A Latina in Canada

verbatimTo go and live in Canada was a teenage dream. A quest for vast distant spaces. For a simple life by a lake at the edge of the forest. A natural environment where I could take root once again. To be far away from my native lands: Languedoc and Sonora.

I am as much from the south of France as I am from the northwest of Mexico, which is to say everything seemingly opposed. For Spain is solidly there, anchored – in our veins, our faces, in the culture itself. Over the centuries conquests and migrating waves have sown hybrids.

Latins or Latinos: the name varies from one continent to another. But in the end it’s one single adjective for a multiple reality. Paradoxically, only by growing up do we become aware of our roots. So here I am, French and Mexican – so doubly Latina.

Years pass and the dream takes shape. Less radical, I finally find a good compromise between urban jungle and ancient forests: Vancouver. I’d never set foot in Canada, but I leave without worries.

The quality of life seems good and the province is Anglophone. Perfect! I had wanted to improve my English. As well, I didn’t especially feel like meeting more French people or Mexicans. Why travel thousands of kilometres only to find oneself amongst compatriots? At least that’s what I thought when I arrived here 10 months ago.

I had to start all over: find an apartment, a job, discover the city and area, meet people, forge friendships or not, stay or leave once again. I didn’t know what was going to happen, and it was terribly exciting.

Fairly soon I began to get my bearings: food products, trinkets, bookstores, cafés, galleries, museums, buildings predating the 20th century. In hindsight I realize that it was done completely unconsciously and involuntarily – I simply couldn’t help myself. I really needed these familiar things, which were so comforting after the Paris and Nice attacks.

The small traditional food plates are also good connectors. Black beans with jalapeño peppers, mole and salsa Valentina remind me of my Mexican aunts. These dishes are so hard to find in France but are seen in all the Vancouver supermarkets.

As for the Languedoc region, it seems farther away. Yes, there are a few Mediterranean restaurants and delis in Vancouver. Run by Italian, Lebanese or Turks their specialties are delicious but hard to compare with those of my native land. The taste and the spices are not quite the same.

Still, Vancouver has one nontrivial quality for the French and Mexicans. The city has an incredible number of markets, caterers and restaurants of very high quality. As well, numerous culinary events take place all year long. That may appear trivial but in fact it is extremely important as the two cultures have a quasi-passionate (and I choose my words carefully) relationship with food.

Another point in common between the French and Mexicans: behaviour. Often more direct than English Canadians, the French and Mexicans tend to make friends rapidly or else they avoid certain people completely.

In Canada the codes of behaviour between colleagues, friends or couples seems more distant. Each relationship takes a certain amount of time to build, as if there were certain steps to follow. In France, as in Mexico, everything goes faster.

That may be why I have made friends faster with Francophones (French, Belgians, Québecois) and Latin Americans than with Anglophone Canadians. But little by little relationships are woven. Patience!

When one lives abroad and uproots oneself there is always a delay before adjusting. One must find one’s bearings while putting down roots. Belonging to two cultures since birth is not always easy to manage. Nevertheless, it will always be an advantage, especially while learning other languages, habits and customs.

The Canadian dream remains a dream, and I’ll keep that image intact across borders and over oceans.