The dancer and social worker Carla Neto is one of those people who, when you mention her name in a circle of friends from the community, receives an avalanche of praise. And for good reason. After all, this Angolan-Canadian is dedicated heart and soul to the Portuguese language and culture and to girls and women who are victims of domestic violence in Toronto.
By Juliana D. | Translated by Loretta Murphy
Born in Malanje, Angola, Carla Neto came to Canada in 1987, with the objective of living with her father in Ottawa and studying. At the beginning, the adjustment was difficult. “The first eight months were very difficult, mainly because I didn’t speak English and, though I was living with my father, I felt very isolated. I longed for my mother, my friends and family,” says Carla. But Carla was able to transform the obstacles into learning: “The first thing I noticed, and it was very different from Angola, was that I didn’t know my neighbours. People barely communicated. My father worked nights and I studied during the day, so I felt the lack of socializing with friends and neighbours even more. I used the solitude to concentrate on learning English. I watched a lot of TV, and it also helped me improve my language skills.”
In search of more opportunities, Carla and her father moved from Ottawa to Toronto later on. The multiculturalism of the metropolis made them feel less distant from the Angolan culture and identity. Carla then realized that there were not only differences between the Angolan and Canadian cultures: “In the beginning, I did not notice the similarities between the two cultures. Because I think the thing I feared most was losing my Angolan / African identity. Later, I realized that there are shared values between the two cultures, which manifest themselves differently. For example, both the Canadian and the Angolan people are hospitable. However, they differ from each other in how they show hospitality. The Angolan is more outgoing, and the Canadian, more reserved. ”
Carla is not only admired for her samba dance moves, but also for the exemplary work she performs at YWCA Toronto, a feminist organization dedicated to improving the lives of young girls, women and their children. Carla began working at the organization as an intern in her fourth year of Social Work at Ryerson University. Today, she manages an emergency shelter for women and children victimized by domestic violence. “We help women and girls escape violence, we help them seek safe and permanent housing, look for jobs, find their voices, improve skills and develop confidence. We have housing programs, community support programs, programs for girls and programs for families. We also devote efforts to making systemic changes that reduce the oppression of women,” she explains.
Carla Neto reciprocates the recognition that the receives from the community, with the generosity that is so peculiar to her: “I would like to thank the Brazilian community for having welcomed me and adopting me from the very beginning, in 1989, when I felt most lost. I love this community and I have a great affinity with it, because we share many cultural values. My children are Brazilian citizens, and I always say that I have Brazil in my heart. It is with great honour and responsibility that I have often represented the Brazilian culture as best I could, through samba, which is rooted in the ‘semba’, and through my dance company The Samba Connection. Tania Nuttall, who entrusted me with the responsibility and the job of Artistic Director for four years for Brazilian Day Canada. Angela Mesquita, who relies on the work that The Samba Connection does at her events. The Wave Magazine, for the consideration and for this interview. To my Brazilian friends, who have been family to me, too many to mention, but I would like to thank a Brazilian who is particularly super-special to me, my godmother and Bahian sister Celia Shimanuki. God bless you!”
To learn more about the YWCA and to volunteer in one of its programs, visit www.ywcatoronto.org.