Love is a powerful force – it can unite us, inspire us and turn a house in to a home. For many, it is the reason they leave their home country and start life anew in another. Love across cultures has been, and still does, carry stigma. And yet when two people meet from different cultural backgrounds, it is an opportunity to build a strong foundation of love, respect, compassion and communication across differences. To celebrate Valentine’s Day, we wanted to share one ICA staff member’s love story that brought her all the way from Mexico City to Victoria.
In 1981, at 29 years old, Cristina Nisisaki left Mexico City with her parents and sister on a trip across Asia. This was the family’s first big trip, and had a two-day layover in Vancouver, before heading to Japan, Bali and Hawaii for a month. They were told that just across the channel from Vancouver was a delightful city called Victoria that was worth the visit. Gardens, mountains, the ocean – the more Cristina heard about it, the more she couldn’t believe such a magical place existed. Standing on the deck of the ferry as it made its way towards Victoria, she couldn’t shake this feeling – “One day I am going to live here,” she thought.
After arriving in downtown Victoria, the Nisisaki’s made plans to visit Butchart Gardens and had some time to spend before their bus departed. Under the shadow of the Empress Hotel, Cristina’s family found themselves making conversation with the young bus driver named Raymond who spoke a few words of Spanish. One thing led to another and the young bus driver asked if he could take Cristina for a coffee before their bus left.
Asking her parents’ permission, Cristina vividly remembers her father protesting – “You don’t speak the language! We’re in a foreign country – what if they take you?” Her mother, on the other hand, excitedly wished her daughter well on her date. Excitement won out over prudence and Cristina went on a date with her suitor. Between a cup of coffee and broken English and Spanish, the two found a spark and exchanged addresses, as Cristina was leaving the next day for the rest of her trip. Would she see him again? Was it a flash of romance on a vacation? Only time would tell….
After Cristina returned to Mexico, she and Raymond continued to send letters, but life progressed, and distance took its toll. One day, years later, Cristina received a call from her mother saying, “Your Canadian friend just called me, he’s looking for you!”
“My Canadian friend? Who could that be?” Turns out, in 1983, Raymond had been in Mexico for 3 weeks trying to find her. “These were the days before answering machines, and I was an independent woman,” Cristina remembers. “He must have thought I had given him the wrong address.”
Lucky for Cristina, Raymond had spent his time looking through the phonebook and called every Nisisaki family until he found someone with a daughter named Cristina. After finally meeting up in Mexico City, the two decided fate was playing a heavy hand in their relationship and it was time to make it official. After marrying in Mexico City in 1983, Cristina followed her heart and her husband to start a new life in Victoria.
Despite the excitement of her new marriage, Cristina found the move to Canada very difficult. “When your husband is working, and you have to stay home for so long because you don’t speak the language, it can be very isolating,” Cristina remembers. For partners who relocate to a new country, there is often a steep learning curve to adjust to a new life and a new language. However, when it comes to inter-cultural relationships, Cristina is adamant that learning has to come from both partners.
“Canadian partners need to learn too! It’s important for immigrants to learn about their new culture, but Canadian partners also need to understand what’s happening for their partner. There is a lot of prejudice against second language learners – it’s important to be patient and sensitive.”
To help her integrate, Cristina registered for English language classes and started volunteering with ICA in the Day Care program. Cristina enjoyed learning and volunteering at the ICA because she could socialize with other people experiencing similar struggles settling in Canada. She eventually became one of the Women’s Group facilitators, a role that was very fulfilling to her given her own experience in Victoria as a newcomer. The program was established to help immigrant women learn about Victoria and use their skills to build connections in their new community.
“I loved meeting women from different backgrounds, countries, and languages,” she reflects. “At first, food was what brought us together, but it became a safe place for us to share our stories and support one another.”
In the late 1980s, immigrant communities on Vancouver Island were very isolated. Opportunities to network and advocate with others through ICA’s different support groups allowed people to discuss important issues about racism, family violence, and women’s rights.
“Groups like this help immigrant women, and helped me, because we could talk about things like culture shock, learning the language and overcoming isolation,” Cristina says. The opportunity went two-ways, and Cristina felt she was able to learn as much as she contributed to the Women’s Group.
“The other participants helped me understand issues from different communities, different religions, cultures, languages. We are women, we have the same issues, and some are also different, but we can help each other when we get together.”
Now, Cristina has spent more of her life in Canada than in Mexico. She is still employed at ICA as an integral part of the reception team. Cristina’s legacy in the organization includes establishing the ICA Reception Team’s Interpretation and Translation Services as well as the Women’s Group Catering Services. She is still with her husband and has a growing family here in Canada. She is grateful for opportunities to still engage with her Mexican and Japanese heritage and can be found dancing in Furosato Dancers and Viva Mexico Folklore Dancers. The lessons she has learned through supporting others and being supported herself has helped her feel at home in the enchanting Canadian island she dreamt of years ago.
For Cristina, love has always been more than just one person or one place: “Love is showing compassion and celebrating all people,” she says.