by: Isabel Inclan in Toronto, ON

It is no secret Canada is aiming to increase its immigration numbers over the next three years. The Liberal government will look to hit a target annual intake of 340,000 new immigrants by 2020. A number that stretches far beyond what the country has been able to reach within the past couple of decades, but still falls short of the 450,000 figure that was recommended by the federal government’s advisory council.

Immigration Minister, Ahmed Hussein, has pointed to the growing demand for skilled labour. However, with data that shows there are former engineers, doctors and architects working as cab drivers, there are those that are seemingly already falling through the cracks in today’s job market.

Eugenia Gomez, once a researcher in infectology at the National Institute of Nutrition of Mexico, she now cleans residential homes in Toronto.

“My job was to work with the reagents, processed samples and special solution[s] for the scientific studies,” she recalls during one of her breaks. A specialist on a stomach bacterium called Helicobacter pylori, she has had trouble finding work in her field, despite credentials from the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM). Prior to her current position, she worked at a local Tim Hortons. A graduate of Chemical Pharmaceutical Biology, she hopes to one day return to her previous career.

After a brief pause to lace up her sneakers — ideal shoes for six hours of cleaning — she heads back to finish off her shift.

Give me a break

Others offer similar experiences in their job searches. Maria Alvarez, who was a regional sales director at an international cosmetology company based out of Latin America, has faced the same issue. With over 10 years of experience in business development, sales training and leadership roles, she has been unable to find anything that matches her skill set. And not for lack of trying, since her arrival in 2014, she has held numerous positions as a housekeeper, overnight cleaning lady, night attendant, and concierge.

“I have distributed my curriculum vitae (resumé) with many people, but until now nobody called me. I just need one opportunity to show my skills as saleswoman”, she says.

Looking for a better way to make ends meet she finally decided to give driving for Uber a try, which she still does to this day.

“The income as a driver is not too bad if you are alone and work full time. In the last year and a half, I have made six thousand trips and my rating is 4.85 stars of 5,” Alvarez boasts. Although it is not what she envisioned, she stands proudly behind the fact that she can provide for herself working nine-hour shifts six days out of the week.

As a small sample of the female talent that have gone unrecognized, these women provide insight into the growing issue of “Canadian experience” that most immigrants lack.

Paola Gomez, founder of the Network of Latina Women in Canada, maintains that although many Latina women are grateful for the opportunity presented by living in this country, there can be a steep price. For those with extensive experience or higher educations in their home countries it can be difficult to find work within the same stream, which usually reduces them to survival jobs.

Misperception of Canada

In some instances, Canada’s reputation can actually hurt those who over-estimate the reach of the developmental programs in place. Claudia*, who immigrated from Mexico, explains that she was under the impression it would be easier to find employment once she moved.

“I wanted to be independent of my family. I thought it will be easier to find a job in Canada, similar to what I had in my country, but it wasn't,” she says.    

Previously a manager of a bank teller division, she still remembers how hard she pushed herself to climb the rungs. Now a cleaner, she spends her days mop in hand, moving around various residential and commercial buildings. To make matters worse, her supervisors are extremely unpleasant and a portion of her pay goes to a placement agency.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]“I just need an opportunity in a company to show my skills. I know I can be selected in Canada as well I did in my country,” Alvarez states.[/quote]

Maria Alvarez was able to build a career based on her professional experience abroad without a post-secondary education. She argues that a lack of a degree should not prevent potential candidates from consideration. In her opinion, companies should keep some openings for immigrants without certification but with enough technical knowledge to compete for the positions.

Higher Education

While furthering one’s education is always an option, working survival jobs does not always provide the best financial flexibility. Even with support programs many immigrants can have issues with the reduced schooling rates and the fact that they may not be able to work as many hours during that time frame.

“The problem is if I get the Ontario Student Assistance Program (OSAP) I would not live with the same standard I have now working as [an] Uber driver,” Maria Alvarez explains. Sitting behind the wheel of her car she adds, “I would like to study Dental Hygienists or Digital Marketing.”  

For Eugenia Gomez family obligations as well as monetary limitations have discouraged her from adding to her Mexican credentials.

“We arrive in Canada with many dreams and eager to work. In the beginning, we accept all kind of jobs because we have to pay rent, but when we want to try something else we are faced with the ‘Canadian experience’ requirement that is difficult for immigrants,” she explains.

The mother of two, now prioritizes her sons as opposed to her own professional opportunities.

Whereas others like Claudia, are maintaining up to two jobs as they save for fees that will regularize their immigration status.

Reaching full potential

In the Latin American community as well as many other immigrant groups, there is talent, experience, and professional skills that can go unnoticed. The government has attempted to eliminate the barrier that is “Canadian experience”, but as cases continue to arise, it seems a more concrete solution must be found.

Paola Gomez states that although these women face several professional obstacles of their own, they are content with the sacrifices they are making for their children.

“We need a more real political and societal intention, the intention of including Latina women into the workforce in ways that they can reach their full potential and Canadian society can benefit from it. Not only because of the betterment of the nation's economy but also because it gives a higher sense of belonging with the new home,” she concludes.

*Full name withheld to protect identity of individual.

Isabel Inclan is a journalist with three decades of experience in Mexico and in Canada. She currently works as a Foreign Correspondent for Notimex News Agency, a Mexican newspaper. This piece is part of the "Ethnic Women as Active Participants in Ontario" series. 

Published in Top Stories
Sunday, 18 October 2015 22:50

Latinos Encouraged to Make Their Vote Count

by Raul A Pinto in Mississauga, Ontario 

For a long time the Latin American community has felt widely overlooked in Canada, according to Liberal candidate Michael Levitt, who is running in the Toronto riding York Centre. 

The Liberal candidate, who has one of the largest Latin American populations in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA) in his riding, says this may now be changing, especially after the recent Pan Am Games helped spotlight the rich community that exists.

Levitt referred to the Liberal party leader’s announcement earlier this year to lift visa requirements for Mexican visitors to Canada as one way to build in-roads with Canada’s Hispanic community.

He says lifting the bans that were put in place in 2009 is one of many “immigration initiatives” related to family reunification that the Liberals have promised.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]The Latin American community has felt widely overlooked in Canada.[/quote]

Levitt recalls one conversation he had with an Ecuadorian-Canadian living in his riding. The man spoke of the difficulty his family in Ecuador had when trying to meet the requirements necessary to come to Canada for a visit.

“He said that the feeling [he had] was by the time they got all of this done, it wasn’t going to be worth it, it would be too much paperwork,” says Levitt. The constituent’s family felt it would just be easier if he visited Ecuador instead.

“We have to embrace [Canada’s Latin American community],” Levitt explains. “We need to work with Latin America to develop trade, to develop closer relationships.”

Latin Americans and Canadian politics

The 2011 National Household Survey placed people of Latin, Central and South American origins at just over 1 per cent of the Canadian population, with over 540,000 people spread around the country. The largest of these communities are located in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA), Vancouver and Montreal.

Through an informal survey of listeners of the radio show “Radio Voces Latinas”, which airs on CHHA 1610 AM in Toronto, New Canadian Media found that for many Canadians of Latin American heritage, their main concern was having a more established place in the Canadian political agenda.

Cesar Palacio, councillor for Ward 17 Davenport, is the first person of Hispanic heritage to be elected to Toronto’s city council. He was born in Ecuador and arrived in Canada with his parents in 1972. Today, he is serving his fourth term in the position. 

A passionate defenders of the power of democracy among the Latin American community, he says Latinos can only hope to become a larger part of the political agenda if they get involved.

“It’s very important [for] our community, which in spite of not being so numerous is growing faster than other communities in Canada, to be conscious that we have an opportunity through vote,” says Palacio.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]Latinos can only hope to become a larger part of the political agenda if they get involved.[/quote]

Palacio is concerned about apathy in the community, though Statistics Canada reported that 66 per cent of eligible people of Hispanic heritage voted in 2000. He advises the ones not interested in voting, to “think ahead.”

“We need to move from our personal issues to the community issues. If we think as a community, we’ll have more things,” he states.

But one radio show listener who was surveyed sees things differently.

“In many of our countries in Latin America [it] is mandatory to vote and I don’t think that’s right,” says Peru-born Alberto. “Some people now complain about Harper, but I heard the same about Chrétien a few years ago. If someone says, ‘I don’t want to vote,’ that’s okay to me. To me all politicians are the same.”

Getting Latinos to the polls

“If we want to be part of the system, and to make ourselves noticeable as a community out there, we need to do it,” Claudio Ruiz told New Canadian Media.

Ruiz is the executive director for the Centre for Spanish Speaking Peoples (CSSP) in Toronto. The organization is one of several that worked together to launch the campaign “Tu Voto Vale, Tu Voto Decide” (Your Vote Counts, Your Vote Decides) in order to motivate Hispanic-Canadian citizens to vote.

“Our vote is the capital we have in the political system,” he continues. “If we don’t exercise our right to vote, our privilege to vote, our voices will not be listened to and the issues in our community will not be considered by the government when they begin to formulate plans in their platforms.”

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]“Our vote is the capital we have in the political system."[/quote]

Ruiz says the “Tu Voto Vale” program allows community members to access information by phone, Internet or in person information about how to vote and where to vote. 

“We had people here at the centre, and many told us that, once they became Canadians, they never received any mail regarding elections,” Ruiz explains, pointing out that new citizens must check mark a special field on their citizenship paperwork asking to receive the information via mail to their homes.

“All those opinions made us take measures to motivate people to vote, and at least eliminate the barriers to those people who didn’t vote because [of] external reasons.”

Journalist Priya Ramanujam mentored the writer of this article, through the New Canadian Media mentorship program.

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Published in Politics

by Aurora Tejeida (@Aurobots) in Vancouver

As the New Year kicks off there is a lot to keep abreast of within the Latin American diaspora. Here’s a look at some of the headlines that made the most waves in recent weeks within the Latin American media.

New Canadian Migration Rules May Lead to Fraud and Racism

One of the purposes of Canada’s new migration rules, specifically the Express Entry system, is to hand out more permanent residencies and to reduce the time applicants need to wait. The country is expected to admit 285,000 permanent residents this year, as opposed to last year’s 265,000.

While some may laud the Conservative government’s policies – which favour those who have job offers or are already working – others think the new model can easily lead to racism and fraud, since they consider it gives all the power to Canadian companies.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]The news portal La Portada (a site for Hispanics living in Canada) says that the new policies will benefit professional migrants by helping them land a job... but the downside might be greater, as the site claims the biggest losers of the new system are refugees, families, men and women over the age of 35 and those that don’t speak English or French fluently.[/quote]

The news portal La Portada (a site for Hispanics living in Canada) says that the new policies will benefit professional migrants by helping them land a job – statistics show that the unemployment rate for professional migrants is 50 per cent higher than that of native Canadians.

But the downside might be greater, as the site claims the biggest losers of the new system are refugees, families, men and women over the age of 35 and those that don’t speak English or French fluently. The new point-based system will benefit those who are younger, single, educated and fluent in English or French, leaving out many migrants from economically developing countries, many of which are in Latin America.

New policies have also diminished health care for refugee claimants and made it harder for migrants to bring their parents to Canada. Some critics say racism is an issue and point to the strict finance checks required for citizens of “poorer” countries – who must prove they are “wealthy enough” even if they just want to visit Canada as tourists.Ayotzinapa protest in Vancouver. Photo Credit: Ivan Calderon

Rallying for Student Murders in Mexico

This past fall, members of the Mexican communities in Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver organized demonstrations and sit-ins to denounce the Mexican government and demand the safe return of 43 rural students who went missing at the hands of police last September. Most of the demonstrations, which were attended by students, activists and members of several Latin American countries, were staged outside Mexican consulates during the months of October and November. 

On September 26, following a confrontation between local police and student demonstrators outside of the Raul Isidro Burgos Rural Teachers’ College of Ayotzinapa, six students were killed and 43 were taken by police. The officers were allegedly following an order from the mayor of the town of Iguala in the southern state of Guerrero. According to Mexican federal authorities, the police then handed the students over to a local drug cartel. During the search for their bodies, mass graves were found. Current police investigations point to a nearby dumpster where it appears a large number of bodies had been incinerated, but so far the government hasn’t been able to prove whether the bodies are those of the missing students.

Less than two per cent of crimes are prosecuted in Mexico, where violence has increased dramatically since Felipe Calderón’s presidency. Eighty thousand people have been murdered and more than 22,000 have gone missing since 2006.

Footage from one of the rallies held in Vancouver.


Latin America Soccer Cup Comes to Toronto

Eglinton Flats hosted the first Latin American soccer cup held in Toronto after eight consulates –Argentina, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, El Salvador, México, Uruguay and Brazil – decided to organize the sporting event as one of the activities for the Latin American health week.

The tournament, geared toward men over 18, took place in August, and proceeds went to help promote health among Toronto’s Latin American community. The purpose of Latin American health week is to offer free medical consults in Spanish, as well as services that aren’t usually offered by Ontario’s provincial health system.

Mexicans Migrating to Canada: Safety Over Economics

Mexico’s rise of violence and criminal activity is pushing young, educated residents and middle class families out of the country. For years the stereotypical image of the Mexican migrants was that of men and women who often risked their lives to move to the U.S. and Canada to help support their families back home, even though their migration status often meant that job offers were reduced to construction, agriculture and domestic services.

But Mexico is starting to breed a different type of migrant, one that isn’t leaving the country for economic reasons. According to La Portada, the Mexican government is refusing to release hard data, but studies done by Mexico’s National Autonomous University (UNAM) show that northern states are the most affected by this new trend, which unfortunately for Mexico is mostly made up of highly qualified and educated young men and women.

Canada currently asks Mexican nationals for a visa, even if they’re just visiting the country. The Latin American country is considered safe by the Canada Border Services Agency, which means it’s virtually impossible for a Mexican to be granted refugee status, even though the country is suffering from extreme violence and travel warnings to certain states are not rare. 

Diplomatic Relations Between Canada and Colombia at All-Time Best

Colombia’s president Juan Manuel Santos and the Governor General of Canada, David Johnston, held a meeting in Colombia to broaden cooperation and strengthen the relationship between both countries.

President Santos assured journalists that diplomatic relations between both countries are at their best moment in history and mentioned specific areas they hope to work on.

The areas President Santos spoke of were education and technology, whereas Governor General Johnston spoke about natural resources in Colombia and more educational opportunities for Colombian nationals in Canada.

Other subjects that were discussed include culture, mining investments, energy and oil. For over 40 years, Canada has invested more than $137 million in Colombia; most of the money is destined to protect children, create better access to education and to protect human rights, among other things.

When it comes to education, Johnston also spoke about expanding scholarship offers to Colombian students through a young-leaders-of-America program. 

Aurora Tejeida is a Vancouver-based multimedia journalist who's originally from Mexico. She has a master’s degree in journalism from the University of British Columbia and she's written stories for The Tyee, Vice and The Toronto Star, among other publications. When she’s not writing about culture, the environment or migration, she’s wandering around the city trying to find a decent place for tacos. 


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Published in Latin America

by Priya Ramanujam (@SincerelyPriyain Toronto

When it comes to research pertaining to immigration and new Canadians, things are definitely picking up quickly this fall. In the second installment of Research Watch we take a look at some important research coming out of other parts of the world on migration issues, as well as the upcoming Pathways to Prosperity research conference and an exciting new research collaboration between Ryerson University and the Maytree foundation.

The Ryerson Maytree Global Diversity Exchange

As of September 15, a section of the Maytree Foundation – projects, staff and resources – will have a new home: inside the Ted Rogers School of Management at Ryerson University. Through what is shaping up to be a dynamic research collaboration that will focus on effectively bringing about increased inclusion of immigrants and racialized minorities in the Canadian business world, four specific projects will come to Ryerson with Maytree: DiverseCity onBoard, HireImmigrants, Cities of Migration and Flight and Freedom. It truly speaks to the important role immigrants play in our country’s economy, explains Wendy Cukier, founder of Ryerson University’s Diversity Institute and Vice-President of Research and Innovation.

“I think that increasingly people are recognizing equity and diversity are grounded in a commitment to human rights and that it is the right thing to do from an ethical perspective,” Cukier says. “But, increasingly, they are recognizing the business case and how addressing [diversity] issues appropriately is critical for the competitiveness of businesses, for the effectiveness of government, and, in fact, for Canada as a nation.”

According to Cukier, the new initiative’s Executive Director Ratna Omidvar, and her team, is looking forward to being able to tap into Ryerson’s faculty and students to get involved in current projects. Cukier says this partnership will bolster the expertise, contacts, networks and partners Maytree has as a leading organization in reducing poverty and inequality since 1982. It will also further expand on Ryerson’s commitment to diversity and inclusion.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]But increasingly they are recognizing the business case and how addressing [diversity] issues appropriately is critical for the competitiveness of businesses, for the effectiveness of government and in fact for Canada as a nation.[/quote]

Canada has a history of being a country of immigrants, and other countries are trying to catch up, Cukier explains. Leaders from countries around the world – she notes the president of Germany, Joachim Gauck, will be here later this month – come to Canada to find out how the nation has been so successful at inclusion of immigrants and racialized minorities.

At the same time, we know we can do better,” she adds. “I hope this partnership pushes that envelope.”

Misconceptions about migration to EU

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]Interestingly, over 90 per cent of the children I interviewed have a family member in the U.S., with just over 50 per cent having one or both parents there.[/quote]

In recent years, the European Union (EU) has faced considerable economic turmoil. And as such, something has to be blamed. For many, that something is migration. Although political leaders once staunchly defended migration, since the 2008-09 financial crisis, defenders are few and far between. Views such as migrants-are-not-needed in the EU or migrants-take-up-all-the-jobs, run rampant. But, the Migration Policy Centre at the European University Institute challenges these notions with a new research paper: Is what we hear about migration really true? Questioning eight stereotypes, edited by researcher Phillipe Fargues. A combined effort of 10 authors and contributors, the 92-page report provides in-depth analysis that debunks eight specific stereotypes of migration in the EU.

Of the eight stereotypes, six are argued as point-blank wrong – we do not need migrant workers; migrants steal our jobs; we do not need low-skilled immigrants in the EU; migrants undermine our welfare systems; migration hampers our capacity to innovate and our southern coastline is flooded with asylum seekers. The authors counter these stereotypes with research proving otherwise; for example, an aging population and waning work force in the EU means immigrants will help stimulate the economy. The final two stereotypes – economic migrants are trying to cheat our asylum system and our children suffer from having immigrants in class are deemed complex issues that are not as cut-and-dried to easily proven or disproven.

The misconceptions of migration are not limited to the EU, it seems. In July, The American Immigration Council released a study by researcher Elizabeth Kennedy, No Childhood Here: Why Central American Children are Fleeing Their Homes, which worked to get to the bottom of the influx of unaccompanied child migrants in the United States coming from Mexico, El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras. Perhaps, what stood out the most about Kennedy’s findings was this passage, “Interestingly over 90 per cent of the children I interviewed have a family member in the U.S., with just over 50 per cent having one or both parents there. Most referenced fear of crime and violence as the underlying motive for their decision to reunify with family now rather than two years in the past or two years in the future. Seemingly, the children and their families had decided they must leave and chose to go to where they had family, rather than choose to leave because they had family elsewhere. Essentially, if their family had been in Belize, Costa Rica, or another country, they would be going there instead.”

Through this finding, Kennedy shows that it isn’t so much about the United States and the pursuit of the American Dream that brings the children across the border, as is widely reported, but rather it is serious issues such as organized crime, gangs and violence. The report also speaks to the fact that leaving their country is often a last resort for these young people and that the children and their families often don’t trust their own national governments to help them.

P2P's second annual conference in Montreal

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]A benefit of attending this conference is to receive up-to-date information from a variety of stakeholders about the latest research being done on cutting-edge issues[/quote]

Pathways to Prosperity (P2P), which unites university, community and government partners in the work of promoting the integration of immigrants and minorities across Canada, will bring together its researchers with policy and program officials from all three levels of government, graduate students and community service providers to set research priorities for the coming year. The 2nd annual conference, being held on November 24 and 25 in Montreal, builds off of last year’s success, which conference co-chair Victoria Esses says created real connections between community partners and academics, which led to meaningful work.

“A benefit of attending this conference is to receive up to date information from a variety of stakeholders, about the latest research being done on cutting edge issues,”says Prof. Esses, who is the Director of the University of Western Ontario’s Centre for Research on Migration and Ethnic Relations.

Six main sessions are scheduled, themed around issues such as regionalization and immigration to communities outside of metropolises and changing entry pathways, including students, temporary workers and transition classes. Workshops and roundtable discussions will be held to set research priorities regionally – remote Northern communities, Quebec, Ontario, the Atlantic provinces, the Prairies and British Columbia are all focus areas, for example.

As Prof. Esses points out, not only will this conference help shape the priorities of P2P’s academic collaborators in the coming year, but it will also help finesse how projects are identified and how existing studies will be re-aligned to better suit community/government goals. The conference will also provide an excellent platform for graduate students to network and find out what’s new in the field, while they seek out possible thesis ideas or gain insight on how to narrow down broad thesis statements. Registration is now open.

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Published in National
Sunday, 31 August 2014 17:29

Pulse: Latin America (July - Aug. 2014)

by Aurora Tejeida (@AuroBots) in Vancouver

The following is a compilation of the most important news stories reported by Latin American media in Canada, during July and August.

A columnist for La Portada believes Canada’s Temporary Foreign Worker program is going wind down soon

According to Angélica González Blanco, a columnist for La Portada, the recent changes made by Citizenship and Immigration Canada represent a threat to the Temporary Foreign Workers program, which she believes is soon going to soon become extinct.

She also believes the new regulations will have a negative impact on Canada’s economy, as companies won’t be able to obtain the labour force they need through the “rigorous” new process that is aimed at making things harder for temporary foreign workers. She goes on to say that the new regulations reflect the way the current administration has created a hostile environment for immigrants through xenophobic agendas.

González Blanco stressed that some of the new “drastic” regulations included raising the application fees companies have to pay from $275 to $1,000.

Mexican union leader who fled charges of corruption is now a Canadian citizen

Napoleón Gómez Urrutia, the former leader of Mexico's 280,000-member Los Mineros union, has lived in Vancouver since 2006, the year he fled Mexico to avoid charges of corruption for bilking $61 million from the miner’s union trust. Mexican media is reporting that there is an arrest warrant for him that's pending deportation, and that the charges won’t change now that Gómez is a Canadian citizen.

Many controversies surround this case. The Mexican Justice Department has stated that there is an international warrant for Gómez from Interpol, while Gómez has maintained that the charges are false and politically motivated. Vancouver media has tended to side with the former union leader, claiming there is no Interpol warrant for his arrest and that he is being wrongfully charged because he protected mine workers which made him an enemy of the Fox administration.  

Gómez’s lawyer recently stated that the Mexican government doesn’t have grounds to extradite him, and that his whereabouts have always been known. On the other hand, the current leader of the miner’s union says Gómez should prove his innocence in Mexico by handing himself in to Mexican authorities.

Undocumented migrants targeted in ‘vehicle safety blitz’ in Toronto

Canada’s border enforcement agency has arrested 21 people on immigration violations during a joint “commercial vehicle safety blitz” with other government authorities. Most of the men that were taken into custody are originally from Latin America. According to several sources, the men were gathering for their morning pickups to job sites.

La Portada reported that the detained were deported less than 48 hours after their arrests. Among the people who were deported is a man who is leaving behind his wife and two children. According to La Portada, one of his children has Down's syndrome and requires special care that would not be available in their country of origin. The man refused to disclose his family’s location in fear they might be deported too. Both parents had an outstanding deportation order after they failed their refugee claim hearing.

According to witnesses, officials with Canada Border Services Agency began the raids in the early hours. Some were detained after they failed to provide appropriate ID’s when the vehicles they were riding in were stopped by unmarked SUV's for what appeared to be routine vehicle inspection. Others said they were arrested at the parking lots of coffee shops in the vicinity. Most of them were construction workers.

In a statement, No One is Illegal denounced the raid claiming it had been a deliberate attack on Hispanic immigrants. As such, one of the lawyers that represented two now deported detainees petitioned Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne to take a stance against raids of this nature.

Toronto City Hall grants $1.7 million to its Latin American community for Pan American Games inspired community projects

The Hispanic Canadian Heritage Council (HCHC) of Toronto commended City Hall for their approval of the “Community Projects for the 2015 Pan American Games Initiative.” The HCHC-lobbied project is going to receive $1.7 million that will be destined for Pan American Games inspired community projects. Both parties hope that the funding will provide opportunities for further integration of the Hispanic community into the sporting event that is to be held in the city of Toronto in July of next year.

According to Latinos Magazine, The funding is part of Toronto’s “Showcase” program for the Pan American Games and is supposed to be split into three different areas: activities and projects inspired by the Pan American Games anywhere in the city of Toronto, projects that provide long-term economical or structural benefits for the Latino, South American and Caribean community, and lastly, the money is supposed to be used to support arts and culture during the games.

Canadian Companies participated in 36 per cent of oil and gas projects in Colombia

The Canadian Minister for International Trade, Ed Fast, announced that Canadian Companies participated in 36 per cent of oil and gas projects in Colombia last year. During a visit in Bogota, he also expressed Canada's growing interest in the oil, gas and precious metals industries of the South American country.

According to CBN Noticias, Fast pointed out that Canada promotes sustainable practices when it comes to resource extraction in all of the countries where they have ongoing operations. The meeting Fast attended in Bogota was part of a six-day tour that included Colombia and Peru.

Canada has had a strong presence in the oil, gas and mining sectors of Colombia since a Free Trade Agreement was signed between the two countries in 2011. Over 51 Canadian companies are currently operating in the South American country.

Published in Top Stories
Sunday, 09 February 2014 17:51

Pulse: Latin America

by Maria Assaf

This is a compilation of the most important news stories reported by Latin American media in Canada, during Dec. and Jan.

Harper meets up with ethnic media in Toronto (Dec. 12, 2013)

On Nov. 28, Prime Minister Stephen Harper and his wife Laureen organized a reception for immigrant media outlets. The event took place at the International Plaza Hotel in Toronto. El Centro News said the PM spoke about the role of ethnic media and spent some time over lunch discussing issues pertaining to each community.

The PM held a similar meeting, infamously known as the “secret ethnic media meeting,” in Vancouver early in Jan. 2014. Tim Harper, in a column for the Toronto Star, bashed ethnic media outlets in attendance for not challenging the PM on matters such as the Senate scandal, unemployment rates and Harper’s overall unpopularity.


Mexican woman dies in custody in Vancouver (Jan. 29, 2014)

A Mexican woman who attempted suicide while in a holding cell at Vancouver international airport, in the custody of border patrol, died on Dec. 28.

The Canadian Border Service Agency (CBSA) had arrested Lucia Vega Jimenez in Vancouver on Dec. 1 after she was wanted for immigration violations.  

The agency kept her in detention for three weeks while authorities processed her deportation back to her native country. She attempted to kill herself on Dec. 20 and died in a hospital bed eight days later.

Noticias Montreal reported Ms. Vega, 42, had requested refugee status, which was denied in 2010.

She was fearful of returning to Mexico due to what she described as a “domestic situation” back home.

Reports stated Ms. Vega was working illegally in Canada as a hotel cleaner and sent all her wages to her ailing mother in Mexico. While in custody, someone stole all her savings.

The Mexican consulate in Vancouver said they had arranged a temporary house for Vega upon her return to Mexico City. Officials who had spoken to her earlier said notice of her death came as a surprise.

There has been controversy surrounding CBSA’s publishing of Ms. Vega’s death a month after the fact. The agency says they were not trying to keep information secret.  

The RCMP investigated the matter at the time and confirmed her death was not the result of a crime.

The CBSA has declined public interviews, but said in a public release “the health and security of those under our watch is a priority. We take this responsibility very seriously and we think it is important to determine the circumstances surrounding the loss of a life.”

This incident has generated some international tension. Mexican officials say they are anxiously waiting for accountability from Canadian authorities.  

“We are angered by what happened and we expect answers from the authorities that have jurisdiction in this case,” says Claudia Franco Hijuelos, Consul-General of Mexico.


Air Canada suspends ticket sales in Venezuela (Jan. 25, 2014)

Air Canada joined various international airlines Jan. 24 halting ticket sales throughout Venezuela for several hours.

The airlines were protesting the Nicolas Maduro government decision to devalue the bolivar (Venezuela’s national currency).

While this move makes flying abroad more expensive for Venezuelans, the amount that airlines collect from ticket sales in Venezuela diminished dramatically.

The companies shut down their doors to all customers while they adjusted the prices in their systems to avoid losing money.

Airlines who joined the suspension included United, Delta, Copa and American Airlines, among others.

Megan McCarthy, a spokesperson for United, said: “When the exchange rate was updated, we had to hold selling [tickets].”

The carriers have been battling the Venezuelan government, claiming it owes them $3.3 billion (U.S.).

The airlines are asking the government for bonds, cash and jet fuel in order to get even.

Sales for tickets reopened on Jan. 25, but the battle continues between international airlines and the Maduro government.

Celebrations kick off for Peruvian-Canadian Chamber of Commerce awards (Jan. 29)

On Jan. 22, the Peruvian-Canadian Chamber of Commerce recognized the achievements of some of its most prominent members.

Scotiabank was named the business of the year. The annual award was given to Dieter W. Jentsch, head of International Banking at the bank.

The ceremony, conducted by Cesar Sanguinetti, took place at the National Club. Jim Louttit, the Chamber’s president talked about major investment, imports and exports between the two nations in the last few years.

Commerce between the two countries is centered on minerals such as gold, zinc and cooper.


Woman who faced domestic abuse is being deported from Canada

Ivonne Angelina Hernandez was captured by a border patrol On Jan. 22

She was released three days later after reaching an agreement with the authorities that cost her $4,000 and some time in parole.

Now she is waiting to be deported back to her native country, Mexico. The date is uncertain.

Ms. Hernandez took her one-year-old son with her to an abused women shelter after a fight with her partner on Dec. 11, 2013. Her now ex-partner proceeded to denounce her to the authorities, who then arrested her.

She requested asylum when she arrived in Canada in 2009, but her application was denied in 2011. Since then, Ms. Hernandez has remained in Canada without papers.

Because of her denied-asylum status, a court gave Ms. Hernandez’s ex-partner custody of her son.

She asked for a re-opening of her case in November citing humanitarian concerns. She said she was trying to protect her son.

An American-based NGO called “Solidarity without Frontiers,” says there is little possibility that Hernandez will be allowed to remain in Canada.

“Even though Mexico has one of the most elevated domestic abuse rates in the world, the Canadian government still considers it a safe country,” stated the group.


New app targets Mexican diaspora

MiConsulmex is a new app designed to provide access to consular services for Mexicans residing or travelling through Canada.

Sergio Alcocer Martinez de Castroy, the North American sub-secretary for the Mexican embassy in Ottawa, presented the app along with Ambassador Francisco Suarez Davila. The launch coincides with the 70th anniversary of diplomatic relations between Canada and Mexico.

The app is free and available for Apple and Android devices through these links:

The software is designed to ease access to services such as obtaining protection or scheduling appointments at one of Mexico’s five consulates in Canada as well as at the Mexican embassy in Ottawa.

According to Mexican authorities in Canada, there are more than 150,000 Mexican nationals working or studying in Canada. Mexico is the second most popular touristic destination for Canadians.  

While the app targets those of Mexican origin, it is also accessible to anyone requiring services from the Mexican government.

Published in Latin America
Thursday, 13 June 2013 23:54

Our Homegrown Pigmentocracy


by Camille Hernandez-Ramdwar

A couple of years ago, I was interviewed by student Nayani Thiyagarajah at Ryerson University for a video documentary entitled Shadeism. I spoke about shadeism in a Caribbean context, and used the term “pigmentocracy”.   The eventual result of that interview -- an insightful, provocative work which has since garnered over 82,000 viewings on Vimeo -- generated much interest regarding the term I raised. People wanted to know more about this “pigmentocracy” concept.

The term “pigmentocracy” was coined by Chilean physiologist  Alejandro Lipshutz (1882-1980) to describe the detailed and exacting racial classifications found in Latin American societies, where those with less pigmentation (Europeans) held higher status than those with more pigmentation (the Indigenous, Africans, Asians, and mixed race peoples). The amount of melanin determined where you are in the hierarchy.

I first learned the term as an undergraduate in my Caribbean Studies classes at York University in the 1980s, in reference to the social structure of the slave plantation. The term has since regained popularity in a contemporary social science context to re-visit the idea that skin colour might still actually have something to do with one’s life chances in the Caribbean and Latin America today. Lighter skin colour continues to hold clout in these societies, despite independence from colonialism, political leadership by those of African, Asian and Indigenous descent, and “development”. But could the term “pigmentocracy” be applied to Canadian society -- to good old multicultural Canada?   

Many Canadians – particularly those with less pigment – like to think that discrimination based on skin colour doesn’t really exist here. Or they like to (quickly) point out how much less racist we are than the United States. Or how “those” people need to stop complaining and be grateful to be in a country as wonderful as Canada. Or “they” should just “go back where they came from.” I am confronted by these attitudes on a regular basis as a professor of Sociology and Caribbean Studies, confronted by students who do not want to believe that there is racial inequality in Canada, or that “whites” control the majority of major institutions in Canada (political, economic, judicial, educational, the media).

Naming the un-nameable

In fact, simply to raise the term “white” in the classroom can be akin to the sound of a record needle scratching across an LP: schhreeeeeeeeechhhhhh. Did she just say “white”?! You don’t name the un-nameable! Only Black/Native/Asian/Visible Minority can be named. When I challenge these notions, and focus on how skin colour (along with class, ethnicity, gender, sexuality, ability, and age) all factor into a Canadian’s life chances, the evidence speaks for itself.

Why do darker-skinned kids form the majority of high school drop-outs? Why are lighter-skinned people the ones heading corporations and sitting in Houses of Parliament? Why are a disproportionate number of Aboriginal and African Canadian people incarcerated despite the fact that there are numerically less of them in Canada? Why are the highest income earners in Canada of European descent, even if they are immigrant?

Sure we have the one or two exceptions: students love to bring up Oprah Winfrey and Barack Obama as evidence of this, neither of whom is Canadian and both of whom are statistical anomalies. In reality, the reasons for these discrepancies have to do with white privilege and racial discrimination. Darker-skinned people are not naturally less intelligent or prone to criminality any more than lighter-skinned people are naturally prone to academic and economic success.

Being white in Canada scores you automatic points and privileges that do not exist (on the contrary) for racialized peoples. Study after study has attested to this. In this respect, Canada is, in fact, a pigmentocracy.

Skin bleaching creams

But we have to go deeper than the obvious, structural inequalities to understand how, in 2013, judgements about light and dark skin persist. How do racialized (read: non-white) communities participate in their own marginalization? By supporting and replicating their own internal pigmentocracies, ones they have often inherited from their respective colonial and post-colonial histories.  One example is the widespread use and popularity of skin bleaching creams in many immigrant communities. Immigrant parents pass on to their children the notion that lighter is better. Unfortunately, the kids are growing up in a society that is also telling them the same thing. The second generation (and the third, and the fourth) can’t win. Not only are mummy and daddy telling them to bleach, their teachers, peers, and other agents of socialization (the media, religious institutions, pop cult figures) are telling them that light/white skin colour is more desirable, more acceptable, in short, just plain “good”.

Darkness becomes associated with all things negative: badness, criminal behaviour, low test scores, can’t find a mate, sin, primitivity ... you name it.  The youth either succumb to this indoctrination, filled with self-hatred and low self-esteem, or they rebel. They call out both the dominant society’s messages about their supposed unworthiness as well as expose their community’s own internal sickness, like Thiyagarajah does in her video. My advice to these youth is to try to re-claim the ancient, to go back to pre-colonial times in their own cultures, and look for the signs and the stories that affirm the darkness. If they can’t find these, then they need to re-create their own. Above all, they must not seek to create an inverted pigmentocracy by discriminating against lighter-skinned members of their own communities.

Racialized people themselves need be agents of change in this scenario, firstly by acknowledging that in many respects we do have a pigmentocracy in Canada, that discrimination based on skin colour and the outcome of this (reduced life chances) is a reality.

First Nations

The only exception is the position of First Nations people, many of whom are lighter skinned than, say, people of African and South Asian descent. It is well-documented that, overall, the most marginalized group in Canada are the Aboriginal Peoples: that is why the concept of a pigmentocracy is useful only up to a point. In a city such as Toronto, with its large Caribbean, African, and South Asian communities, the concept may be more relevant than in rural Manitoba or the Yukon. However, if we start at the top (lighter) of the skin colour pyramid, rather than at the bottom (darker) the concept still holds weight. Overall, lighter skinned people hold more structural power than darker-skinned ones. Overall, within our own communities, light complexion is still often favoured over darker complexion (along with other Eurocentric attributes such as hair texture, and eye and nose shape).

We, as first-, second – and third-generation racialized Canadians need to remedy that. If we are darker-skinned we need to love ourselves in our darkness, without having to turn our anger and frustration outwards at our lighter brothers and sisters, or inwards on ourselves. If we are lighter-skinned we need to recognize and understand the structural privilege we have, not abuse that, while navigating the fact that we still experience racism. We need to address “shadeism” within our own communities, and dismantle centuries-old pigmentocracies. Most importantly, we need to stop replicating the divide-and-rule strategy of the colonizer, and unite to fight racism.

Dr. Camille Hernandez-Ramdwar is an Associate Professor in the Department of Sociology at Ryerson University who also teaches in Caribbean Studies. She researches and publishes in the areas of Caribbean cultures and identities; tourism and Caribbean culture; diasporic, transnational and second generation identities; racism and Caribbean peoples in Canada, and African Traditional Religions in the Caribbean.

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Published in Commentary

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