By Maria Luisa Grimaldi
CANADA: Immigrants leave their homes, families, friends, country and everything else that used to matter to them the most for a journey that could be for only a short time or turn into a lifetime.
As all of us do, we all arrive somewhere, in my case Toronto, Canada, for this new beginning. This new start in our lives has different names: landed resident, refugee, illegal, work-vacation or whatever the case may be.
How long will we stay? We donâ€™t know. Even if we have all the required documentation, many obstacles must be conquered.
We must continue and persevere. Sometimes we donâ€™t realize that even with all the hard work we are ready to offer to do, it is being here in an unknown place where our real crusade is only beginning.
On occasion, we have family waiting for us but we are not always so lucky. So it is either with a friend, an acquaintance or all by ourselves, we start to look around â€” and everything is new and different.
Toronto is a very cosmopolitan place. Travel by bus and you can find Arabs, Chinese or Italian people. Portuguese and Hispanic gatherings are from anywhere to everywhere in Toronto. Multiculturalism thrives in the city.
Italians are the immigrants with seniority here. In general, most are well established though the first generation came here as humble workers. Most of the second and third generations have professional lifestyles.
At first, the cost of life shocks everyone. Things look so expensive, and yeah, it is expensive, because of the comparisons we make with our hometowns.
As a new immigrant, an important factor that always weighs on our minds is that looking for a job is more complicated if we have to do it knowing we have to care for our entire families, who came with us, rather than if we are alone.
If we were or are still illegal, we can only work for cash. Most of the time itâ€™s usually in the construction industry or for cleaning companies where we receive very short salaries and do not have any benefits.
But, on the other hand, if we work for a union, even if we are illegal, we have the same benefits as any worker. Some immigrants do not use these benefits because they are not aware of these things.
We can work anywhere but one little detail is that wherever we go, employers always ask: Do you have Canadian experience?
Most of us immigrants do not have any Canadian experience. That is why we start as a volunteer. This word is famous here. Almost every employer offers opportunities as a volunteer first and it is then continued on a regular basis after our real jobs come through.
Even though our success or failure lies inside of us all along, we donâ€™t always realize this and end up going to one of the many community centers Toronto has throughout the city.
I can tell you there are over sixty community centers that have a Hispanic social worker where language is not a barrier. Even if we are illegal, we can find paralegal lawyers offering their counseling services and conducting courses â€” all for free!
The important thing to remember is to think positive. Like everything else in life, itâ€™s not all good but nor is it all bad.
We must continue to look and not stop until we reach our goals.
(To be continuedâ€¦)
Learn More About Maria Luisa Grimaldi
Six years ago, Maria Luisa Grimaldi, her husband and sons, left behind a prosperous business and successful life in Peru to emigrate to the chilly climate of Canada.
Confessing that most of the people she knows, who have immigrated, choose to go to the United States, Maria Luisa and her family saw Canada as the better option for them.
And Canada has not disappointed this enterprising woman and her family. Today, Maria Luisa is general manager of public relations and marketing at the Canadian Spanish-language magazine OpiniÃ³n.
Maria Luisa has a deep familiarity with the realities of Canadaâ€™s Latino community thanks to her work with area non-profit agencies. Holding numerous executive positions on non-profit boards, including being on the Advisory Committee for the Peruvian Consulate in Toronto, Maria Luisa has also worked extensively with other organizations that service Hispanic immigrants. Itâ€™s her experience with these organizations that she credits with her knowledge of what is happening with Hispanic communities in Canada.
â€œOne of my ideals and fundamental aspirations is that Canadaâ€™s Hispanic community unites together for the advancement of all Latinos who have adopted Canada as their new home.
â€œFrom this perspective, our role should be well defined through an agreement, proactive and active, where we will have a voice and vote in the political life of the city and its social scene.
â€œIn this way, with us all united we can make one Country in which we are not just a labor force but also a defined community with active participation in its society and a civic obligation.â€
Maria Luisa is convinced that life is like a wheel that puts us in different positions on the road, and she with many others, are ready to push it to achieve the advancement of all.