Strangers on Familiar Soil: Rediscovering the Chile-California Connection

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Strangers on Familiar Soil: Rediscovering the Chile-California Connection
By Edward Dallam Melillo
Yale University Press, 2015
352 pp.
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This wonderful book weaves together captivating anecdotes with analysis of environmental interactions and economic exchanges between California and Chile in order to reimagine the making of the Americas. The two places are linked by the American Cordillera, a chain of mountain ranges that includes the Sierra Nevada in California and the Andes in Chile; a common mild, dry, Mediterranean-type climate; and the Pacific Ocean. They have repeatedly remade each other’s histories. The California Gold Rush depended on Chilean ships and wood, Chilean wheat flour, and Chilean mercury. In turn, the Monterey pine tree, native to California, has refashioned the forests and landscapes of southern Chile. More recently, technical assistance partnerships among agronomists and corporate joint ventures have connected California’s and Chile’s respective fruit and wine industries. But Melillo is no romantic: his emphasis on transnational linkages includes the antagonisms and tensions that these encounters have generated among the people and ecosystems in both places. He recounts ugly instances of bigotry in California against Chilean immigrants, and he frets over the inherent dangers of monoculture and environmental globalization. On a personal note, as a former Peace Corps volunteer in Chile who now resides in California, I am indebted to Melillo for so masterfully authenticating the many connections between the two places that I had long intuited.

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