B.C.’s immigrants giving voice to their own stories

June 25, 2017

By Joanne Lee-Young, Vancouver Sun |

Lino Coria is a Vancouver engineer who develops computer vision algorithms. But to tens of thousands of YouTube users in his native Mexico and across Latin America, he’s better known for talking about the life of his young family in Port Moody.

Coria has fans. His wife, Marcela de la Pena, was shopping for Halloween costumes at Value Village in Coquitlam last year when a stranger came up to their daughters, Julia and Emilia, now nine and four-years old.

” ‘Are these Lino Coria’s kids?!’ She had seen them in his videos before she moved here (from Mexico) to study,” said de la Pena.

Chatting in Spanish to his followers — about everything from bear-proof garbage cans to grad school programs to choosing public transit over buying another car — helps Coria think about what it means to be an immigrant building a life in B.C.

There is growing awareness of the value of hearing and recording stories like Coria’s. They are the kinds of observations that can easily get lost when immigration is examined only through an academic lens, which tends to focus on the historical or economic impact of each successive, major wave of newcomers.

Immigrants’ stories told in their own words “are important because it doesn’t always work to see ourselves in the version of history that is jammed from above,” said Henry Yu, a UBC professor of history.

Yu said that starting in 1967, the year of Canada’s centennial, there was a pervasive sense “that we are a bilingual nation, English and French, and everyone else is an immigrant. Prior to this, (our identity) was about being part of the British Empire.”

Now, in this moment of celebrating Canada’s 150th year, said Yu, we should reflect on how our national fabric is much more complex than it is often described. And immigrants’ recollections convey nuances that timelines and chronologies can’t.

Individual “stories allow for the reality of more complicated migration from other parts of the world, that include third and fourth moves, such as South Asians who were in Africa before arriving here or Chinese that were third-generation in Trinidad. We should take stock of who we are and all the complex stories.”

‘TAKING THE TRAIN’

For Coria, thinking about what viewers in his homeland want to know about living in B.C. lets him stay close to places that are familiar to him, like Guadalajara, Mexico, where he grew up before arriving in Vancouver in 2003 to do his PhD at the University of B.C.

“I talk about taking the train to go to work. It’s not that I don’t have money to get a car. But public transit is terrible in Mexico, so people there don’t understand that (here) I get to work faster and can relax and use one less car. So I talk about that.”

Making the videos also reminds him how he can be perceived differently. “When I speak English, I’m an immigrant. When I speak in Spanish, I’m a privileged Mexican.”

A big part of the appeal of making his popular videos is the opportunity to show that there is a variety of immigrant stories, something that often isn’t acknowledged.

“People think of immigrants, sometimes, in a very cartoon-y way,” said Coria. “That they come and do jobs that no one wants to do. Sometimes, that is true. Or that everybody is happy and successful because they came to make life better. But (immigrants) are also just living their life.”

The Pacific Canada Heritage Centre Museum is an example of efforts to increase awareness about the diversity of immigrant experiences.

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