For the past couple of months, I’ve been spending some time in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan in Canada. A small city of about 300,000 inhabitants, home to my boyfriend’s family.
I knew there was a Colombian community in Saskatoon since Bryan and I used to talk about this place back when we met. Now that we’re visiting his hometown, I needed to know if it was true, were there Colombians all the way up here in this town known for its brutal winters?
It was reconfirmed when I met a Colombian at the Jazz Festival who said they did indeed have a community here that some were here for school, some for family, some for work.
Again, when I talked to Maru, a Colombian Spanish-immersion preschool owner in Saskatoon she said, “Yes! I know a few people here, and I’d love to put you in contact with them.”
How I searched for the Community
I was determined to see what the Colombians were like here. Were they welcoming? Were they outsiders? Did they have a say in community matters? How was their English?
But, to answer all these questions I needed to see them.
On July 18th, I met Maru face-to-face, and she was exactly how I thought she’d be.
We hugged at first sight and laughed and shared the whole day. I met her husband, heard about their experiences, and felt so at home. By the end of the night, we were having wine in her living room- now, that’s Colombian!
Earlier, we casually heard about the Independence Day Celebration taking place that day and drove over.
We weren’t too surprised to find that the celebration consisted of Soccer (against the El Salvador team) on a rented field with kiosks selling Colombian food such as Sancocho, Lechona, Avena and more. Everyone was wearing Colombia soccer jerseys or Colombia T-shirts.
There were people from Santander, Bogotá, Medellín, Cali, Bucaramanga, Neiva, just about everywhere! They were diverse. Some had travelled for family, some for love, some for political asylum (be it real or fake) and had lived in the city for years.
There certainly was a community; these people didn’t gather without reason or organization. However, some Colombians are more dedicated to the community, closed off to non Latin-Americans, and some have been here for years and know very little English.
To say “Colombians of Saskatoon are [insert adjective here]” would be mistaken because they’re all very different. What I can say is that all of them were very sweet and welcoming to me, and the food was fantastic.
However, there were some stories that stuck out more than others.
To name a few, the Pastor with the Sombrero “vueltiao'” or the only female concrete truck driver in Saskatoon who also has a degree in psychology from Universidad de Los Andes, the best private university in Colombia. Or Maru herself, a foreign female entrepreneur teaching Canadians to value Spanish as an essential tool. I then decided that each of these immigrants had a story to tell.
So I decided to write a mini-series about a few of these immigrants that caught my eye.
Erni is a student at Universidad del Atlántico. He used his scholarship as an exchange opportunity to travel to the University of Saskatchewan in Saskatoon and stayed for about five months in early 2015.
What most impacted me was how unbelievably multicultural the country is. The fact that I could find people from all kinds of places in the world that I had never even heard of, in an area so small like the U of S, is something that I can’t forget.
It’s because of this that I can say my mind and heart don’t solely belong to Colombia anymore, though I’ll never deny my roots, and I’m proud of my heritage.
Seeing snow for the first time was also incredible, amazing, and I found myself speechless. Although the weather in Saskatoon was really crazy (any day in Spring was a day you could get a snowstorm that would erase the beautiful green landscape, recently uncovered, and cover it once more with white.
Of the innumerable things I lived in Canada, I loved the culture, the sense of belonging and the kindness people showed me, both locals and immigrants.
I could find a little peace of each culture in Canada, among these, the great foreign food -and the not so great- and the many friends I made, among which many opened their homes to me.
The Down Side
It’s easy to talk about the ups, and hard to think of anything I didn’t like. I noticed that there are many Indian taxi drivers in the city while I was there. Sadly, one of them took advantage of our group of foreigners, charging us far too much for a ride. This, however, is nothing compared to my great experiences and doesn’t even dent the perception of my trip.
Canadians and Colombians
I think the biggest difference between the Canadian culture and Colombian culture lies in respect and tolerance between people. Little, but crucial, aspects such as the priority of pedestrians on the road when crossing, public concern and respect can mark a big difference in daily cultural aspects.
The Possible Return
The question is almost irrelevant. I can’t ever deny that my future plans include Canada, maybe for work or living or even just tourism, but Canada is undoubtedly in my internal memory.
I think my photos can’t replace the memories I had there, I’ll never forget the Canadians that extended their hand to help me, I’m so grateful to these people and to the AXIS group at U of S with whom I drank, celebrated and enjoyed with for many occasions.
When you leave Colombia, as a citizen, you automatically turn into a representative of this beautiful country, whether you like it or not. Your behaviour outside can feed or erase certain social paradigms about Colombia.
I was frequently asked about the internal war, drugs, and hard times of the country, but it was impossible to avoid telling them about the music, the ancestral roots and he beautiful landscapes in Colombia. I think that all Canadians should come to Colombia at least once in their lives.
As always, the problem is they might not want to leave!