Ever since Capt. Rey Garcia-Salas joined the Canadian Armed Forces, he wanted to learn more about the Latin American soldiers’ role in the defence of Canada in World War I and II.
His determination paid off and this year, he published his research in a book titled Latin American Soldiers in Canada Remembrance Book Vol. 1 in which he identified approximately 1,500 Latino military members and 500 civilian employees in Canada’s armed forces.
The Ottawa resident, who was originally from Guatemala, also created the Latin American Soldiers Committee in Canada.
“These soldiers are unsung heroes who left behind their homes and families to voluntarily join the Canadian Armed Forces during the First and Second World Wars,” said Garcia-Salas, who joined the CAF in 1999 and is now the communications and Latin American military liaison officer.
“They defended the values that we now enjoy.”
Garcia-Salas was one of the 10 most influential Hispanic Canadians who received awards in Toronto on Nov. 30. The award was created by the Canadian Hispanic Business Alliance and in the last 15 years, 150 people who immigrated from 18 Spanish-speaking countries have been recognized for their contributions.
“This award belongs entirely to our Latin American heroes for their valour and sacrifice to defend not only Canadian values but also those of Latin America and our allies — values we cherish today, such as freedom and respect for human rights,” Garcia-Salas said in accepting his award.
Garcia-Salas was born in Guatemala’s capital in 1971. He lost his father when he was five years old and had to help his mother take care of his three siblings. He always worked while studying.
When he arrived in Canada in 1996 he had already completed six years of university studies in mechanical engineering, but Carleton University recognized just one year.
“I had to study three more years to graduate as a mechanical engineer and I joined the Canadian Army as a vehicle technician in 1999 to be able to pay for my studies,” said the father of three. He also had to learn English before he could enter university.
For the last decade, Garcia-Salas has been studying and promoting the Latin American heritage and diversity in the Armed Forces.
“Diversity is a source of strength and resilience,” he said.
Last year, he co-organized the first exhibit of photographs and documents of Latin American soldiers in the CAF at Ottawa’s Gallery 55. And with the support of other colleagues, he created a special Remembrance Day ceremony to honour Latino soldiers who fought for Canada.
The ceremony last month was to soldiers who immigrated from Argentina; next year, it will honour Canadians from Peru. In 2022, the ceremony was dedicated to soldiers who immigrated from Mexico.
The Consulate General of Guatemala in Montreal recognized Garcia-Salas earlier this year for his research into Latin American soldiers’ contribution to CAF and for his efforts in raising awareness and fostering a stronger relationship between Canada and Guatemala.
Asked about the wars in Ukraine and Gaza, Garcia-Salas said it is difficult to talk about the conflicts, but advised that “we must be alert and not allow disguised evil of any kind to destroy our country.
“We must always ensure and help world peace prevail,” he said. “We as Latin American Canadians must always be united and work for prosperity, peace and respect for human rights in Canada, which is the country that welcomed us and where we live.”
Isabel Inclan has worked as a journalist for more than 20 years, in both Mexico and Canada. She began working as a foreign correspondent in Canada in 1999 for Mexican media. She has been a New Canadian Media contributor since 2018. Her main areas of interest are politics, migration, women, community, and cultural issues. In 2015, Isabel was honoured as one of the “10 most influential Hispanic Canadians.” She is a graduate of Masters in Communication and Culture at TMU-York University. She is a member of CAJ and a member of the BEMC´s Advisory Committee.