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Harmony Day, celebrating diversity: Silvia's story

Silvia was 14 when she arrived with her family in Australia on Friday, October 24, 1975. Fleeing the chaos, political instability and persecution of the Argentine military government, they jumped on a boat from Buenos Aires to nearby Uruguay. An Australian chartered flight took about 180 adults and 90 children from Argentina and Uruguay to Melbourne.

Argentina had been under right-wing military rule for decades. For Silvia’s father, Carlos, it was the 1973 Pinochet coup in neighbouring Chile that triggered his decision to leave. Carlos was a union delegate. The repression of any left-wing movements, the torture and “disappearance” of many people he knew, convinced him that he and his family were in great danger.

The Tejedors were among migrants and political refugees settled in Melbourne’s Maribyrnong migrant hostel. It was a huge upheaval. Silvia spoke no English and initially resented her parents for uprooting all their lives. But every day Carlos and Graciela told Silvia how lucky they were to escape Argentina when they did. If they hadn’t come to Australia, they too would have been among the thousands who “disappeared”.

It wasn’t long before Silvia learned English, in special migrant classes at the local high school. It also wasn’t long before the Tejedors had their own home in Sunshine. Carlos started as a fitter and turner the next working day after their arrival, with both parents working hard and long hours.

Silvia became a technical officer in electronics for the Department of Defence. Like her father, she became a union delegate. She has twice returned to Argentina but says she no longer belongs there. Australia is her home. She remains an active AMWU member.

Silvia has a message for children in detention and refugees fleeing conflict and persecution worldwide. “Don’t lose your heart, don’t lose your pride and never lose sight of who you are and where you’ve come from. 

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