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Blazing a trail Mercedes Ruiz works to make the path to Halifax easier for Mexican newcomers!

A few years ago, Mercedes Ruiz and husband Carlos Berumen decided to leave Mexico and build a new life elsewhere. It wasn’t a new concept for Ruiz’s family; her aunt had moved to Nova Scotia years before, and her mother had lived in the U.S. when she was younger. It could have been difficult to share the news with her mother, who has returned to Mexico, but Ruiz says her mother was their “first supporter.” She says her response to the announcement was: “That’s the best thing you can do. Things are not good right now here. If that’s what you want, work on that.’” First, they had to decide where to go. Ruiz was working as a psychologist, but her husband was working for the Canadian embassy, so it made sense to explore Canada. They attended an embassy presentation on moving to Canada. It piqued their interest but they worried about the idea of a harsh Canadian winter.

That’s when Ruiz’s aunt stepped in. While her aunt was back in Mexico for a visit, Ruiz’s mother arranged a lunch meeting so that Ruiz could get more information on moving to Canada. After a long chat, Ruiz’s aunt invited Ruiz and her family to come experience winter in Nova Scotia for themselves. Ruiz took her up on the offer, and they arranged a visit from December 24 to 30, 2011. It turns out that they didn’t mind the cold. “It is cold, but it’s only cold outside,” says Ruiz. “In Mexico, when it’s cold, it’s cold everywhere, because we don’t have heating systems or anything. “While the winter visit relieved their biggest fear related to Canada, it did nothing for their opinion of Halifax. “We absolutely hated Halifax,” says Ruiz. “It was like a sad city. It was just dull. My husband described all the buildings as gray—they probably weren’t gray, really. Everything just seemed sad and dull. We didn’t like that. It wasn’t really the weather. It was more like not being able to do much and being indoors.”

Halifax didn’t win them over, but they still decided to move to Canada. Because Berumen is fluent in English, Spanish, and French, they were eligible for a pilot immigration program through the Fédération des communautés francophones et acadienne du Canada, so they applied and were invited to visit Halifax again. This time they came in August. “We absolutely fell in love with the city,” says Ruiz. “There were tons of people in the streets. Tons of activities on the waterfront. Tons of sun. I remember the bright blue sky, which we don’t have in Mexico City because of all the pollution and everything. We were surrounded by nature, and it was a city that was alive and happy. With the kindness of the people, we were like, ‘Yeah we love this. Everybody’s going to help us.’ “When they got home, they applied to the program to become provincial nominees. “They recognized us as part of their community,” says Ruiz. “Then we sent [the document with the statement of recognition] with our regular papers to the provincial government and became provincial nominees. Their status as provincial nominees gave them permanent residency status, and they arrived in Halifax shortly after. When they arrived, however, they didn’t get the support they expected. “I don’t know if this happens to every immigrant or not, but before we moved, we felt everyone was going to be there for us,” says Ruiz. “Everybody was going to support us and help us in any single way that they could. We thought because we came through the French community there was going to be lots of support with them and we were going to be able to find jobs really easily and really fast.” Instead, they felt like they were on their own—A circumstance made more difficult with Ruiz’s late-stage pregnancy and difficulty finding work.

It took [my husband] over six months to actually get a job,” she says. “He kept on trying, but he couldn’t get anything. He actually moved to Calgary because he had a friend over there that got him a job. My daughter and I stayed here, so I was here on my own, where I didn’t know anyone, with a three-month-old baby”. Berumen did landscaping in Calgary for a short time, but was laid off when the snow kept coming and work didn’t pick up. So, he came back to Halifax and got a job doing waterproofing work for six months. He eventually found a permanent position working as facilities and maintenance manager at Nortel. Berumen’s been at Nortel for about three years now, but Ruiz still hasn’t found work in her field. So, she created her own job.

After working in payroll, and then for the police department, she decided to pursue a new interest in hypnobirthing, a method of self-hypnosis that helps women control pain during childbirth. She started teaching other classes related to childbirth and early parenthood, and eventually became a doula. “I started my business because I haven’t been able to find a job as a counselor, but I’m really passionate about this,” says Ruiz. “I feel that being a doula with my psychology background is the perfect mix. Right now, I’m not even sure if I want to go back to counseling.” Not long after Ruiz and Berumen really settled into life in Nova Scotia, Berumen heard about Carlos Castillo, a Mexican who would be arriving in Nova Scotia with his partner in about six months. Ruiz and Berumen set up a series of Skype meetings with him, sharing their experiences and helping him write his résumé in a Canada-friendly way. “They gave us very valuable counsel,” says Castillo. “They told us about the cost of living in Halifax, provided some examples of the cost of rent and groceries and things like that. They also helped me make some friends in advance so that when we landed here, we already had some idea of where to go, where to find a place to live, things like that.”

When Castillo and his partner arrived in 2015, Ruiz and Berumen offered the kind of support they’d been hoping for. They first met over dinner, about a week after Castillo arrived. “We didn’t have any bad experiences when we arrived,” he says. “It was the opposite. Instead of being a challenging experience, it was a very, very nice experience, because everything was new and exciting. This is a new country, a new culture, and there are a lot of things going on here. We’re still enjoying everything. “Just about a year after arriving in the province, Castillo landed a job in his field, working in procurement for the provincial government. “Having this job has made everything easier for us,” he says. “It has secured our ability to stay here in Halifax because we were thinking before about maybe moving to another big city. But when I got this job, that changed immediately. “Castillo was just the first of many people Ruiz and Berumen have helped settle in Nova Scotia. “My husband and I are very social,” says Ruiz. “We decided to do a gathering just for Mexicans. Our goal was to help people when they come here, either as students or permanent residents, so that they wouldn’t have to go through what we did.

“There were about 10 or 15 people at the first gathering. Word spread after that, and there were about 40 people at the next one. It continued to grow, and now Ruiz offers support through a Facebook group called Mexicanos En Halifax in addition to hosting annual gatherings. “Building a support network is really important,” she says. “You need to find people that you can relate to and trust. When you’re here, you’re on your own. You don’t have that family. It’s really important to find that connection with someone. That’s what we try to do with the group too. I don’t want everyone to be best friends with me because maybe they won’t like me and that’s fine. Just to be able to find and to make connections with other people that feel the same way and think the same way because of our culture.”

About Sarah Sawler

Sarah Sawler
Sarah is a Halifax journalist and web writer. Her work has appeared in a variety of Canadian magazines, including Atlantic Business, East Coast Living, and Quill & Quire.

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