Vernon's Spanish-speaking immigrants sharing culture with Canadians through language | iNFOnews | Thompson-Okanagan's News Source

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Vernon's Spanish-speaking immigrants sharing culture with Canadians through language

An IloveSpanish graduation celebration event.
Image Credit: SUBMITTED/Aida Sanchez
October 13, 2021 - 7:00 AM

The creator of a Facebook page providing tips and tricks for Spanish speakers to adjust to Canadian culture says the immigrants are also influencing the community through language.

Aida Sanchez, creator of the Mexicanos en el Okanagan Facebook page and a native Spanish speaker herself, said immigrants enjoy the Okanagan's milder weather, opportunities provided for school at an affordable cost through Okanagan College as well as skilled work opportunities through the Rural and Northern Immigration Pilot Project.

Originally from Mexico, she immigrated to Canada to be with her family and landed a job in Vernon helping others immigrate to the region.

Vernon’s population currently has 43,315 and a regional population of 90,850. According to its 2020 profile, Vernon has 160 fluent Spanish speakers, roughly 4% of the population. Sanchez said the North Okanagan's population of speakers is growing.

Most of the immigrants she's worked with are from Mexico, she said, and wanted to start the Facebook group to help Spanish speakers feel comfortable in a virtual safe space because they can read news and get essential information that they need in their own language that is provided by people who understand their needs and have the same cultural background.

People who are immigrating to the Okanagan are either skilled workers or students, she said. Sometimes they also sell everything they have for a chance for a safer life.

“The perspectives of Canadians people is good because many Canadians, even in these areas, live in Mexico and have retirement places there,” she said.

Social media is also influencing immigration to Canada, with YouTubers sharing resources on costs of immigrating to Canada as well as resources to help immigrants, Sanchez said.

“This is a new social phenomenon going on now."

In addition to the Facebook group, native Spanish speakers are also offering language classes to Okanagan residents who can utilize them on their travels through a program called IloveSpanish. Sanchez’s Facebook page currently has more than 2,000 likes and its Spanish-speaking group has more than 100 members.

With more immigrants in the community, it might encourage residents who are not accustomed to different communities to be more open to multiculturalism, she said, adding Mexico’s influence was already well established in the city as seen with various restaurants.

“That’s why we’re teaching Spanish to Canadian people because lots of the people in town are wealthy and have places in Mexico and I think it’s helping them to practice their Spanish too and have fun,” she said.

The Rural and Northern Immigration Pilot Project is also helping immigrants relocate to the North Okanagan, she said.

“I think it’s really good because they’re bringing good people,” she said, adding immigrants are searching for the Canadian dream, meaning a safe place for themselves and their families as well as the outdoor experiences.

The Rural and Northern Immigration Pilot Project was launched last year to bring much-needed skilled workers to the North Okanagan. So far, it has endorsed 96 applicants. The pilot program, administered by Community Futures North Okanagan, ends in December, 2022.

“Those folks will also come with accompanied spouses or children that will contribute to our labour market,” said executive director Leigha Horsfield.

“In terms of the need, employers of every section of our economy... are in many cases, desperate to attract labour and the Rural and Northern Immigration Pilot is one of the shining lights in the very dark sky of a labour shortage that we’re able to support employers in accessing skilled labour from foreign nationals,” she said. “It’s already contributed with assisting with our community's diversity.”

The aim was to reach 100 applicants per year, but COVID-19 has made it challenging, she said.

The City of Vernon was one of just 11 communities across the country to take part in the pilot project which is an initiative of the federal government to get skilled immigrant workers to move to small and rural communities because currently, the vast majority of emigrants to Canada settle in the country's biggest cities.

READ MORE: COVID kiboshes intake in North Okanagan immigration project

— This story was corrected at 11:26 a.m. Thursday, Oct. 14, 2021 to remove the number of fluent B.C. Spanish speakers as the number was incorrect.

To contact a reporter for this story, email Carli Berry or call 250-864-7494 or email the editor. You can also submit photos, videos or news tips to the newsroom and be entered to win a monthly prize draw.

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