south of the Central Valley and the Atacameno and Diaguita Indians who lived in the Atacama Desert in the north of the country. Today they represent only 4.5% of the population. As the Spanish conquered most of South America many men inter married Indian women. Their offspring and their descendants are called mestizos or mixed blood, they have both Spanish and Indian heritage. According to Chile’s National Statistics Institute (INE) about 44% of the population is mestizo.
During the 1800’s and early 1900’s Chile experienced a large wave of immigration from European countries other than Spain. They settled in Chile looking for a better life. Emigrants from these countries in particular Germany, Yugoslavia, France, Italy, England, Scotland and Ireland were educated people who brought new skills to Chile and most of them adopted the local culture or blended their own with the Chilean culture. A few groups settled with their own country fellows creating small communities where their traditions and costumes were kept.
Chile received many European Jewish immigrants following World War II. The last wave of immigrants came from the Middle East during the past half a century, these people have become prosperous by applying their entrepreneurial skills.
The majority of the population speaks the official language, Spanish. About 4.6% of the population speaks one of Chile’s indigenous languages such as Mupudungun spoken by the Mapuche; Quechua and Aymara by indigenous Incas; and Rapa Nui by natives of Easter Island.
The Roman Catholic religion is predominant in Chile with 70% of the population following that faith, 15% consider themselves Evangelical, 0.9% belong to the Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saint, 1% Jehova’s Witnesses, 0.1% Jewish and 8.3% Atheist or Agnostic.
Members of Chilean families are close; family comes first for many Chileans. People usually live with or near their extended families. Typically offspring live with their parents until they get married. It is conventional for Chileans to use two last names. The first is the father’s last name and the second is the mother’s.
Chile has a remarkable record of artistic and literary achievement considering its relatively small population. The twentieth century was marked by extraordinary literary achievement. In 1945 Gabriela Mistral became the first Latin American woman to win the Nobel Prize for Literature and in 1971 it was Pablo Neruda who was awarded the laureate.