My Canadian immigrant story: From Chile to Montreal

August 31, 2017

By Jessica Murphy, BBC |

The BBC is running a series looking at the immigrant experience in Canada and the ties immigration creates between nations. In this third story, we look at growing up in a new country.

Karin Arroyo’s family arrived in Montreal in 1979 from Valparaiso, Chile.

The young family was fleeing the Pinochet dictatorship in the South American country, though politics were lost on the three-year-old who was just excited to see her father. He had landed in Canada six months before.

Edmundo Arroyo-Fuentes had travelled to Montreal in October 1978, telling his extended family he was heading to Spain and not Canada, where he would seek political asylum.

Chileans who opposed Augusto Pinochet had learned to be cautious when seeking asylum after the brazen 1976 assassination of Orlando Letelier.

Letelier, a prominent opponent of military rule in Chile, was killed in a car bombing on the streets of Washington DC by agents linked to the Pinochet regime, suggesting his power extended beyond Chile’s borders.

So the Arroyo family – Karin, her mother and her eight-year-old brother – waited for news. A call finally came. They were to join their father.

For three-year-old Karin, there was the excitement of taking her first flight, of seeing the new apartment and its high ceilings – “it seemed almost magical” – and fridge full of food.

She recalls her father wanting to show his two children snow for the first time but that most had melted by that spring.

He’d found a patch of it behind a local church in a corner where the sun never hit.

That patch wasn’t much – icy and granular, patched grey with pollution.

“And my dad is so happy and so proud to show us this little thing of snow and it’s like the dirtiest thing I’ve ever seen in my life,” she recalls.

“Of course when it finally ended up snowing several months later – oh my god it’s fantastic. It’s white and fluffy.”

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