My Colourful Boots
The first time she visits Toronto, Natalia Rodriguez is taken by the city’s vibrancy. However, when she moves to Canada, she cannot practice her profession or leave the country without a permit. On a trip back to Uruguay, she finds a pair of beautiful boots. At first, they seem garish to her, but she grows to love them. They are as bright as the future she sees.
When I first visited Toronto in the summer of 2001, I was mesmerized by the vibrant lifestyle, comfort, and opportunities that Canada offered. I came back in 2005 with a sense of adventure and a visitor visa, but with the intention to stay.
Life in those first years was not as exciting as I had imagined. I had to work for many years as a live-in caregiver before applying for my permanent resident status. The immigration process seemed endless. I used to wake up with the unpleasant feeling of not knowing whether I would settle here or have to return home. I wanted to stay, but I felt constrained: I could not study, practice my profession in the mental health field or leave the country without a permit. I was in limbo. Still, I had a job and somehow felt comfortable like the shoes I always wear: brown, black or beige, easy to match and durable – and, of course, inconspicuous.
When I became a permanent resident, I could visit my family in Uruguay without any immigration hassle. I couldn’t wait to go to the local market, where artisans line up their tables for several blocks and lay out handcrafted sweaters, leather jackets, furniture, and shoes. The air there smells wonderful – a blend of leather, incense, and painted wood.
I was browsing the stalls when I spotted a striking pair of boots. They were made of fine leather, incredibly soft to the touch, with white laces and a delicate die-cut pattern. They looked stylish and comfortable, suitable even for summer.
They were perfect, except for one thing: they were a bright shade of tan, almost . . . yellow.
After some deliberation, I decided to buy the yellow boots and bring them back to Canada. I first wore them on a trip to Niagara on the Lake. I was looking around in an antique store when I heard [an older lady] say, “Those are very pretty, dear.”
I wasn’t sure what she was talking about; there were so many pretty things around us.
“Pretty?” I asked.
She nodded. “Your boots. They look nice on you.
It was the first time anyone had complimented me on my footwear. I had to smile.
The next time I wore the boots, I was at a shoe store in the Eaton Centre when a young woman in a fancy dress and heels said to me, “I love your boots.” Again, I smiled. Those yellow boots really stood out! Maybe I would try to wear them more often.
A few weeks later, I was waiting in line at the bank when a cool-looking man with long, dark hair said to me, “Where did you get those boots? They’re so original.”
“My boots? I bought them in Uruguay,” I said proudly.
“They’re stunning,” he said. “Really well-made. And I should know. I’m a shoemaker.
I left the bank feeling special. I was getting used to receiving compliments.
Wearing those bright boots broke my dress code, forcing me to step out of my comfort zone. Perhaps it was time to be more open, to try new things. After all, now that I was a permanent resident, I had gained the freedom to make choices in Canada. It was the beginning of a bright new phase with less constraint and more opportunity.
I’ve had my boots for a few years now, and I’ve thought about changing the colour more than once. I even took them to the shoe repair to have them dyed dark brown, but at the last minute, I changed my mind. I decided to keep them as they are – as colourful as the life I always dreamed of having in Canada.
Who knows? Maybe one day I’ll choose to dye them bright red.
NATALIA RODRIGUEZ came to Toronto in 2005 after writing her final exams at the Universidad de La Republica in Montevideo. She worked for many years as a nanny, earned permanent residency status and became a part-time Spanish-speaking counsellor at a non-profit organization. She left to study Social Services at Seneca College and, in 2017, rejoined that same NPO as a settlement and wellness worker with newcomers and immigrants.