For our friends around the world:
My name is Anabelle, and I am from Mexico City – that’s where I was born and raised, that’s where I lived my entire life though my family is from France originally. I moved to Canada, specifically to Montreal, in 2011… so many years ago now!
What was the inspiration to move here?
When I was in high school, I was sitting in traffic in Mexico City; if you ever complain to me about Toronto traffic, I will get angry because Mexico’s traffic is just so much worse. I remember trying to get somewhere that usually takes ten minutes and I was in the car for like an hour, an hour and a half, and I just had this sense of needing to change and needing to go and experience something different. As silly as traffic might sound, it does really limit what you can experience of a city, and how you move, who you can see and what you can achieve. It doesn’t sound that stressful, but it was a very heavy weight on me.
So, I was sitting in the car and I decided, “Okay; I’m going to go to university somewhere else. I didn’t want to go to Europe, because it would make my parents too happy, and I kind of landed on Canada. I met a girl at a supermarket who was from Quebec super randomly, and she started telling me about Quebec and how amazing Quebec was, and so I kind of just went for it.
There was a big journey to end up in Toronto. I started in Montreal, did my undergraduate degree there, then I left, and I did end up living in France for a while, and then I followed my partner, who was from BC, back to BC, and then we both moved to Toronto. So, it’s been a lot of moving around. But I’m here now!
What was the first big difference you noticed between here and there?
It was literally my first interaction with a Canadian; I had gotten off the plane, landed in Montreal, drove directly to my university residence room, knocked on the door, and my roommate who I hadn’t met, but who was going to be my roommate for at least a year opens it, and I said “hi, it’s so good to meet you.” And I went in for a hug, and she was just stiff as a board and did not know what to do, and just kind of stood there until I let her go, and it was just a quick and really immediate sign that physical touch here, or physical contact, is just not what it is back home, and so immediately I sensed that hellos here are waves.
People here don’t hug. In Mexico or in France, you either hug or you kiss on the cheek. People here do handshakes. I mean, you hug if you’ve known somebody for a while, whereas in Mexico you hug somebody you’re meeting. So that’s been an adjustment.
So, Montreal – it’s colder there than it is in Mexico City, and I didn’t realize this until I started dating my current partner, and she, around November, was like “I have to switch my wardrobe over now; fall is over and winter is coming, so I need to switch all of my clothes. I just sat there: “what do you mean, switch your clothes? What do you mean by that?” She said “you have your winter clothes, and your non-winter clothes, and because you don’t have enough room in your closet for both, you have to switch them over.” And I was so shocked by that, and I teased her about that, “No, that’s ridiculous, what do you mean you have two sets of clothes?” It wasn’t until later that I realized this was actually pretty common and that she’s not the only person doing this. And it was so weird to me, because I’d only ever had one set of clothes. They were just my clothes. I had the shoes and the shirts and the things and assumed that here, you just layer them all up, but I guess not – you need multiple sets for this weather.
What was the most challenging thing for you when you moved here?
I think honestly the thing I was talking about earlier – the physical contact was very hard. People here are very warm and friendly, but it does take a while for them, or for the people I’ve met, to get comfortable. Even with some of my closest friends here there is never physical touch. And I think that, as soon as you’re hugging somebody, you do develop this other kind of closeness with them that otherwise you lack; it just gives a more formal feeling in friendships and different interactions. That’s been an adjustment.
Humour – humour is one. Puns here are… people say that humour is the last thing that you get when you’re learning a language, and English isn’t my first language, but – I’ve been here for years and I still don’t really understand why puns are funny, or what a pun is, or how to do them, or how to make them. That’s still sort of beyond me. So, people will be saying puns back and forth, and I kind of just stand there awkwardly until the interaction stops. I get dad jokes a little bit more.
What was the most pleasant surprise in moving to Toronto?
I’ve only been in Toronto for five months now. It was a very pleasant surprise, because I was living in BC, and people in BC tend to think that you should never leave BC because it’s the best place ever. And it is a really beautiful province, and I really enjoyed my time there, but as I was telling people I was moving to Toronto they were saying “Why? Why are you doing that?” And so I had come to expect this grey, unfriendly city. I haven’t found that at all. I find people here have been very welcoming, and have been very open to who I am and where I’m from and what I can bring, and it feels like an open-armed welcome.
How would you define Canadian? Do you see yourself as a Canadian?
No. I don’t feel Canadian because… what happens when you move, and you move countries especially, is that… when I was in Mexico, the fact that I was from Mexico didn’t matter.
You’re from Mexico, you’re hanging out with people who are from there, it’s not like it comes up. It’s part of who you are, it’s part of your identity, but it doesn’t come up. What happens when you move is that suddenly it becomes your thing. And so when I moved to Montreal, all of a sudden I was “that Mexican friend”; being from Mexico became my thing, my identifier in such a way that it just made that identify that much bigger, that much more present. So, rather than becoming more Canadian, by moving here and being from somewhere else, that background has been strengthened as opposed to the other way around. I don’t think that’s a negative, I just think it’s a reality.
I don’t think people assume I’m from elsewhere upon meeting me, and now, with my circle of friends, it’s not like it comes up all the time. When I meet somebody and we’re doing introductions, where I come from inevitably becomes a thing.
There isn’t that one defining box that, if you are these things, you are a Canadian, so what is the connective tissue or thread that defines Canadian-ness?
I guess I would feel like I was Canadian if I were to have a kid, if I were to have a baby with a Canadian person. And if that new person was born here, and was a descendent of mine, then I would feel tied to this place in a new way.
Is it harder getting a job in Canada, particularly when you’re not born here?
I don’t think I’m the best person to speak to that, because I am “Canadian-passing”, whatever that means, so I haven’t had an issue, but I don’t think I’m representative of that for this question.
So no one has ever asked you for “Canadian experience”?
Oh, that. There are jobs that I can’t access; I studied public administration, there are jobs, if you want to work in government, that are out of bounds if you’re not a Canadian citizen. I could work for the provincial government up to a certain level, but not where there’s anything that would be considered national security. I can’t work for the federal government, I don’t think. Like, as a policy analyst in the trenches of government. I did find there were a lot of positions I couldn’t apply for.
I’m on a post-graduate work visa right now, so I’m not a Permanent Resident, I’m trying to create this business and get this project off the ground, and there’s lots of grants and funding that you can’t access unless you’re a permanent resident. I get it, but it’s definitely a roadblock for me.
What would be the elevator pitch for your project?
My project is called Connexion, with an X, which is the French spelling, and basically it’s a social wellness project that explores what it means to feel connected to yourself, to other people, and to a place, and what that feeling can do in terms of personal and societal well-being. I’m exploring this through story-telling and personal stories, in video forms for now, but I’m also looking into other was that we can have these conversations. Basically, the premise is that, when we feel connected, we feel happier, and we feel better, and less isolated and less lonely and less vulnerable.
How would you define belonging?
Yeah, that’s kind of the crux of it. I think you feel like you belong if you feel like you can share a part of who you are without fear of it being rejected, or unseen, or not understood. That’s a little lofty, isn’t it? Brene Brown talks a lot about belonging in a lot of beautiful ways. I would suggest reading her – much wiser than me!