As a volunteer with MISA, the author has been tasked with meeting with locals who have recently immigrated to Canada, and in particular, to Campbell River.
Prior to meeting Ms. Maria Consuelo Teran, the author had met with other immigrants in single meetings that lasted between one and two hours. The author's meeting with Consuelo spanned two days and at least five hours. However, not a moment was wasted.
Consuelo is an incredibly intelligent, well-spoken and sincere woman, who has had a bit of a rough ride since leaving Columbia in 2001. While her experiences have not always been the most positive, they serve to illustrate the strength, dedication and commitment that all immigrants, and in particular Consuelo, must have to succeed in a new country.
Consuelo's views about Campbell River are balanced, mature and well-considered. The author has done his best to faithfully represent the deeply considered views that Consuelo has.
What Consuelo Likes about Campbell River
She loves the environment, nature, the ocean - in her own words, "it's the ideal place for me." Both Consuelo and her husband are respected professionals in the aquaculture industry, with many, many years experience both in their home country of Columbia and in the United States. They are passionate about their work, and so being in a place like Campbell River is a perfect match for them.
Consuelo also very much likes the people of Campbell River. She has been well-received by the community, and feels it is very convenient to get around and figure out where to go to get things. People always have time to talk, and are always willing to help as much as they can. Also, things are not so far and people generally seem to feel good here.
MISA has given Consuelo a very favorable impression of Campbell River. She has had to work with a number of similar agencies in North America; she has found that MISA is by far the most supportive. In particular, the hands-on support from staff has been incredibly helpful, and has done much to feel cared about in her new community.
She feels that the Canadian government has best intentions with supporting immigrants, but can be more systematic about putting immigrants on the correct path to success. The up-front services are wonderful, but immigrants need help after six months and later, but maybe different kinds of help, so she would like to see more ongoing support. As well, Consuelo has picked up on some resentment in Canadians about incoming immigrants, and Consuelo hopes that more can be done to change the perception that immigrants take jobs and resources -- because the fact is that they often bring more to a community than the community gives to them.
She would also like Canadians to begin to realize how difficult it is for immigrants to come to a new country.
The move to Canada has left her feeling like she has had to go to the bottom of society since she can't use the skills and qualifications that she devoted so much of her life to developing. However, she sees the community as a chain; she may be at the bottom, she says, but she's still a part of the chain.
Believes that it's easier for younger people, or those who were near the bottom of society in their home country, to climb the chain of society, but for her (who is older and held a high position in her country), it sometimes is just too hard.
She wonders if maybe a small shop/cafe where people can share culture / cultural exchange would be a way to change the view that immigrants are a problem (i.e. taking jobs) vs an opportunity.
How does a small town compare to big city?
How does a small town compare to a bigger city? If comparing one country's small cities to Canada's small cities, Canada's are much better, Consuelo says. However, big cities are similar. Big cities are definitely more isolating for an immigrant, and like other immigrants, Consuelo encourages immigrants to move to a smaller town when they first arrive.
She cautions, however, that small towns aren't as stimulating intellectually, and feels that for families with older kids small towns are not the best choice since there are not enough activities for teens to do and little opportunities for them. Consuelo sees a definite need for getting activities or institutions that get teens thinking. As well, she finds it hard to have intellectual conversations with people. One solution she sees is to create (or see created) a group to share cultures.
The future of Campbell River
Campbell River is definitely not giving her and her husband the opportunities they need, and she is rightfully frustrated about it. They are both respected professionals in the aquaculture industry but they cannot find employment (except at low-level positions) here.
When asked why this is the case, she says she has been told by a number of people that she needs to 'start over again', that her past experience isn't worth anything in Canada.
She has offered to volunteer with the town to help with salmon biology but was refused. She was told that the town need her skills but there are no facilities for her. Consuelo thinks that maybe the aquaculture industry just isn't big enough here yet.
In general, she feels the town council needs to see more different opportunities, a more open view, a greater future view -- i.e. 20 years into the future. Consuelo believes Campbell River needs to shift focus -- not put all of its eggs in one basket. Campbell River has to diversify more.
But Consuelo thinks Campbell River has a lot going for it. It's a good, safe town. The people as a whole are more open minded than other places she has been, and sees lots of opportunity because of the influx of retirees. She sees the airport expansion and Campbell River's close proximity to Nanaimo and Victoria as great advantages. However, youth say, "What opportunity is there for me here?" One suggestion she makes is to perhaps better connect the colleges in the Comox Valley and Campbell River better, and expand course offerings to try and retain youth.
Plans for the future
Final thoughts. Consuelo says, "I survived the immigration process! Learned to survive in the US, but had a great life in Columbia before leaving. In the US I had to be realistic, do what I had to do to survive. Never forget who you are! If you have to mop the floor, do it! I won't stop until I achieve my goals. People who don't listen put you down. I am a first class person in a bad situation."
She also emphasizes that immigrants need to do more than "Just Survive" in Canada.
After listening to her story, the author, for one, wants to do his part to help Consuelo succeed. We need more people like her in Campbell River.
Dave Brown, February 2011