REAL LIFE

The ‘Sejuela’ sisterhood bringing South America to NSW

Ana María found lifelong friendships when she moved to Australia
Group of women on holidaySupplied.
  • Ana María Soto, 65, from St Johns Park, NSW, moved from Chile to Australia with her family when she was 28.
  • Two decades later, she made friends with a group of women who are also South American.
  • Their group is called ‘Sejuela’ and they love to travel, laugh and celebrate their heritages through friendship.

Here Ana Maria tells her story in her own words as part of that’s life!’s Get Together campaign to end loneliness.

Peering out the aeroplane window, I was in awe of the white sand and deep blue ocean below us.

‘I’m in love with Sydney already,’ I smiled to my husband, Luis, then 31, as our 17-month-old, Rod, sat in my lap.

It was December 1986 and I was 28. We were migrating from Chile to Australia to provide a better life for our family.

Incredibly, three of my eight siblings had already moved to the bustling city where they worked as mechanics, and three more of my siblings would move over a few years later.

In Oz, my husband began work as an electronic technician while I was a stay-at-home mum.

A year after arriving, we welcomed our second son Daniel. Our daughter Stephy followed two years later.

I loved everything about our new life, from the beaches to the lush greenery. But there were things I missed from my homeland, including the native fruit and seafood.

Mostly though I missed my parents, Marina and Alfonso. It was expensive to phone overseas, so we wrote to each other constantly, and I posted them photos of the kids.

And after 10 years of living in Sydney, we went back to Chile for a month to visit. It was hard to say goodbye to my parents again, but I felt Australia was my second home.

Woman smiling
I love all of my sisters (Credit: Supplied.)

One day in 2006, when I was 48, I was at the deli when I met a lovely woman named Rossy, then 52, who was also South American.

We became instant friends.

Rossy would invite me over for coffee and we got to know each other more.

‘We exchanged childhood stories in our native tongue.’

In 2007, Rossy called to say that she and her friend Teresa, then 67, and Teresa’s daughters, Vinka, 49, Vesna, 48, and Jasna, 44, and their friends Monica, 45, Anita, 46, and Jacqueline, 45, were in a group that got together as often as they could.

‘I’d love to join!’ I beamed, excited to make new friends from my home continent.

Meeting at Teresa’s place one evening, we shared a delicious home cooked meal of empanadas – like Chilean meat pies.

As we exchanged stories of our childhoods in our shared native tongue, it was an amazing way to reconnect to our culture.

The name of the group was ‘Sejuela’, a colloquial Spanish term meaning ‘the youth is gone’ – we found humour in the fact we were no longer spring chickens.

We all got on well, so every last Friday of each month we’d meet, taking turns hosting in our homes. With no men and no kids allowed, it was lovely to have some proper girl time with like-minded women.

Whether we were cooking, doing Christmas crafts or performing karaoke, we had a blast.

‘You’re like my sisters,’ I said one day, grateful for the connection I’d made with my friends.

And they all agreed.

Women celebrating Christmas
Having Christmas at Carmen’s house (Credit: Supplied.)

A year after I joined, our group expanded with the addition of Carmen.

‘Wouldn’t it be great if we could all go away together,’ Vesna suggested one day in 2011.

Appointing Vinka as our treasurer, we began pitching in whatever money we had left over each month to go towards our holidays.

About a year later, we had enough in the kitty.

‘Where should we go?’ Vinka asked.

We decided to go on a cruise through the Pacific Islands.

A group of women wearing white clothes
White night on a cruise (Credit: Supplied.)

We continued putting in money every month and, over the years, our savings have seen us travel to Nelson Bay, Kangaroo Valley, and Moreton Bay.

Nothing will stop us!

In 2016, we’d even saved enough to go to Europe, where we spent a month eating and drinking our way around Barcelona, Italy and Greece. Our lovely unofficial member Sonia, 72, joined us too!

I was grateful to make such special memories with the women who’d become like my family.

Bank books
Personalised bank books I made (Credit: Supplied.)

When the pandemic hit, it was a stressful time for everyone, and we struggled to be away from each other.

Instead of moping, we held our catch-ups online where we spent hours on Zoom, roaring with laughter, wearing fancy dress or crazy hats.

Nothing will stop us! I beamed.

Our friendship has also seen us through some of the toughest periods, such as when our lovely Monica endured breast cancer in 2023, and our gorgeous Teresa had stomach cancer many years ago. During their treatment, we’d take our friends on long walks, give each of them cuddles and shower them in presents.

Thankfully, Teresa is now cancer free and Monica is in remission.

‘Our Sejuela sisterhood is unbreakable.’

When I lost my dad, then 97, seven years ago, and my mum, 95, a few years after, the girls were super supportive and gave me beautiful flowers.

Women wearing Covid masks
Being safe during Covid (Credit: Supplied.)

We’ve also been blessed with new life in our group, with Carmen becoming a first-time grandmother this March.

‘I’m smiling even when I’m sleeping,’ she said after her grandson Henry was born.

All of our kids adore our group.

‘I love the girls!’ Stephy chuckles.

Our Sejuela sisterhood is unbreakable, and this May will mark 17 years since it all began.

To celebrate, our group, now aged between 84 and 61, will be going to Bali for one week where we plan to go road tripping.

Although we laugh that our ‘youth is gone’, I’ve never felt so alive with my sisters by my side.

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