Journalist, writer and woman of the letters and arts.
Maybe you have never heard about Rita Espechit, but Brazilian children and teens have been enjoying the creativity of this former medical student turned a journalist, writer and woman of the letters and arts for years now. In 2001, she left Belo Horizonte, scared with the sudden wave of violence that reached the capital of Minas Gerais state in the mid 90’s. She came with her family and settled in Edmonton, Alberta, and now she tells us a bit about the challenges of this new phase in her successful life.
Why did you choose Edmonton?
Rita Espechit – We picked it because of its size and strong economy. Here it’s easy to come and go, and people who don’t know you say “hello”, talk to you. There is a tradition of helping each other. I really like it here. Though sometimes the conservatives bother me. It’s a kind of mild conservatism, different, but it’s there, present and this bothers me.
I’m not a visible minority, but I’m an audible minority.
What do you like / dislike about Canada?
Rita Espechit – In Brazil, we live in a high tension mode and here the voltage is different, and I like this. The multiculturalism is also a positive thing, though I feel that it’s a confusing concept, especially when we are talking about cultural policies. The government makes a bit of a crazy salad with this idea. One example is this definition of “visible minority”. People can’t just look at me and see I’m not from here. But I’m an “audible minority”. When I open my mouth, the discrimination starts (laughs). Of course, if I compare Canada with other countries, we live in a paradise for immigrants, but there is still plenty of room for improvements.
But what really bothers me is the electoral system. You only vote in your area and, if your candidate doesn’t win, your vote goes straight to the garbage can. It creates an incredible distortion. Ultimately, power is measured by the number of seats in Parliament when the total number of votes for NDP can be much greater than the number of seats they get. The system is designed in such a way that it only keeps the status quo.
What has been your biggest challenge?
Rita Espechit – I don’t believe in borders, so I feel quite at home here. My challenge is my profession, because it’s based on the Portuguese language. I used to be Rita Espechit and suddenly was just “Alice’s mother” (laughs). But I like this challenge. When I came I was 40 years old. I left behind a stable job, a comfortable and predictable life. The move revitalized me. I was solidifying and suddenly had to break everything up again. This is good for your brain. I learnt a lot moving to a new country.
I really miss the traditional clay water filter.
Do you miss anything from Brazil?
Rita Espechit – I really miss the traditional clay water filter. I want to bring one… And I miss people. I thought I lived a universal life and found out that much of it was just Brazilian. The great ability Brazilians have of improvising, for example. We see it as a bad thing, but it also shows that we are a creative people and I could only properly understand this here.
How well did your daughter, settle in?
Rita Espechit – Alice was ten years old when we came and this is like the age limit for immigrating as a kid. Any older than this, it gets quite complicated. She had some issues in the beginning at a school with no other immigrants and a teacher who was lenient with bullying. But the problem vanished as soon as we enrolled her in a more diverse school. Alice made friends here and picked up the language quickly. She will finish High School this year and will travel for a year in Brazil and Europe. Then she wants to study to be a Librarian.
What would you say are the “must do” activities for newcomers?
Rita Espechit – As a “colonized” woman, I had some North-American fantasies that came true: I saw a film in a drive-in and travelled throughout Quebec, Nova Scotia and New Brunswick in an RV. It was incredible! The Rockies are also a “must do”. We think Minas Gerais has mountains, but the Rockies are huge and amazingly beautiful. For food, in Edmonton, you can’t go without trying Ukrainian cuisine. It’s delicious![hr]
Rita Espechit conquered many important awards in Brazil with her written word, including a João de Barro and a Prêmio Jabuti. She also has three collections of poems, 13 children’s books, one dictionary for kids and a series of eight educational titles on the Brazilian bookstore shelves in Brazil.
She is now on the brink of conquering the Canadian audience. Rita is the current Writer in Residence for the Writer in Exile program from PEN Canada in Edmonton. The author achieved first prize in the Poetry by New Canadians contest with her poem A Guide for an ESL-Friendly Language. Her play They’re Not Like You and Me was produced by Sprouts New Play Festival for Kids in Edmonton and Rita was also a collaborator for the book The Story that Brought me Here. Some of her poems and essays can also been seen in many different literary magazines in Canada.