by Diego Ibarra from Halifax, NS

I was born and raised in Mexico City… a 20-million people, hyper-hectic, and dangerous corner of the world. Nine years ago, I traveled for the first time outside of Mexico as part of a student exchange program. It is easy to understand how culture-shocked I was when I arrived to my foster home in the coastal community of Botwood, Newfoundland; a little town with a population size comparable to the student population of my high school. It is a place buried between the wild boreal forest and the roughed Atlantic Ocean that is, evidently, the complete opposite corner from my home, Mexico City. 

Back then I didn’t speak much English and after listening to the thick, almost incomprehensible accent of the Botwood locals, I thought, “Oh boy, it’s going to be a long summer”. 

Although I didn’t know anybody in town, the news of the newly arrived Mexican student spread around so fast that before I had the chance to finish unpacking, I received my first invitation, from complete strangers, to go to their house for a cup of tea. The invitation came from Wally and his wife Maria from Ecuador. The same Wally and Maria that phoned you a few weeks ago for the Vinyl Cafe call in show. 

Wally and Maria spoke to me in Spanish when I really needed it and it was Wally & Maria who told me go to the waterfront and hike the trail on the peninsula.

The next day I went down to the waterfront and hiked the peninsula and found a series of man-made caves. They were abandoned military refuges from the war. The caves were dark, hidden, private places, surrounded by thick, bomb-proof, concrete walls. It was the absolute perfect place to practice my recently purchased flute.

A few weeks later at the cave, I got an unexpected visit from the local bike gang, about 15 kids on bicycles ranging in age from 9 to 13. They were all staring at me, as if they had never seen a Mexican flute player practicing in a cave before.  

They came in and curiously asked me all kinds of questions starting with “Where are you from?” and followed by more challenging questions like ”Is it true that if I rob a bank I should go to Mexico because police will never find me there?” or “Can you play any Guns ‘N’ Roses on that flute?”. 

After 5 or 10 minutes of questions they got back on their bikes and took off. Five seconds later the smallest of the kids came back on his bike. “I have one last question!” he said, “How do you say ‘”piss off” in Spanish?” I peered at him and I asked, “How old are you?” “Nine” he replied. So I told the kid “piss off in Spanish is: Te quiero mucho” 

“Te quiero mucho?” he said. “Yes,” I said. “Perfect.”

And off he went flying on his bike not having a clue that he just learned how to say, “I love you so much” in Spanish!

I didn’t realize what I had done until next morning when Wally and Maria’s daughter phoned me and told me that that every single kid in Botwood between ages 7 and 15 were openly, verbally and rather aggressively… loving each other! In Spanish!

I went back to Mexico shortly after that and I haven’t been back in Botwood since that summer in 1998 but my time in Newfoundland fundamentally changed the way I see things: It doesn’t matter how tough or how rough or how cold it gets, they always made it possible to view life in a positive, friendly and warm manner. And I am happy to tell you that tomorrow, at last, I will be submitting my application for permanent residency in Canada. I will finally be an authentic Mexicanadian.