One of the things I like to do is to attend community events where I meet new acquaintances. One of them is Elizabeth Diaz-Gallo, who I met when I was invited to share my journey in one of the Latin Community English classes, a project organized by Elizabeth, Cruz Piedrahita and Jesusa (Susan) Rodriguez. During discussion, my mind was thinking of the Colombian struggle for peace and justice, its context and future. The big picture triggered me to explore the personal struggles of a teacher friend from Bogota. Talking with Elizabeth, I discerned her activist patterns of thought and asked if she wants to share her story. In response to following questions, here are her answers for all of us to reflect on.
- Tell us something about yourself?
Well, my name is Elizabeth Diaz Gallo. I’m 33 years old and I come from Bogota, Colombia. I come from a small and financially limited family but despite of that, I had a happy childhood and have always had a strong desire for studying and helping people. I went to a public university in Bogota, and from there I graduated with a Bachelor of Education degree, with majors in Spanish literature and Foreign Languages: English and French. I’ve always been passionate about education. Teaching is one of the things I enjoy doing the most as you get to witness the transformation of society from the core.
- What are the challenges or reasons for leaving the old country and the hurdles that you have surmounted here in Winnipeg?
Sadly, education isn’t a very important aspect in my country and one of the reasons why I left is because teachers are underpaid. It doesn’t matter how hard you prepare yourself to become one, or it doesn’t matter if you have a M. Ed, you will still be underpaid and undervalued, which is the thing that most affect our performance.
The right of expressing your opinion and being different is not well seen, and yet as an activist teacher, I could have even ended dead as some former students and teachers from Universidad Pedagogica Nacional, which is where I studied. I don’t want a place for Sofia (my daughter) to grow up and develop as a human being where you have to watch out for the way you think or for how you want to give back to the community.
Also, Croatia, where my husband, Ivan Marjanović, is from, wasn’t an option either because of the barrier with the language and the customs. United States….nahhhh…. we worked with so many customers from there while in ships, that we got really sick of how things work there, and so on, and so forth…. so we thought about Canada and concluded this was a good environment.
- Please tell us your educational background and other achievements you have here in your new home that you want to share with our readers?
Having been a Spanish and languages teacher in Colombia, I realized that no matter what profession someone had who was educated abroad, it means nothing when you come here. Coming as a skilled worker was going to take me years, and we didn’t have more time to waste. We didn’t want to do ships anymore, so we decided that one of the most effective ways to come to Canada and start building our path towards permanent residence in a legal way, was coming as a student. And so we did. I came to study here …there was no affordable program related to teaching in elementary or high school system, so I ended up studying Early Childhood Education (ECE).
- As amigrant from another country, can you give us your take on the culture that shaped you and the new one that you have to adapt to?
In terms of cultural features found in my country and in here, I do have to admit there was a little bit of a culture shock when I got here, as we Latin people are warm and expressive, but I found Canadians give importance to personal space and are pretty reserved, which doesn’t mean it’s something bad, it’s just different. Fortunately, I haven’t been targeted by any racism or anything like that, so I find myself like fitting in this society.
- As a Winnipeger , how do you plan to give back to the community at large?
My plan to give back to this community started I think ever since I came. I have helped a lot of people from South America in terms of paperwork, documentation of the immigration policies related to temporary status people, settlement procedures, employment information, educational information etc. And I deeply believe that by helping my Latin community, I help the Canadian people as well.
Elizabeth also shared that her favourite writer is Gabriel Garcia Marquez and she likes to read the works of contemporary Colombian author William Ospina such as El pais de la canela and De la Habana a la paz. She’s into classical music and loves salsa, merengue, bachata and when she misses Colombia, she goes for Cumbia. As I conclude my interview with Elizabeth, I asked her to describe her philosophy and here is what she shared. “If there are people who can’t or don’t have a voice or the words to speak, the ones who can and have the capacity to do it should give them the words and teach them the way to speak up for themselves. I hate injustice, inequality and vulnerability and if I can do something to fight these things, for sure I will”. Well-said indeed for somebody who graduated from Universidad Pedagogica Nacional. Pedagogica reminds me of my Paolo Freire books.
Thanks a lot to Elizabeth for sharing her journey with us. Cheers to life and struggles!
(❚ Levy Abad is a freelance writer and also a singer songwriter/recording artist and a member of Migrante Canada-Mb chapter and also a founding member/ program coordinator of Winnipeg Multicultural Human Rights Forum, Levy has released four albums, Canadian Experience Vol. 1 (iTunes), Never Give Up and Rhythms of Compassion CanEx 3. and “Tara ng Maglakbay”(June2017). You can reach Levy Abad through, firstname.lastname@example.org or on Facebook.)