A home abroad: Latin American presence in B.C.

Roots and Ties: 150 Years of Canadian and Latin History will be held on June 30. The event takes place at the Waterfront Theatre on Granville Island in conjunction with Carnaval del Sol’s Latin American Week which runs from June 30–July 9. Admission to Roots and Ties is free.

Photo courtesy of Carnaval del Sol

We are a very young group and we are still trying to find our place,” says Paola Murillo, Executive Director of Latincouver, the organizing body of Carnaval del Sol. “[But] we are also a growing, strong and diverse group and we have also positioned ourselves very well [in the community.]”

Murillo is one of the approximately 100,000 Latin Americans who have made B.C. their new home. Her journey as a Latin American in Canada began when she emigrated from Colombia in 2005. Murillo first relocated to Montreal but found the weather there to be overwhelming and cold.

A family member who had been residing in Vancouver prompted her to visit the city, which she immediately developed a strong liking for.

“I felt very connected to the Latin American and Francophone culture here. I really liked how beautiful Vancouver was and I found the city to be multicultural and green with plenty of [natural landscapes]. The weather here is also closer to what I am used to at home,” says Murillo.

She eventually chose to move here and established Latincouver in 2008.

Two worlds

Although Latincouver strives to unite Latin Americans in the city, Murillo believes that community itself is a diverse group and it is the diversity that has piqued interests from the locals.

“The differences within the Latin American community has generated a lot of attention [and interest] between the two cultures. It has created an opportunity for both groups to connect and learn more about the different cultures [that make up the Latin American community],” she says.

Murillo also added that Latincouver’s effort in creating awareness about Latin American cultures in the city has come to fruition.

“When I first came to Vancouver, people were more knowledgeable about countries like Mexico but [Latincouver] has changed that by demonstrating how different each Latin American nationality can be despite our abilities to connect in many ways,” she says.

Murillo cites cultural aspects such as language, music and sport as the ingredients that bind the Latin Americans abroad. In addition, their openness to sharing their culture with their host country – who are also equally interested in learning about foreign cultures – has contributed to this inter-continental exchange.

Professional leaps

Even with their strong presence in the city, Latin Americans in Vancouver have encountered professional challenges. This has been especially the case for those who have recently immigrated.

Paola Murillo, Executive Director of Latincouver.| Photo courtesy of Latincouver

“What I noticed is that we are bringing a very well-educated community [which] in many cases cannot continue the jobs that they used to do back in their home countries,” says Murillo. “[However, I really think that this creates] a very entrepreneurial community that is ready to start new ventures and to take risks [while starting] a new life in Canada.”

Murillo stresses the importance of networking for the Latin American communities in Vancouver to overcome these challenges.

“I think it is very important for [Latin Americans] to understand that it is important to help and to connect with one another. It is a crucial practice in Vancouver. You really have to be in a network or in a community that you feel you can belong to,” she says.

Murillo also believes that Latincouver has been able to facilitate these professional connections by acting as a ‘plaza’ for Latin Americans in Vancouver and for Canadians who are interested in learning about their culture.

A promising future

Despite their professional challenges, Murillo sees a strong and auspicious future for the Latin American community.She hopes that Latin Americans in Vancouver will take on more leadership roles in their community while still holding onto their roots. Murillo also hopes that their leadership will result in a greater prominence of Latin American music and art.

“I see a lot of opportunities for [Latin American art and music] to flourish in this city, and [Latincouver] tries to support this opportunity with events like Carnaval del Sol. But I also think that Canada is playing an important role in [creating those opportunities] and it is encouraging more Latin Americans to come here,” she says.

For more information, visit www.latincouver.ca or www.carnavaldelsol.ca