The Spanish-Speaking
Latin American Community*

By: Marcela S. Duran

From: Polyphony Vol.6, 1984 pp. 186-188
© 1984 Multicultural History Society of Ontario

*This article is based on an M.A. thesis written by the author entitled, "Values and Education: a Study of the Spanish-Speaking Latin American Children in the Junior Schools of Metropolitan Toronto," University of Toronto,1975.

The Spanish Latin American community is perhaps one of the newest groups of immigrants in Toronto. This group of immigrants has increased, between 1968-75, to approximately 50,000 in Canada, according to the estimates of community organizations, of whom the majority reside in Toronto. The bigger groups come from Ecuador and Colombia. There are also several groups of Uruguayans and Argentinians and, recently, an increasing number of Chileans with smaller groups from Central America, namely, Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras.

Their social origin, in general, also varies from that of some other immigrant groups. They come from different sectors of the Latin American middle class, ranging from highly qualified professionals to owners of small shops and civil servants. Most of them have left their country for economic reasons, with the exception, perhaps, of the people from Uruguay and Chile, who have also had political motivation (I am not speaking here of the refugees, but of those who have come through regular immigration procedures). Many of the immigrants have had previous experience in the United States, working there illegally on tourist visas. After returning to their home countries, they realise that the immigration quotas of the United States are very low and that it is easier to apply for a visa to Canada. This country presents an "image of stability" in contrast with the United States, and many times this is a main reason for choosing Canada instead.

For some reason they tend to settle during their first months in downtown Toronto. This is the place of first settlement for the Italians and Portuguese as well. Perhaps this is because it is near the immigration offices, perhaps because public transportation seems to be more available in those areas. They live in flats or rooms, sharing accommodations with other Latin American, Italian and Portuguese families. Because of the similarities of languages, many learn Italian or Portuguese before learning English and many times get their first jobs through recommendations by members of these two older communities, who now act as landlords to the newcomers. In this sense they also "share" the experience of being immigrants with these other communities and so create the first social links outside of their own groups.

After a period of some months they realise that living in flats downtown is very expensive, and they move to apartment buildings in different parts of Toronto. When they move to their second residence, they tend to live near their fellow-countrymen. For example, many Ecuadorians live in the Weston Road, Finch and Keele area, a considerable number of Chileans in Etobicoke and Don Mills, etc.

Apart from the professionals, who try to qualify again in order to work in their professions, most of them work in factories in the city. The fact that they had not worked as labourers before made their assimilation process more difficult. They tend to change jobs very easily in search of something where they will feel more at ease. Men working in factories without any experience at this type of work are prone to have more accidents. I have encountered many cases of these workers drawing
compensation, many of them with neurotic reactions to manual labour (an example would be the case of a man with the loss of movement in one of his legs, mainly because of nervous tension although thinking it is because of the accident he had at his work place). It is not that these people did not know they would be doing such jobs in Canada. Rather, many of them, when they decided to come, were so highly motivated by the better material conditions that they did not think of the cost to them of their decisions. Since they were not workers in their home countries they feel very detached from the factory as a place of work. It is interesting to note that they use direct translations from English when they refer to the factory (e. g. factoria, instead of the Spanish fabrica, usina, or industria). This could be interpreted as a way of denying their present reality.

Socially, Latin Americans here tend to organise themselves into national groups, mainly sports organisations, and of these soccer leagues in particular. This is very much what many of them would have belonged to back in their homelands. Most of these sports organisations are supported by the consulates of the individual native countries. Women are often excluded from these clubs, which makes social activities very much male dominated.

Their dress here is not particularly colourful, but the women do not wear black as often as other immigrant women do, even if they are widows. Many of them are people who come from urban communities which, although not as developed as Toronto, would share some of its characteristics. The Latin American community has two centres which provide services to its members. The Bloor-Bathurst Information Centre is mainly a centre that informs and gives interpreting and counselling services for those members of the community who require them, but also provides for the needs of other immigrants living in the area. The second centre is the Centre for Spanish Speaking People located on Dupont Street. This centre has wider services than the Bloor-Bathurst one and is intended to aid in fulfilling different needs of the community. It carries a diversity of programs, ranging from counselling and orientation services to handicraft workshops, English classes for adults, Spanish classes for children and legal and medical aid clinics.

Most of the families of Latin American origin living in Toronto are young couples between twenty and forty years of age. Their children are quite young. In many cases both parents work in factories. The children either stay at home under the care of another immigrant mother, or attend schools and take care of themselves when they come home. Some parents work two shifts in the factories in order to improve their economic situation quicker. When the mother stays at home, she is very isolated because she does not have the opportunity to learn the language as quickly as her husband or children do. This creates a different understanding of the realities that could be shared between the various members of the family. Because generally speaking, the Latin American family, as an institution, is a very important one for the life of each individual, the mother who stays at home misses the company of relatives (mainly her mother) very much with whom to communicate. Neighbourhood life becomes very restricted because of the language problem and because of the tendency of Latin Americans to live in more dispersed numbers than other immigrant groups. The reason for this could also be the fact that they have not come in large groups at the same time, but have been steadily arriving as families or as individuals.

Return to home page

Website design: TG Magazine, 1996