Newcomer Story: Silvia Ortega dela Cruz

Silvia taking a Silvia by the lakeSilvia’s cheerful face came on the screen after I clicked on Skype. She was all smiles but she told me she was nervous about this interview because her English is not very good. After assuring her that I could understand her very well, she started to relax and tell her story.

Love transcending the language barrier

Silvia came to Manitoba in 2018 to be with her husband. She moved here shortly after their wedding in El Salvador. Theirs is a modern love story because it bloomed on social media, but traditional too because they had known each other for 13 years. Her husband’s parents are Salvadoran who moved to Canada when her husband was three years old. They met through Silvia’s best friend who is her husband’s cousin. When they first met in person, she didn’t know English and he couldn’t speak Spanish so they really didn’t go beyond “ola” and “hi.” However, they started a social media friendship in 2014 which evolved into romance. With the help of the internet (and Google translate), they maintained their relationship for four years.

When Silvia came here in 2018, all she knew was “hi,” “hello”, and “good morning.” She carried a small notebook with a few English sentences she thought she would need on her flight to Winnipeg. This proved helpful because without wi-fi she couldn’t use Google on her phone. She could laugh about it now but at that time, not being able to communicate made her scared.

A rough start

Silvia knew that learning English is a priority but a bad experience turned her off from learning. She enrolled in an English course but a mix-up placed her in the wrong class. On the first day, each student was asked to tell the group about themselves. In the middle of her introduction, the instructor interrupted and said, “What are you doing here?” At that moment, Silvia couldn’t answer and was put on the spot. “It felt like the time when I was a child at school and all my classmates were laughing at me, and I thought, ‘I need my mom’,” she recalls. The teacher then told her that she did not belong in the class. Silvia left crying. Because of this incident, she swore off learning English for a while.

Silvia received news that her father had passed away shortly after. This was followed by the start of the pandemic. All of these contributed to a tough first winter. “I felt depressed because my father had just died and winter was so dark. I thought, this is probably not the best place for me. Maybe I made a mistake coming here. But at the same time, I remember that my father was really happy for me. He knew my husband and his family and he said, ‘it’s a good family and he is a good man. You will be happy with him,’” she recalls.

Going outside and staying positive helped Silvia get through those dark days. “My husband always says, ‘try and go outside because if you don’t, you’ll probably be sick, or you’ll feel stressed or depressed.’ It was difficult but I tried to go outside just to walk or go to the mall. I think it’s very important,” she said.

“Now I know my neighbourhood very well because I walk around in winter and during summer. I also know the bus numbers, I say ‘this one is for the mall, the other is for the doctor,’ I know them very well,” Silvia added.

“I really need to learn English”

Silvia experienced a difficult pregnancy in 2020. It required frequent doctor visits and even surgery. Through all this, what she remembers most is feeling frustrated. “I couldn’t understand what the doctors were saying. My husband couldn’t come with me all the time, and translators at the hospital were not available. Before procedure, the doctor was telling me all the steps of the surgery, but I didn’t understand. ‘This was bad.’ I thought, I really need to learn English,” Silvia said.

She knew that she had to get over her rough start. So after her baby was born, she took some evening English classes at the Immigrant Center. Then, after testing at WELARC, she chose to learn with English Online. Enrolling in the LINC Home Study program allowed her to take classes in the comfort of her home which was ideal as she was taking care of a newborn and was scared of getting COVID again (she was infected and recovered earlier in the year).

“I definitely learn many things from English Online but I think for me the strongest is that I feel more confident. Before that I could only say ‘hi’ and ‘see you next Sunday,’ at church. Many times I make mistakes, but I feel more comfortable now when I speak with others,” Silvia said.

“I practice my English during the week when I connect with English Online. Learning here is helpful because you also learn about Canada, about Winnipeg, Manitoba. In the class you learn about the clothes to wear in winter. You learn about places to buy things, the beautiful parks in Manitoba, winter activities … many things that I didn’t know about. I also know a lot of vocabulary now. If you knew me two years ago, you’ll probably say, that’s not the same woman!” she added.

“The one thing is to be always positive. It’s important to be positive because if not, you will never live your life here, you will never enjoy the weather or the people around you.”

Learning and living her best life

After sharing all her difficult experiences, Silvia was worried that newcomers, especially women and young mothers, might get discouraged about coming to Manitoba. She wants to emphasize that even if she went through some difficulties, she is happy that she came here. “Everything that happened in the past happened for a reason. It’s for me to grow up. I think it also happened so that I can help others. I want to do that,” she said.

She also continues to be optimistic about her goals in life. “I have many plans! I want to go to school. I need to decide if I want to continue being a teacher (she was a pre-school teacher in her home country). I also want to work or volunteer for a program that helps newcomers, mothers, or seniors,” she said. In the meantime, she continues to persevere in her English classes so that she could fulfill her plans.

She has this message for newcomers and those who are thinking of moving to Canada:
“The one thing is to be always positive. It’s important to be positive because if not, you will never live your life here, you will never enjoy the weather or the people around you. Winnipeg is a beautiful place especially if you’re a young parent. It’s a good place for my baby to grow up in. We have schools and parks around, and many things for him to do. What I really like about Winnipeg is that it’s quiet. It’s a very safe place and the people are very gentle. It’s really amazing and it’s a blessing to be here.”

“Also be patient because things don’t happen in one day. It’s a long process and you need to read about it. Do your research. Don’t just say, ‘oh my friend told me this and that,’ each person or family is different. Don’t just watch YouTube videos because not everything they say is true for everyone. (The process of) applying and living is Canada is not easy but it’s good. I’ve lived here for almost three years, and for me it’s a good experience because it’s a beautiful place, a beautiful city. Just be positive,” Silvia said.