Beneath the Surface
Valentina Ernst-Diaz (+Video)
A new LGBTQ2+ immigrant comes to Canada in search of freedom. Yet when she goes to rent an apartment, she discovers she has brought her old fears to a new home.
I ring the buzzer and wait for what feels like an eternity for the landlady to let us into the building. My girlfriend of two years, my friend Felipe and I arrived in Vancouver a couple of weeks ago. We are all 24, and this is the first time any of us have ever tried to rent a place to live. We found the apartment via Craigslist, a webpage that felt like a scam to us Chileans.
We go up the elevator. What should I say when I meet a prospective landlady in Canada? Is shaking her hand too formal? Should I be more like myself and hug her? I need to make sure she senses in minutes that we are the kind of people she can trust to take care of her home. But we have no jobs, no credit record, nor any Canadian experience at all. It will all come down to whether she likes us enough to take the risk. If there was ever a time to make a good first impression, this is it.
We arrive at the door, and before we can knock, a short Asian woman opens it. I shake her hand, and she smiles at me. A good sign.
Back home, my privileged upbringing and last name made me “the right kind of person”. No one would ever ask if I were gay. But here, none of that matters. I am just me, and that seems oddly not good enough. In Chile, discrimination is the norm, and I learned early on that hiding who I am is the best way to be safe. So, when the landlady asks us about ourselves, instead of telling her the truth, we tell her that Felipe and my girlfriend are a couple, and I am their friend.
She asks us to remove our shoes and come inside. I didn’t expect this. I’d planned to make a great first impression, so I chose my most professional-looking clothes and new black leather Oxfords that I had bought during Boxing Week. But I didn’t think about my socks at all because we usually don’t take off our shoes when going into someone’s house in Chile.
I slowly begin to slip off my beautiful new shoes, trying to stall the inevitable. I look down and see my old grey socks with holes, in plain view, as if screaming, “Look at her, she’s lying! She’s not who she says she is!”
As we move through the apartment, I keep placing one foot on top of the other, trying unsuccessfully to hide the holes in my socks.
“And this is the main bedroom—I assume for the two of you,” the landlady says, looking at Felipe and my girlfriend.
Again, I try to cover the holes in my socks. I feel sick. Just as in my personal life, I hadn’t taken care of what was beneath the surface. This is supposedly the beginning of my new life in Canada, a place where it is legal for me to live and love freely, and yet I’ve just chosen to live a lie. Fear is still so deep within me that honesty isn’t an option.
We got the apartment. On our way back to the hostel where we’d been staying, I realized that only I had noticed the holes in my socks, that everyone else had been too busy looking at the place. Only I felt sad for a lie well told.
But from then on, I became an avid sock shopper. When I slip off those Oxfords now, I love showing everyone my crazy socks, any colour of the rainbow, none with holes.
Valentina Ernst-Diaz was born in Santiago, Chile. In 2009, at the age of 24, she moved to Canada in search of a better life. With no family, her immigration process was not easy, but she still managed to move forward. After being in Canada for a long time, she has finally decided to pursue her dream of becoming a writer.