With My Shoes On
Alma González (+Video)
Back at home, in Mexico City, public schools have only an elementary English language program, but I was charmed by the sound of the language. I wanted to understand it and speak it. Finally, after high school, with the support of my sister Rosy, I enrolled in a three-year Bilingual Secretary Diploma. This opened the door to great jobs in transnational companies, where I worked for more than ten years. Just when I least expected it, the opportunity to work in Canada came up. I could only think: Nothing to lose, everything to gain.
In Spring 2008, I bought my indigo blue leather high heel shoes. They were my favourite colour, made of soft leather, with an open squared toe and a strong heel that was very comfortable for work. I had worked as an Administrative Assistant for over ten years for a transnational company in a modern office in Santa Fe, the most beautiful business area of Mexico City. I earned a good salary, and I had a comfortable lifestyle.
Soon after I purchased my shoes, I found an advertisement from a job agency hiring bilingual people to work in Canada. I felt this was a direct call for me, a challenge to test my knowledge in English and my courage to travel by myself for the first time – something unusual for a woman in our Mexican society at that time, but still, I went for it.
My work visa arrived one year later, and in October 2009, I flew to Canada. I brought my dear blue indigo shoes with me, but I didn’t wear them for a very long time here. In my mind, they were the perfect working shoes for the ideal job, the one I had just left. I would wear them again once I got a similar job in Canada, I knew it might take time, but I felt confident since I had completed my advanced English course and spoke basic business English at work. But once in Canada, my brain felt overloaded. I kept repeating time after time, “Could you please repeat that?
Over time my English started to improve. However, I experienced Culture Shock. Culture shock takes many forms. To move from a city with a population of twenty-two million to a small town in Alberta with a population of 7,000 was a big one. My brain kept telling me. “Something is missing here.” I realized later I was missing the crowds, the noise, the fast-paced life. But it taught me to appreciate silence, the time I spend by myself, and I don’t feel lonely.
As a new immigrant to Canada, I found myself living and working with people from all over the world. Although this experience broadened my mind, I soon realized that I had come with more than my suitcase and my dear shoes. I had also brought many stereotypes and prejudices toward gender, the impact of religion, the elder’s wisdom, and even good food. Don’t get me wrong, I still think Mexican food is the best, but I have now tasted many amazing flavours from other countries.
Another shock concerning shoes. I grew up in the suburbs of Mexico City, with five sisters and two brothers. It was very common to hear my Mom yelling to one of us, “Ponte los zapatos,” which means put on your shoes! We were not allowed to walk inside the house without shoes because she would say: “You’re going to catch a cold” or “You will ruin your socks.” It was funny explaining to my sisters that here in Canada, the “typical” thing to do is take off your shoes as soon as you enter your home and walk around with your socks on. Here, nobody will get mad at you!
It’s been nine years since I arrived in Canada. I am sure I made the right decision. Of course, I still have my dear indigo blue high heel shoes. I continue enjoying their style and comfort at work and when I dress up for a special occasion or when I go dancing. They remind me that being adaptable and welcoming change may not be easy, but it makes me grow and enjoy my life more.
Alma González was born in Mexico City, where she worked as an Administrative Assistant. She arrived in Peace River, Alberta, through the Temporary Foreign Worker’s Program in 2009, following her intense desire to see the outside world. After two contract renewals, in 2015, she became a permanent resident and moved to the Bow Valley, where she works as a guest services agent and enjoys spending time close to nature.