Roll over Si­mon Bo­li­var

WAV­ING THE FLAGS | Lati­nos don’t rally un­der just one Span­ish-speak­ing Cana­di­ans now make up the third-largest eth­nic mi­nor­ity But for many, it’s a frag­mented and fre­netic ex­is­tence, writes Oak­land Ross

Toronto Star - - Gta -

Si­mon Bo­li­var fi­nally de­spaired of ever unit­ing South Amer­ica un­der just one flag — a task he likened to “ plough­ing the sea.”

That was in 1830, a month or so be­fore the great Latin Amer­i­can lib­er­a­tor died, but some things never seem to change.

Just ask Mauri­cio Ospina. A year ago, the for­mer den­tal stu­dent from the Colom­bian town of Ar­me­nia — who now works at Queen’s Park, pro­mot­ing On­tario ex­ports — was pres­i­dent of some­thing called the Colom­bianPro­fes­sion­als As­so­ci­a­tion. Ospina thought he saw a chance to make the group more in­clu­sive and in­flu­en­tial.

First, he changed its name, drop­ping the ref­er­ence to his home­land. Next, he threw open the doors, not just to Colom­bianCana­di­ans, but to Venezue­lans, Gu­atemalans, Mex­i­cans, Ar­gen­tines, Cubans, you name it — the whole His­panic- Cana­dian en­chi­lada. By work­ing to­gether in the same or­ga­ni­za­tion, Latino pro­fes­sion­als stood to gain some much-needed Cana­dian clout — or so Ospina thought.

There was just one prob­lem.

It didn’t work. Now un­der new lead­er­ship, the group re­cently re­verted to its old name and to its orig­i­nal Colom­bi­a­cen­tric iden­tity.

“ The new boss de­cided to fo­cus on one coun­try,” says Ospina, who has since moved on to other projects aimed at pro­mot­ing Canada’s 700,000-strong His­panic com­mu­nity. “ I think it’s sad, but it’s a re­al­ity.”

Roll over Si­mon Bo­li­var — and wel­come to the fre­netic but frag­mented world of Lati­nos liv­ing abroad. By some es­ti­mates, Span­ish­s­peak­ing Cana­di­ans now make up the third- largest eth­nic mi­nor­ity in the land, af­ter Chi­nese and South Asians. Most live in south­ern On­tario, mainly in Toronto, where some­thing worth talk­ing about is hap­pen­ing in Span­ish ev­ery day of the week. But you wouldn’t nec­es­sar­ily know it by look­ing around, be­cause the po­lit­i­cal in­flu­ence and phys­i­cal vis­i­bil­ity of Toronto’s Lati­nos con­tinue to lag be­hind their fast- grow­ing num­bers and for one main rea­son. Un­like other im­mi­grant groups — each with just one mother coun­try to toast with teary nos­tal­gia each time an­other na­tional day rolls around — Lati­nos in Canada have a grand to­tal of 20 home­lands.

Twenty- one if you in­clude Por­tugue­ses­peak­ing Brazil, which not ev­ery­body does. The re­sult is a lot of nar­rowly de­fined groups pulling in a lot of dif­fer­ent di­rec­tions.

“ Within the Latin com­mu­nity, there is too much go­ing on in bits and pieces,” says Roberto Haus­man, a Uruguayan- Cana­dian who hosts Latin Life, a weekly TV pro­gram on the AChan­nel show­cas­ing the lo­cal His­panic com­mu­nity for an English­s­peak­ing au­di­ence. “ There are too many lit­tle groups do­ing too many lit­tle things.” As Bo­li­var dis­cov­ered two cen­turies ago, Lati­nos don’t tend to rally be­hind a com­mon flag.

“ We do tend to keep a dual men­tal­ity,” says Ed­uardo Garay, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of Toronto’s Cen­tre for Span­ish-speak­ing Peo­ples, a com­mu­nity agency. “ In some as­pects, we iden­tify as Lati­nos. In oth­ers, we keep our na­tional back­grounds.”

Mex­i­cans min­gle with Mexi-

cans. Cubans con­sort with Cubans. Chileans chill a la chilena.

This thicket of na­tional di­vi­sions means there’s re­ally no part of Toronto that any­one read­ily iden­ti­fies with Latin Amer­ica.

“ One of the things that we do need is a Latin town,” says Ospina. “ It’s a chal­lenge.” The clos­est thing to a His­panic busi­ness dis­trict runs along St. Clair Ave. W., be­tween Bathurst St. and Duf­ferin St. Here, you can find about two- dozen Latin busi­nesses or restau­rants. An­chor­ing the bar­rio is Su­per Latin Mu­sic at 1088 St. Clair Ave. W., a rol­lick­ing, 13-year-old es­tab­lish­ment owned by Joe Nuñez, for­merly of Ecuador. Al­though nom­i­nally a mu­sic store, the op­er­a­tion also does a brisk side­line in Latin gro­ceries.

If any­one in Toronto knows all about the at­om­iz­ing ten­den­cies of Latin Amer­i­cans, it’s Nuñez.

“ We’ve got to cater to dif­fer­ent coun­tries,” he says.

Ar­gen­tines are crazy for tango, of course, but also have their own ver­sions of rock and pop. Colom­bians take to salsa, as well as val­lenato and cumbia. Cubans have their own brand of salsa, par­tic­u­larly a hard- driv­ing form called timba. Do­mini­cans adore merengue and bachata. Mex­ico means ranchera mu­sic, as well as te­jana and Mex­i­can pop. When it comes to gro­ceries, things get even more minutely mul­ti­cul­tural, and the gro­cery sec­tion of Nuñez’s mu­sic store just keeps grow­ing — jars of cac­tus chunks from Mex­ico, tinned tuna from Ecuador, yerba de mate from Ar­gentina, corn­meal from Venezuela, sev­eral va­ri­eties of chili pep­pers, plus 21 dif­fer­ent kinds of cook­ing sauce. Nuñez is fast run­ning out of counter space.

“ It’s a grow­ing com­mu­nity,” he says. “ Who knows? To­mor­row, some­one from an­other coun­try will say, ‘ Hey, how come you don’t have this prod­uct?’ ”

Tastes in mu­sic and food can be di­vi­sive — but so, too, can wars.

Latin Amer­ica has had plenty of those, leav­ing psy­cho­log­i­cal wounds that have yet to heal. And what to make of Spain?

Cana­di­ans of Castil­ian ori­gin are gen­er­ally counted among the Latino com­mu­nity here­abouts. But not ev­ery­one is en­tirely happy rub­bing el­bows at so­cial func­tions with the de­scen­dants of their for­mer colo­nial masters.

Lati­nos in this city are also di­vided into sev­eral more or less dis­crete waves of im­mi­gra­tion. Most re­cently, new ar­rivals from Latin Amer­ica have been heav­ily weighted to­ward pro­fes­sion­als from Colom­bia, Ar­gentina and Venezuela.

Mean­while, com­mu­nity lead­ers be­lieve the dif­fer­ences di­vid­ing His­panic-Cana­di­ans are grad­u­ally start­ing to blur, as Lati­nos adapt to life in Canada.

“ I’m a Colom­bian, and yet I love to eat ta­males from Gu­atemala or pu­pusas from El Sal­vador,” says Garay. “The Latin Amer­i­can com­mu­nity in Canada is blend­ing, uni­fy­ing it­self.” One evening last month, about 400 Latino so­phis­ti­cates took over a theatre on Eglin­ton Ave. W. for the sec­ond- an­nual His­panofo­rum — a chance to hob­nob on a bit­terly cold night in a rather se­date north­ern town. The au­di­ence in­cluded plenty of Latin suc­cess sto­ries, and the speak­ers’ list was lu­mi­nous.

Later, the at­ten­dees gath­ered to schmooze, ex­change busi­ness cards, and plot strate­gies for the fu­ture. It didn’t seem to mat­ter who was from Colom­bia, who from Peru, or who from the Do­mini­can Repub­lic. “There are two things that unite us as His­pan­ics — lan­guage and cul­ture,” says Ospina, one of the evening’s or­ga­niz­ers. “ We share com­mon traits, and we share a com­mon lan­guage.” A quar­tet of mu­si­cians from Mex­ico pro­vided a strolling serenade. At least, they were dressed as Mex­i­cans, in tra­di­tional mariachi

garb and match­ing som­breros. But the vi­o­lin­ist turned out to be Cuban, the bass player was from El Sal­vador, one of the gui­tarists was Ecuadorean, and only Jorge Lopez, the band leader, was of Mex­i­can ori­gin. Yet there they all were, belt­ing out Cielito Lindo as if they were all mem­bers of the same Latin fam­ily. Maybe Bo­li­var was wrong, af­ter all. Maybe it is pos­si­ble to plough the sea. You just have to come to Canada in win­ter, when even wa­ter is apt to be solid.


Joe Nuñez looks out over a counter filled with South Amer­i­can flags at Su­per Latin Mu­sic on St. Clair Ave. W. The store also does a brisk busi­ness in Latin gro­ceries, sell­ing ev­ery­thing from cac­tus chunks to chili pep­pers. You can find about two-dozen...

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