Why Canada became the best option for many Brazilian families.
By Marta Almeida
In the 150 years since becoming Canada, the question of immigration is an obligatory chapter of the history of this immense and generous country. Built on the sweat of many immigrant communities, Canada is proud of its diversity and recognizes, like few other nations, the importance of citizens who were not born here, but consider this their home country. Brazilians of course, are put in this context even though the Brazilian community is smaller when compared to other immigrant communities. Today there is an estimated 55,000 Brazilians living in Canada, born here and descendants of Brazilians. The largest concentrations are in Quebec, Ontario, and British Columbia. To commemorate the 150 Years, Wave magazine took a short trip of the main migratory waves of Brazilians to Canada, highlighting families that are completely integrated to the rhythm of Canadian life and will not change this country for any other.
Who were the first Brazilians to immigrate to Canada? In a community where no one knows for certain how many we are today, this is a difficult question to answer. There does not exist a registry of the first Brazilians to arrive here, but we know that at the end of the 70’s some families came because of jobs in the mining industry. But at that time some Brazilians had already traded the tropics for the ice lands of Canada because they wanted more security and quality of life.
That was the case for Regina Filippov who arrived in 1968 and is one of the founders of Wave Magazine – a magazine for the Brazilian community in Canada, the oldest in circulation. Originally from Campos but Carioca at heart, she moved to Montreal after a brief period in Australia. “We left Brazil during the dictatorship and Canada was a great option due to personal security and work prospects. Something that Brazil did not have in the 60’s,” says Regina.
After Montreal, she moved to Hamilton, Welland, Mississauga and finally Toronto, where she had more contact with Brazilians. Almost 50 years and two grown children later (Sandi and Mike), she is dedicated to her only grandchild. Sofia is the reason that she does not even think of going back to Brazil to live. Even though her daughter Sandi lives in Rio de Janeiro and her son Mike is always saying that if he could, he would live in Rio, Regina who has already tried living in Brazil again, does not hesitate in saying; “I do not regret choosing Canada.”
The 1980’s was when Brazil went through one if its worst economic crises. Inflation at 80%, high unemployment, and low wages. It was difficult to build a meaningful life and have assets in the country. The youth had no hope and for some, the only light at the end of the tunnel was the airport. Daily flights to the United States left full of men and women in search of the North American ‘Eldorado’. Requirements for the American tourist Visa were intensified and a group of people from Minas Gerais found a new destination: Canada, which didn’t even require Brazilians to have a tourist Visa!!
It was a race against time. Hundreds of youths left their families and landed in Toronto. Some still at the Canadian airport, on the advice of friends, went directly to immigration upon landing seeking economic refugee status. The demand was so great that Canada shut its doors: they started to require for Brazilians to have a tourist Visa and many applications were firmly denied. Those able to enter had to adapt to a new reality: a country with a totally different culture, but full of opportunities. Many did not have documentation, and they found themselves in “survival jobs”. In construction and cleaning is where Brazilians were able to integrate in Canada.
Nilton Barbosa arrived in 1987. He was single and needed to help his family in Brazil where he left his mother and young siblings behind. He spent hours being interrogated at the airport when he arrived, but he was let go. Not speaking fluent English he worked as an aide to Italian and Portuguese carpenters. When he got his papers he got a more stable job at a construction company that did jobs for the government. The minus 30-degree weather was the greatest challenge. “It is very beautiful to see, but not to be outside in all day,” he says. All the hard work paid off within one year when he was able to purchase a home for his mother in Brazil. “I was so happy.” Today Nilton is retired and has his own renovation company. Married to Glauciene and father of Emily and William, he does not think of going back. “Canada is my country, where I live and had great opportunities in life and work and continue to every day. Here I have my home, my family, and my children, who are a blessing from God.”
In recent years, a new migratory wave of Brazilians to Canada brought families approved in the immigration process that starts in Brazil. These are ‘skilled workers’, professionals with fluent English and with experience in areas that are not being filled by the Canadian population. Aline and Cristiano fit into this category. The two spent their honeymoon in Canada and returned to Brazil decided on getting a residency Visa in Canada.
Aline is an event and tourism manager and Cristiano is a supply analyst. In just 11 months they received their Visas. They sold everything they had and moved to Canada in 2009. The first years, as always, were difficult. “The ‘Canadian Experience’ was a deception seeing as you needed it to enter the work market in your field. For the newly arrived, it is almost impossible,” remembers Aline. The two needed to get lesser jobs until they got opportunities in their respective fields.
Slowly everything came together and their family grew. Manuela was born in 2014 and helped them get over their greatest difficulty: being away from family and friends. Making new friendships also helped in this area: “We are active members of a Brazilian church in Toronto, which has helped us to stay in contact with our culture. We have also made great friendships there” says Cristiano. “Brazil will always be our motherland, and we like to think that we can go back whenever we wish,” says Cristiano who concludes: Today Canada is our nation too. Officially we became citizens in November of 2013. At the citizenship ceremony, the judge recited a phrase by the Minister of Alberta: Becoming a citizen of a new homeland is like a marriage. You choose your partner and marry them, but you never stop loving your mom.”