Professor Emma Sepulveda and Scarlette Sepulveda, the daughter of one of the 33 Chilean miners that was rescued after 70 days underground in 2010, have more in common than one might think — and it isn’t just a last name.
“Sepulveda is as common in Chile as Smith is here,” Emma said on Friday, as she explained she is not related to Scarlette. “My son likes to say if you pick up a rock in Chile, you will find 50 Sepulvedas.”
Originally from Santiago, Chile, Emma Sepulveda moved to the United States 38 years ago when the government in her home country collapsed.
“I left Chile after Sept. 11, 1973, when the government fell,” Sepulveda said. “There was a revolution there, so I left and came to Reno, of all places.”
Sepulveda earned her bachelor’s and master’s degrees from UNR, and then went to UC Davis to earn a Ph.D. While she was writing her dissertation at UC Davis, she learned of an opening in her field at UNR.
“So I came back to Reno,” Sepulveda said, where she subsequently founded the Latino Research Center at UNR.
Now several decades after leaving Chile herself, Sepulveda has helped make it possible for Scarlette, also from Santiago, Chile, to move to Reno and attend UNR. Sepulveda and her family opened their home to Scarlette and she arrived in Reno Monday to follow her dream of learning English.
Emma meets Scarlette
In 2010, Sepulveda and her husband were on a sabbatical in Greece when news broke that 33 Chilean miners, who were trapped underground fore 17 days after a mine collapse, had been located and were still alive.
“It reminded me of a book I wrote a few years ago,” Sepulveda said, so she decided to travel to Chile to write about the miners and their families.
Sepulveda planned to stay for one week in Chile, but ended up staying more than a month.
“And that’s where I met Scarlette,” she said. “We talked every day and she would bring me water. Then I started talking to her about her dreams and her family.”
Scarlette had dropped out of school during her year of pre-college studies to move with her mother and 12-year-old brother to the San Jose Mine site to look for her father, Mario.
“Scarlette and her family moved to the site two days after the accident,” Sepulveda said, where the family remained until Mario and the other miners were pulled out of the ground.
During their time together at the mine site, Scarlette told Sepulveda of her dream to study English.
After finishing her book about the mine collapse, which has been published in Chile and Spain and is set to be published in the U.S. within the next year, Sepulveda returned to Chile for a book signing. It was at that time she talked to Scarlette about the possibility of her moving to Reno to attend school.
Once she returned from Chile, Sepulveda contacted Susan Valencia, the director of the Intensive English Program at UNR, who helped file an application for a reduction in tuition for Scarlette.
“The Intensive English Program is really expensive,” Sepulveda said.
With monetary assistance from the Rotary Club of Reno and the Latino Research Center, Scarlette’s dream of coming to America is now a reality. At the moment, Sepulveda said there is only enough funding to keep Scarlette in Reno for one semester.
“If we could get another scholarship, she would stay here and get a degree in journalism,” Sepulveda said.
Scarlette said she is enjoying Reno so far and that it reminds her of her home in Chile because it is surrounded by mountains.
“She really wants to learn more about the American culture and the other students (in the Intensive English Program),” Sepulveda said of Scarlette. “She specifically wants to learn about the Asian culture because she has never been around anyone from that part of the world, and there are a lot of Asian students in the program.”
Scarlette on her father
The mine accident turned the close-knit Sepulveda family’s world upside down. Scarlette on Friday told the Sparks Tribune about her experience with the help of Emma Sepulveda as a translator.
“Before the accident, we had a really good life,” Scarlette said. “We were a close family. My mom had a good job and was studying accounting at the university, my brother was in school and I was studying pre-college.”
When the mine collapsed, trapping Scarlette’s father inside, her mother quit her job and both children left school and the three moved to the mine site.
“We ‘thought’ our dad had a good job with good pay,” Scarlette said, shaking her head and rolling her eyes slightly. “Then the accident came and we had to leave everything and move to the desert.”
Scarlette said during the 70 days her father was trapped, the family lived in anguish, just waiting for news day after day.
Meanwhile in the mine, Scarlette’s father did his best to keep up the morale of the other 32 men. He also sent messages to the surface to his family through the tiny perforation rescue crews made to locate the men.
“Daughter, don’t you ever worry because I have a very strong and challenging heart that beats because I am going to see you again,” Mario wrote in his first letter to Scarlette.
All 33 men who were trapped were pulled from the mine alive, but Scarlette said they did not escape unscathed, and her family will never be the same. Her father has terrible anxiety he must take medication for, and even one year later, he still is receiving intensive psychiatric therapy.
“People are saying that they are famous and earning money,” Scarlette said. “They don’t know my father will never be the same and our family life will never be the same.”