FeATURED STORY OF RESILIENCE
Words from an Chilean living in Canada
I was born and raised in Chile, in South America. I grew up In a kind of divided country because we suffered a dictatorship in 1973 ‘til early 90's. So whole my middle school, part of high school was really militarized, so the society was militarized. You have no power.
I have these weird customs for example, when I took the garbage out I had to clean everything and be careful if you have to put something important [in the garbage] like documents. You grow up in that kind of environment, ‘hyperaroused’ I think is the word that can define that. So you would be careful who you talk, what you talk, the topics of your conversation.
I have a preconception about Canada, because I used to live in United States so I thought Canada is kind of like United States but a bit nicer, people were more polite, nicer. I know that Vancouver was a very multicultural city, so I think that was my preconception about Canada before arriving here. I think the majority is accurate but because I am trying to be in the work force it’s difficult to me because I am an immigrant obviously, to try and find a job according with my qualifications at least at that level it’s kinda tough, maybe it’s tougher for Canadians, I don’t know. But it seems to me, difficult.
I think you have to grow up with that thing and trying to heal what happened to you, every immigrant and probably every Canadian, somebody who suffered a kind of trauma, they need to heal to move forward so I really like that you can be on the street at 12AM or 1AM and have a sense of safety on the streets. So I think that's really different. The small things like you don't lock your door in your home it's kind of weird and in Santiago and Chile the houses have these barriers between everything, between your neighbour, in the street and here it's very open. So it’s kind of nicer for the view but also it represents something that people feel safer, safer here.
Have you been back in Santiago or Chile?
Yeah, last year. Yeah, it was a really weird experience. People are really violent there. You can see that in the public transport, when they talk they feel that they don’t have control over anything. They feel powerless, they don’t trust in institutions like basic institutions like the government and the judicial system. It's kind of a strange sensation.
Do you have advice you would give to new immigrant in Canada?
What you have, this conception about Canada, probably you will be happy but it's difficult to be immigrant even if you move to Canada because your culture will be... the culture where you're living is totally different from your country's culture so if they have problems with language it will be kind of difficult to be, or feel more part of the society here.
I think one thing that I think immigrants have that is a really powerful resiliency. I can see that from people from Syria they immigrated to here and don’t know anything about this new country and the suffering that are happening in there is way worse than the sense of the uncertainties that you have when you travel to a new country. You have your family and you bring your family to a safer environment without knowing anything and maybe you don't have anybody here who is your family. They risk everything to be here. I think that’s resiliency and it’s a really powerful concept and experience.
I think you can approach resiliency from the individual and communal resilience. So I think everyone is resilient to a certain degree. But according with the experience you prove your resilience. I think human beings are built in resilience. The thing is you have to experience some kind of troubles and it depends also on your environment. The way that you can get some positive outcomes from bad situations and to me that’s resilience. What about communal resilience? I think it's more complicated. For example what happened with Unites States right now with people who are muslim. I think it is more associated with historical traumas and more discrimination so they have to have a new narrative. Maybe trying to replace the narrative that they bring from home to this new world view and that's the difficult part. I think it's easy to cultivate individual resilience but as a group, it's more difficult because you feed each other with fears and stereotypes and that's the difficult part to change.
I have this quote from Richard Rose, he said something like 'if you don’t transform trauma, you will transfer that trauma to your kids or even your community'. So in order to transform your trauma, you have to be able to trust in your new community and that kind of process needs to be built from both sides, from the community and the immigrant population.
Can you speak about what the Trauma and Resilience project is?
I started that project with my wife. We were walking in Virginia with a woman who suffered violence and I noticed that many things, trauma related things are connected with some dignity issues and identity issues. It's not an issue but kind of.... you are wondering about your identity when you move to another country, you want to do something as we …. Try to bring our country with us. But it's kind of a different I don’t know how to explain that, probably it's kind of a cultural charge. When you are suffering with your identity and probably you feel you are no more, or maybe a second category citizen. Probably it's not from your environment because I know some communities are nicer, but you feel like you're not part of the community. You think 'oh my English is not that good. I have an accent. I don't know how to buy things'. This is so funny I used to buy chicken liver. So in my country they sold these things in the box and the first day in Unites States I tried to find that and it was impossible because they don't have this. They represent that probably in a different way. The small things, you have to reshape your brain and your knowledge according to that and that is according to your cultural identity.
Do you think getting people involved in the community can help change that?
Yes, I know this is a process that involves both sides, groups of people. But it's kind of a weird situation here in Vancouver. To me, it doesn’t seem like people are open to talk to somebody, it seems different. I don't know if you have that perception but even I have had conversations with Canadians and they say that it's almost impossible to find a friend. So you have to connect in different ways, I don't know from studies, your classmates or your workplace. But I don't know about your neighbour if you can connect with them. It seems to me that everyone is doing their own things and they don't want to be involved. Everything is working okay, so there is no reason to be involved with your neighbour.
In South America do people know their neighbours better?
Yeah I think there are so many factors, economic factors. Because to buy a house is the goal of your life. So when you choose a neighbourhood you now you'll be living there for like at least 40, 50 years there so in that sense you know you have to build a relationship with your neighbours and take care of each other.
I know that Vancouver probably most people say that it is difficult to find a Vancouverite that was born and raised here. It's a city who receives people from many other places. it's not only for immigrants but it is a goal for everyone living here, how to find creative ways to build community. I think these communal centres are really good, like some activities on a communal level, I think they are open for everyone so that is a good way to build community. Specifically about the immigrant population it seems to me that they like to be with them, with their group and maybe that will be a problem in the future when you start to develop this language of 'I' and the 'others' instead of 'we Vancouverites' or 'we Canadians'.
We don’t know that community is really important for many things. I read this research like two years ago and the thesis was that drug addiction is not about the addiction itself it's about belonging to a community and they also, this really powerful message that if you put a person in a community with support and even if they have this addiction they will leave that addiction because they are part of that community. So the sense of belonging is really powerful. Even with a really awful community based in hatred, everything that the community itself has a lot of power over their members.
I remember this thing with my wife. I think dialogue is important community but also is important to know what behind of your reaction to that specific event. We always had trouble crossing the street because when you are for example, you have stop sign in one corner, I always wait for the car to pass first instead of trying to cross the corner. So, I always have this discussion with my wife. Then we realize that I was present in an accident. It was a stop sign and the driver just crossed that thing [the crosswalk] and a car hit and I was in that accident. Then I realized it was that situation triggered something in myself and for that reason my behaviour was waiting till the car passed. My wife has a totally different background, so she felt safer to just cross instead of waiting.
So when you know why people do things and trying to communicate that things, bring to the surface. Like be transparent or clean or take off the dust of that situation you can understand 'oh now I understand why this guy is in that group of neo-Nazis' or 'now I understand why this guy is something saying about the Chinese population here in Vancouver'. So it's kind of the same, dialogue and see more of the situation.