By: Sam Minassie
As an integral part of Latin American Week, Carnaval Del Sol has returned for another year with an even larger assortment of activities, vendors and events. Initially established in 2009 with approximately 500 attendees, it has evolved into an annual pillar of the community. In comparison, the festival now hosts up to 100,000 guests annually.
The festival is slated to take place across 7 plazas: The Food Plaza, Kids Plaza, AON Family Plaza, YVR Travel Plaza, Urban Plaza, Sports Plaza and the Beer Plaza. The different sects will host fashion shows, body painting, street performers, live DJ’s and even artists at work on paintings and sculptures.While recent expansions have resulted in new additions, such as “Music on Wheels”, as well as a Beer Plaza which now seats 600!
An entrepreneur by her early teens, founder, Paola Murillo began her first business, selling sandwiches to schoolmates. And although she received backlash from school authorities, by high school she’d already added pens as a second venture. A testament to her resiliency, Murillo, has never been one to shy away from a challenge.
So, when she moved to Vancouver, recreating an authentic “Plaza Latina” was merely another opportunity. In several Latin-American countries, plazas serve as major hubs for residents to socialize, share news and celebrate. These areas often make up the most intricate parts of a city’s dynamics. Murillo's aim to help connect the community through a more traditional approach has been highly successful and has helped bridge the gap for many newcomers.
Originally from Columbia, Murillo came to Canada in 2005 with business aspirations that have lead her to a number of projects including Latincouver. The online platform which provides a central place to find news and information, also hosts a number of programs. With a list that includes the Latin-Canadian Professional Network (LCPN), Inspirational Latin Awards (ILA), ExpoPlaza Latina (EPL), and the Amigo Card; the site offers something for everyone.
Now a Canadian citizen, she has been honoured a number of times, including the prestigious Mary Ozolins award given to a BC woman who “provides exemplary and meaningful contributions to the community”. And was recognized as one of the 10 Most Influential Hispanics in Canada by the Canadian Hispanic Business Alliance in 2010.
Although Murillo’s efforts often resonate more closely with Vancouver’s Hispanic residents, initiatives like the ExpoPlaza target broader international business relations. The conference which focuses on improving intercontinental trade helps Canadian companies connect with South American distributors and organizations.
The festival is scheduled to host approximately 250 performers, musicians, and dancers, keeping the stage overflowing with talent throughout the weekend celebrations. Outdoor cooking demos by the Chefs del Sol will also showcase traditional Latin-American recipes. Entry is free and with a variety of over 25 food vendors to choose from, a virtually unlimited assortment of Latin-American dishes is available.
The event takes place in Vancouver at the Concord Pacific Place, just north of Science World, from 10am - 10pm on July 8 and July 9.
by Tazeen Inam in Mississauga
Canada is not the land of fairy tales. It is a land of opportunities, welcoming those who are daring and rebound from their suffering – people like Carmen Aguirre, a “revolutionary Cinderella,” whose dreams of being a theatre actor were shattered and rebuffed.
Her journey from a five-year-old refugee to an award-winning actor and playwright is depicted in her memoir, Mexican Hooker #1: And My Other Roles Since the Revolution, with immense audacity and the flavour of fervor.
Young Aguirre escaped the 1973 coup d’état in Chile, which led to the death of President Salvador Allende, and moved to Canada as a refugee with her family.
“Political violence was a concept that I got; senseless violence left me with nothing to excuse him with,” she writes, referring to the man who raped her when she was a teenager in Vancouver, B.C.
“I had no idea that having machine guns pointed at me at the age of five would in some ways pale in comparison with the up-close-and-personal, full-frontal assault of a rape, with having the coldest human I’d ever come across put a pistol to my temple with a steady hand and whisper, ‘Don’t move, or I’ll shoot,’ in a mechanical voice.”
Facing her trauma
Aguirre was 13, and her concept of love was not more than “abstract ideas.” She never thought about the “nuts and bolts” of the situation. She describes her physical pain as so excruciating that she believed the man raping her was using a knife.
“I didn’t know one doesn’t get over childhood rape, one simply learns how to integrate it,” Aguirre writes. Her fear was so traumatic, that it hijacked her future love life and profession.
Many times, in a haunting style, she describes how John Horace Oughton, known as the “Paper Bag Rapist,” hid his identity and covered his victims’ faces. Oughton called the young Aguirre a “hooker” because she wore a white wraparound skirt and called the rape “making love.”
Yet Mexican Hooker #1 is not depressing at all. It encourages life and the ability to rise beyond the reality of pain and oppression.
The book exposes an awesome experience of a human spirit that marvels at different forms of decadence and viciousness.
A warrior to her core, Aguirre went back to school the day after the rape, despite the fact that the serial rapist was still at-large. Her father urged her to stay home and rest, but Aguirre writes that she did not believe she was sick.
She never wrote to her mother, then in Chile, about the rape until 16 years after the incident. That was the first time she shed tears over the loss of her innocence.
Oughton was caught in 1985 after sexually assaulting nearly 200 victims. Aguirre attended his parole hearings with other victims and developed a “new-found sisterhood” with the other women.
In a direct conversation with the serial rapist, she told him that he taught her “compassion.”
Finding her spotlight
“[I]n this country, white was certainly a colour, and it held all power.”
Aguirre writes about being caught off-guard by racism early in her acting career in Canada and the United States.
“First of all, I had never heard the word Latino until I got to San Francisco, which was looking to me more and more like the thorns of a rose rather than the petally part.”
At theatre school in Vancouver, Aguirre was one of the only people of colour in her program, while “mainstream Canadian theatre presented overwhelmingly white, middle-class stories.”
Casts were typically white and roles open to actors like Aguirre were often racist, such as the role of Mexican hooker or Puerto Rican maid.
“You don’t have what it takes to be an actor,” she was told. “We’re letting you go.”
Aguirre transitioned to playwriting, but realized that transforming a personal story into a universal experience could only happen after healing. Ultimately, she found refuge as a workshop facilitator with Theatre of the Oppressed, where she works with marginalized groups to create interactive and empowering theatre.
All her years of training and acting classes since the age of eight eventually paid off in the form of her play Chile Con Carne, a hailed success. The play is a dark comedy about the trials and tribulations of an eight-year-old Chilean refugee living in Canada in the '70s.
“After the show, immigrant Canadians from every corner of the globe waited to tell me in broken voices, how much they identified with the character and her story.”
Aguirre is now a Vancouver-based actor, playwright, and two-time memoirist. Her first memoir, Something Fierce, tells of her experiences in the Chilean resistance and won CBC’s Canada Reads in 2012. She has written or co-written 25 plays - three of which, Blue Box, The Trigger and Refugee Hotel have also been published as books.
Tazeen Inam is passionate about both print and electronic media. She has a master's degree in mass communications, has worked as a senior producer and editorial head at Pakistani news channels and has contributed to BBC Radio Urdu in London, England. Inam is presently pursuing a course in digital media studies at Sheridan College.
This content was developed exclusively for New Canadian Media and can be re-published with appropriate attribution. For syndication rights, please write to email@example.com
by Carlos Tello (@SegunDoviaje) in Vancouver, British Columbia
Juliana Forero still remembers the exact place, time and date when she learned about Paola Murillo’s dream of connecting Vancouver’s Latin community with the rest of the city. It was at a Tim Hortons coffee shop, an hour before midnight, on December 13, 2008.
That night, Murillo told Forero that she wanted to create a Latin plaza in Vancouver – a place where Latinos could showcase their culture, do business with other Vancouverites and network.
“We talked about it all night,” says Forero. “And we started working on it the following day.”
In Latin America, plazas are places where people spend their free time. Kids play with each other, and adults relax, get some fresh air and engage in conversations. Due to their nature, plazas also attract countless artists and vendors. It is not uncommon to see music players, painters and itinerant sellers. Murillo’s aim was to recreate that atmosphere in Vancouver.
Latincouver, a non-profit dedicated to bring together Latin Americans living in Vancouver with other groups, was the result of Forero’s and Murillo’s late-night conversation. By hosting social and cultural events, as well as business networking activities, Latincouver has become a bridge that unites Latinos and non-Latinos.
One of Latincouver’s main events is the Carnaval del Sol, where the dream of the Latin plaza comes to life. The Carnaval is a massive, two-day annual event that allows visitors to experience Latin culture, arts, food and music. Last year’s event attracted 100,000 Vancouverites.
“Carnaval del Sol is a space that allows us to help artists, vendors and entrepreneurs get themselves known,” Murillo explains. “It also allows us Latinos to be seen, to show that we exist.”
This year, the carnival will be held on July 11 and 12 at Concord Pacific Place in downtown Vancouver. It will feature artistic performances, sports tournaments, children’s activities and more than 70 food vendors.
Building the dream
Murillo left Colombia when she was 16 years old. Fascinated with culture since early childhood, she wanted to find a multicultural city she could call home.
After spending four years in Paris, 10 in Kentucky and five months in Montreal, Murillo arrived in Vancouver and realized it was the place she had been looking for all those years.
“I always used to say that I wanted to live in a city where people spoke tons of different languages,” she says. “But not even in my wildest dreams I could envision a place as multicultural as Vancouver.”
After settling in the city, she started working in human resources. That led her to learn how hard it could be for Latin immigrants to re-attain their professional status after arriving in Vancouver.
“Often, when I recommended a Latin candidate, people would tell me: ‘This person doesn’t speak English,’ or: ‘This person is working as a waiter, he’s not a professional,’” Murillo recalls. “It was really hard to validate their credentials.”
According to Murillo, something else working against Latinos living in Vancouver was the absence of a strong, integrated Latin community.
Dwelling on these issues, she came up with the idea of the Latin plaza – a place where Latinos could get together, showcase their culture and professional capabilities, and present themselves to the city.
Murillo acknowledges that not everyone agrees with her approach of bringing all Latin Vancouverites together in one big group, but she believes that the bigger the community, the more powerful it can be.
After creating Latincouver, Murillo started knocking on doors looking for people willing to help her accomplish her dream.
“I would go to consulates and wait hours to get an appointment,” she remembers. “Sometimes when people saw me they would say: ‘there goes another crazy person trying to rally people together.’”
The first Carnaval del Sol was held at the Hellenic Community Centre in 2009. It attracted about 500 people. The attendance pales in comparison with the 100,000 visitors the carnival attracts nowadays, but Murillo saw it as the confirmation that the countless hours she and a group of volunteers invested organizing the event had paid off.
“I believe that attracting those 500 visitors was probably harder than bringing the 100,000 that now come to Carnaval del Sol,” she says.
More than just a carnival
Last year, the British Columbia provincial government proclaimed June 28 to July 6 as Latin American Week to, “acknowledge and celebrate the many contributions Latin Americans have made to British Columbia and Canada.”
This year, Latincouver’s celebration of Latin American Week kicked off with a parade on Canada Day, and continued with a Latin arts exhibition, a Latin film night and an outdoor sports event. Celebrations continued this week with the second edition of Tastes of Latin America and the Inspirational Latin Awards, a gala event that recognized distinguished members of the Latin American community for their contributions to B.C.’s economy and cultural development.
Forero is the producer of Latincouver’s events during Latin American Week. It is a demanding job, requiring her to commit up to 20 hours a day. It is exhausting, she admits, but the idea of preserving her culture in a foreign country keeps her motivated.
“I do this because I feel committed with the community,” she says. “I believe that by doing these events we are creating spaces where we can integrate not only Latinos, but everyone living in Vancouver.”
Through her work, Forero sees firsthand how these events bring people together. The volunteers she leads, many of whom had to leave their families behind when they emigrated, generate strong bonds with each other while working to produce the Latin American Week celebrations.
“Leaving home is hard,” says Forero, who is originally from Colombia. “The volunteers, they find a family here.”
I’m writing this nearly 3,000 metres above sea level, perched up...
by Raul A. Pinto (@RaulAPinto) in Mississauga
Not long after I landed in Canada from Chile in 2010, I met a young man through some mutual friends. He was a high school dropout, and his reasons were pretty simple: he wasn’t a good student, and he didn’t know what to take after graduation, so he preferred to work.
It was rare for me to hear about people in their early 20s who hadn’t graduated high school. Despite still being a developing country, nearly 90 per cent of Chileans ages 25 to 34 are high school graduates. The education reform in the works over the last decade, with local students advocating for free education from the government, only promises a brighter future for Chileans. Today, some of the reform movement’s early leaders have even been elected to congress.
But it seems students who don’t finish high school, like the young man I met, are commonplace in Canada, despite being named as having the seventh-best educational system in the world in Pearson’s rankings. This is a serious issue, and the number of students with Spanish backgrounds dropping out of school reached an alarming 40 per cent in Toronto a few years ago. Today, measures taken have lowered the number to 21 per cent, with the overall dropout rate at 14 per cent. Better than before, but still not ideal.
What Parents Say
Gustavo Rizzo, an Argentinean Pentecostal minister, has been living and working in Spanish-Canadian churches for 12 years since he, his wife and three children emigrated here. Rizzo says it is extremely hard to tutor your children when you are not originally from Canada.
“I think about three things,” he says. “First is the language barrier, because we need to communicate with our kids’ teachers; second, the educational system, which is completely a different thing than the one my wife and I had; and third, as a consequence of the second, the difficulties we have for helping our kids.”
Colombian natives Guido and Rossy, who prefer only their first names be published, are parents of three daughters, and their experience sending the eldest to first grade was a rude awakening to the Canadian educational system.
“We had been living in Canada a few years… By that time, we already managed the language pretty well. But the educational system was way different than the one we had back home,” explains Guido. “In kindergarten, they told us that before first grade, playtime was the major objective. And when she started first grade the school wanted her to already know some basic things about reading. Every time I had asked previously, I was repeatedly told that daycare and kindergarten were meant to be for playtime. And after a couple of months in first grade they said our daughter was behind in her reading. Nobody paid attention to us when we said what happened in kindergarten. We understood then that in this culture the schools expect us to do the biggest part in teaching our kids to read instead of just helping. For me the idea is that schools here aid and reinforce the education they (the children) receive from home.”
What Experts Say
Luz Bascuñan, the first Latin American woman to be elected as a trustee at the Toronto District School Board (TDSB), shared her views on Spanish student dropout rates in the 2009 publication “Four in Ten Spanish-Speaking Youth and Early School Leaving in Toronto.” In it, Bascuñan reduced the problem to four factors: the hiring system, the status of Spanish language in Toronto’s schools, the school curriculum and the lack of formal structures for parent and community involvement.
Today, she says the amalgamation of Toronto in 1998 also negatively impacted the education system, and she calls things like Ontario regulation 612/00, which installed parent involvement committees “a very generic way” to address parents not getting involved.
“Involving parents in their children’s education, which is key to educational success, cannot be done only because there’s a regulation,” Bascuñan says. “It’s necessary to develop a number of different initiatives. Back in the day, before the amalgamation, we had funding enough to make monthly meetings with parents, when we had trained child care workers to take care of the kids while the parents were there, we had interpreters for all the different languages, and we had dinner for everyone, solving the biggest problems parents use as an excuse for not going.”
The problems for Guido and Rossy’s daughter got worse with pressure from the school, with calls and letters telling them how behind their daughter was. “Some teachers suggested maybe our daughter had listening or speech problems, or having some family issues at home,” Guido shares.
“As soon as the problems arose we started helping her every night after school until today,” Guido continues. “They’re nice at schools, very polite, but I think they try to evade being blamed for any problem that my daughter had. It’s true, at my house we try to only speak Spanish, but she speaks English too… she could talk in both languages with no problem. Even so, once a teacher told me to put her in ESL classes. And every time you asked for help they give you a long list of websites instead of talking to you any longer. We took her to all the doctors they sent us, and when we realized she didn’t have any medical problem, her teachers changed the nature of the issue over and over.”
Esther Contreras (who requested her name be changed) knows the problem first-hand. Born in Canada with Spanish parents, she is a teacher at the Peel District School Board (PDSB).
“I think parents that came from other countries are really concerned of their kids’ education. In fact, a better education was one of the main reasons why they immigrated here in the first place,” she explains.
Contreras can speak with Spanish parents in their mother tongue, but for parents, who speak other foreign languages, interpreters must be requested — the school must “make an appointment, and wait until the PDSB’s office sends somebody.”
Tackling the Problem
The local government has taken steps to address the situation. Some programs in Toronto are including Spanish teachers in their after-school homework clubs, and as Bascuñan says, “even when TDSB is still running behind, it has improved in the last years.”
In June 2010, the PDSB released a study commissioned by its Parent Involvement Committee. The results were synthesized in 12 points, which covered the importance of heavily involving parents in the education of their children, including a stronger approach from the principal of every school, and more support for teachers encouraging parent involvement in school strategies. Teachers said “positive first” phone calls are a great strategy, unlike the types of calls Guido and Rossy received in the past that stressed them out.
However, Contreras says it is necessary to find a way to have more workshops. “I don’t think teachers here are educated enough about newcomers’ issues and the impact that immigration really has on the students.”
Of course, since then, Guido and Rossy have taken a different approach with their other two girls, teaching them the alphabet and some basic words early on. “And it worked,” says Guido. “My second daughter is in first grade and she is reading well already.”
And the oldest one? “In second grade they started teaching her math, and since she ‘couldn’t read,’ learning math was difficult, but not anymore. She’s in fifth grade and she is finally catching up now.”
Sunday’s Academy Awards saw its fair share of political issues, perhaps none more contentious than that raised by filmmaker Alejandro González Iñárritu during his third acceptance speech of the night: immigration reform.
The Mexican director, producer, screenwriter and composer dedicated his best picture win for “Birdman” to his fellow Mexicans, and called on his countrymen to “find and build a government that we deserve.”
by Maria Assaf
A recent panel discussion on immigrant children provided interesting insights into how school-going kids cope when their families move home from one country to another.
Monica Valencia, a Master’s graduate on immigration and settlement studies from Ryerson University, did something uncommon. A lot of her key research interviewees were aged between 9 and 11 years old.
Ms. Valencia set out to study the reasons for poor academic performance among Latin American youth in Ontario schools and its connection with the experiences of new immigrant children.
She researched the adaptation process of a group of Latin American children who had arrived in Canada less than five years ago. Her project “Yo Cuento,” which translates in Spanish to either “I narrate” or “I count,” aimed to find out how children truly felt after moving countries.
Leaving folks behind
To gain insight into what they experienced, Ms. Valencia gave them paper to draw and write.
“A lot of their significant experiences were getting separated from their grandparents as well as cultural and language barriers at school,” she said.
She showed a slide of a child who drew himself crying and holding on to a house while being dragged by his mother into a car.
As for the interviews, she had to improvise methods to make the children talk more freely. “I told them my story and then let them say theirs,” she said.
She said her hypothesis changed as the investigation advanced. “A lot of them talked about the help they received from classmates.”
Ms. Valencia found that those children who had already gone through the process of learning English and fitting into a classroom often helped and taught language skills to new ones.
“Participation of children in research is limited,” she explained to the audience. Limitations can arise from having to obtain parental consent, but also because children are rarely viewed as credible sources of information.
Valencia was followed by Eunjung Lee and Marjorie Johnstone, who discussed the South Korean student migration experience and the effects it has on families.
Ms. Johnstone provided a historical account of Canadian government policies that, she said, have consistently and successfully fostered and promoted the arrival of South Korean students to generate revenue for Ontario schools suffering budget cuts, since the 90s. “Immigrant policies were suited to allow students to come here to study,” said Ms. Johnstone. “They didn’t even ask [South Koreans] for visas.”
A move towards the North Americanization of education through an international high school system helped make it easier for youth to come to Canada for school, the team explained
The team said half of all South Korean parents want to send their children to study in North America. They explained this may be linked to the “English mania” in South Korean culture.
The final presenter, Aamna Ashraf, encouraged the audience to become involved in neighborhood organizations working with new immigrants. She is part of the Peel Newcomer Strategy Group.
The group works with local government agencies, the settlement sector, as well as community leaders to help arriving families in the Peel region.
This CERIS panel took place on Jan. 31 at the Factor-Inwentash Faculty of Social Work, University of Toronto.
-- Canada's economic development minister Navdeep Bains at a Public Policy Forum economic summit