NEWCOMER EXPERIENCES OF LIFE IN VICTORIA
The CPN newsletter features stories about newcomers who come to call Greater Victoria home. In this segment, we ask a newcomer to share a bit about their personal lives and the challenges and successes of coming to a new community.
Where were you born and raised?
I was born in El Salvador in a small town called “Tonaquatepeque.” But when I was about a year old, my parents moved to the capital of El Salvador and then I grew up in the city of San Salvador.
What were the circumstances that brought you and your family to Canada? Why did your family choose to live in Victoria?
El Salvador was going through its civil war. The 80s were the most violent times there. So my father decided to apply to come to Canada. We did not know we were coming to Victoria. The final location was Canada’s decision on where they thought we would fit best based on the needs of the country and my parents’ qualifications. I was a youth at the time.
Tell us a bit about your family.
My high school sweetheart and I have been together for over 30 years. We have two wonderful boys – one is 20, the other is seven years old. We would have had three sons but in 2004, we lost our second son a few days before he was born. Nonetheless, our family is full and happy. My parents are in Victoria and although they live on their own, we see the all the time. And my younger brother has two boys too. He and his wife and their two little boys also live in Victoria. We also see him and his beautiful family all the time. My wife’s family is big and happy and makes our lives fuller and always exciting.
As someone from El Salvador, what do you wish people understood better about your cultural heritage?
Although it may be unfair to put this expectation on everyone, I do wish people knew that just because I am from Latin America, it does not mean that I am like someone from Guatemala, Ecuador or Mexico. Yes, Latin Americans definitely have some common threads in our culture. For example, Latin Americans tend to be more expressive. However, each country has its idiosyncrasies. Just like Americans are not the same as Canadians (even though there are some general characteristics that the 2 share), Latin American countries are distinct from one another. If we can understand that, I believe it would be a way to stifle stereotypes and inaccurate generalities that people have about Latin Americans.
What is your current profession?
My profession is law. I have been a lawyer for over nine years. I chose this career because I felt that it would be very rewarding. I also liked that by being a lawyer I acquired a good basis to explore different jobs while also giving me a strong insight into the legal field. Laws affect every one of us. As a result, being a lawyer has given me a great opportunity to help many people, no matter their background.
What are three things you appreciate about living in Victoria?
Despite the habitual and sometimes unnecessary complaining, I really love the weather in Victoria. We have it good here! The second thing I love about the city is that there are many outdoor areas for children (i.e. parks, green spaces, etc.) which include many beautiful beaches all around us. Last, it is the fact that Victoria is growing, so it is becoming more culturally diverse. I love the feel of the city being more eclectic. To me, these changes are positive and signify good things for the future. I love that.
What have been key challenges about life in Victoria?
Well, during the first few years I think the biggest challenge was the day-to-day cultural differences. For example, I still remember this one time when my family was invited to go for a big dinner at a friend’s house. So, my parents, my brother and I went shopping to buy outfits to wear that night. I remember my parents bought a really nice pair of shoes for me (nothing expensive, we could not afford it), but nice shoes nonetheless. I remember showing up at the party only to be told by the owner of the home “take your shoes off. We don’t wear shoes inside our homes in Canada”. There are many other examples, but that one was one of the first ones that really drove home the point of “You are not in El Salvador my friends”.
Now, many years later, I still experience discrimination. Most of the racism and prejudice comes in the form of people whose jokes or comments are insensitive and flat out racist but that do not see it as such. So I still have to sometimes (not all the time) take a more “serious” approach and let them know that their comments and views are unacceptable. But I keep going. There are so many wonderful, intelligent and educated people around me and my family that those who are discriminatory and/or ignorant, do not destroy the gratitude I have for where I am.
What do you miss about life in El Salvador?
Without a doubt, the thing that I miss the most is my family. My aunts, my uncles, cousins and my one last grandparent: my paternal grandmother. I also miss the music. But one thing I really, really miss is going to watch soccer games at the national stadium, singing on the stands, crying when the national team scored. Those were great times. Last but not least, I absolutely miss the food…oh the food! Don’t get me wrong, I totally love a good prime rib and baked potato dinner, but man, when I think of the National dish of El Salvador (pupusas), I have to go with them. Those I miss a ton!
What are three favorite things you and your family enjoy doing in Victoria?
Going to Willows Beach is probably one of the things we do the most. Letting the kids play on the sand on a nice sunny day is still one the most beautiful things to do in Victoria. However, we also love staying at home and hanging out in our yard with our family and friends. But for me, one thing I love to do (and I would if I had the time) is watch movies with my wife or our sons, especially our 7 year old. Listening to him make comments about the movie we are watching, no matter what it is, makes me laugh non-stop. Little does he know that what he is doing is making his old man forget about work. And for that, I love watching movies with him the most.
What are key successes you have experienced in your professional career?
One of the first accomplishments I had was when I received the Humanitarian Award from the University of Victoria for the volunteer work I did before and while I was in Law School. After I started my solo practice, I eventually started to branch out and as part of that, after about 5 years of being a sole practitioner, I was selected to be part of the Duty Counsel roster for the Justice Access Centre in Victoria. I love doing this type of work and I was fortunate to have been selected. But perhaps the best experience is the fortune to have very good lawyers work alongside or even against me. It makes me work harder while at the same time I always learn something new from them.
Do you think Victoria is a welcoming and inclusive community?
Yes, I think so. I have seen it firsthand. Although I still see and experience some difficulties as a visible minority, I believe that as the years have gone by (I have been in Canada for 34 years) Victoria has grown, not only in population, but in understanding, acceptance and a sense of inclusion that benefits us all. The diversity factor is more significant now than before and this makes Victoria a great place to live.