Happiness is Welcoming Friends to My ‘Hood

mexico and canada

Immigration is a hot topic these days no matter where you live.  It’s been a point of contention in the current U.S. election and here, in Canada, the influx of Syrian immigrants has caused many heated debates.  I personally don’t have to look much further than the end of my cul de sac to find a great (and happy) immigration story.

My friend Veronica arrived in Vancouver in August of 2000 from a small town just outside of Monterey, Mexico.

She came to Vancouver with her best friend.  They had sat in a restaurant in their hometown and added up their savings on a paper napkin to see if they had enough money for two plane tickets.  She was twenty five years old and wanted a change of pace from her small town life.  They moved into an apartment on the west side of Vancouver with four other young girls, also from Mexico.  Even though she was going to school to learn English she has to admit that they didn’t speak much English at all.  They lived with and went out with other Mexicans.

But she loved her new city.  The mountains, the ocean, the trees and parks.

Things she remembers from that time?  The weather wasn’t always good.  No matter how hard she tried she couldn’t get her hair straightened with a flat iron. Since she’s a bit on the short side, on rainy days she kept hitting people in the face with her umbrella.  Basically she remembers that the weather was a huge change from sunny Mexico.

For the next two years she would stay in Vancouver. Only returning to Mexico every six months to renew her visa.  During that time she met her husband Jorge.  I have always known that Veronica and her husband, Jorge, were one of the sweetest, most loving couples I’ve ever met but I didn’t know the lengths that they had gone to in order to be together.

In 2003 Veronica decided to return to Mexico for good.  She missed her family and it was too expensive to keep going back and forth.  What she didn’t know was that Jorge had followed her back with an engagement ring in his pocket.  He gave her that ring and they got married the very next day.

Even though they were married, the process of getting her papers to allow her to permanently return to Vancouver took over a year.  Devoted Jorge continued to fly back and forth to Mexico as often as he could.  Eventually Veronica moved to Bellingham, WA and stayed at the YWCA.  Just to be that much closer to her husband.

The process was long and the immigration interviews in Mexico City were intense.  They asked her questions like.

“Tell me again.  On the evening you met Jorge, did he drive you home or did you take a taxi?”  Just to make sure her story was consistent.

“What brand of toothpaste does Jorge have in his bathroom?”

Seriously?  Who pays attention to that stuff?  Or remembers it three years later.  Anyway, bottom line, she got her permanent resident card and is now a Canadian citizen.

They best part of living here?

The people.  She finds Canadians to be incredibly friendly.  In Mexico, she says, people are sometimes only friendly to you if they know you.  If you come from a wealthy family you do not acknowledge people who are less fortunate.  In fact you don’t even talk to them.  The division is very clear.

She also enjoys the safety of living in an area with good schools and parks that she can send her kids to without worrying about them.  Over the past fifteen years Mexico has changed and she doesn’t always feel comfortable taking her kids out when they visit.

Would she move back?  Probably not. Obviously, the Mexico of today is very different from the Mexico she grew up in.

So now Veronica and her lovely family live at the end of my street.  Her kids play with my daughter at the park and I get to enjoy the fresh produce they grow in the summer.  Their tomatillos are amazing.  Great friends and fresh veggies.  That’s a Best Thing in Life for sure.

P.S.  Although I’ve never managed to stay up late enough to go, I’ve heard that they have killer parties.

 

 

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In Appreciation of Growing Up

West Vancouver

Do you ever have those days when you are just at loose ends? That was me this morning. I didn’t have a lot of energy, didn’t have anything specific that I had to do and it was a wet drizzly day. I could easily have pulled on my jammies and gone back to bed, but I knew that wouldn’t really help. I didn’t have quite enough energy to muster up a run but knew I needed to get out and get some exercise. Closets are sorted and the yard is ready for the onslaught of November rains. What to do, what to do? And then I knew what I needed to do. I needed to go back to my roots.

Fortunately, my roots, or the area I grew up in, are only a 20 minute drive away. I was headed to Ambleside and a walk on the sea wall. There’s just something about going back to West Vancouver that calms me and in some ways, reconnects me. It’s familiar and holds so many memories and firsts. First school, first best friend, first kiss, first party, first driving lesson in a standard…..you get the picture. For me, going back to West Van and walking the seawall can clear my head and remind me about what is important. Family, friends and belonging.

West Vancouver is not necessarily the same place today that it was when I was growing up. The majority of the ranchers and cute little bungalows are gone. Replaced with huge, gated homes. Not many kids walk or ride their bikes to school anymore. Park Royal Shopping Centre has doubled in size and increased its profile. Bonnie Belle Makeup has been replaced by Sephora and Bootlegger by Banana Republic. Most people I knew have either moved away or, in the case of my parents friends, have passed away. But you know what, it’s okay. Times have changed everywhere and selfishly, West Vancouver gave me what I needed and I’m grateful for that. What did it give me? So many things.

An appreciation of nature. There are so many fabulous outdoor spots in West Vancouver that it’s sometimes hard to know where to go. Not just the sandy, park like beaches of Ambleside and Dundarave but also the rocky, often deserted, beaches between 29th and 31st streets. The trails and rocky bays of Lighthouse Park. For so many years I was convinced that the boogie man lived there. The mountains. A family friend had a cabin up Hollyburn Mt and we would hike up there in the summer and swim in the extraordinarily cold glacial lakes. Access to the island and Whistler were only minutes away. Believe it or not I did my first overnight Girl Guide camp out at the top of the British Properties. Somewhere up there amongst all those new homes is a trail leading up to beautiful wooded spot where we (gasp) lit fires and slept under the trees.

An appreciation of a good school. I still keep in touch with some of the people I went to West Bay Elementary School with (thanks to Facebook) and have such great memories of that school. Sports day three legged races, music class with Mr Rose, the annual track and field day at West Van High track, and of course those after school dances. It was such a simple time in my life but it was also a lot of life lessons. Like the time Katherine Taylor hit me over the head with her metal lunch box. Lesson learned? Don’t be friends with kids with metal lunch boxes. Walking to school, starting in Kindergarten, was not only accepted but pretty much mandatory. Lessons learned? Get over your fear of dogs, loud trucks and the weird kids who lived along the way.

An appreciation of community. May Day Parade 1974. I was one of the flower girls in the parade. Not only did I get to ride on the float but I got to dance around the maypole in my pretty pink dress. My daughter will be very jealous one day. If I ever tell her. West Van in the 70 was really just a small municipality. The ice rink on 22nd street is still there. I wonder if they still have Teen Night every Saturday? The aquatic centre didn’t exist then. If you wanted to take a swimming lessons, the rec centre assigned you an instructor and you went to somebody’s house and learnt to swim in their pool. If you wanted to hang out at a pool you went to the outdoor pool at Ambleside. Kids all took the bus. Everywhere. There were crazy people around then too but we all just accepted them and they lived their lives in their own way.

Really, I could go on forever. So many memories of people and places and events, all just a short drive away yet really so far away. I came home after my walk with a better outlook on my day. For me, The Best Thing in Life today is being able to just go home for a quick visit and a reminder of some of the important things in life.