Made in Spain

Raquel Arriaga Cervera


My name, Raquel, was chosen by my mother from the Bible. I am the third of five children, and I shared everything with my siblings, including shoes. I grew up free and fearless in a town in the province of Ciudad Real, Spain. It’s an arid land of hot summers, cold winters, and many stories.

My maternal grandmother’s family were shoemakers and they had a small but prosperous company. There were eight siblings and they all worked in the business. I loved going to my grandparent’s house after school for a merienda (snack)—bread with chocolate or bread with olive oil and sugar—while I listened to their stories. My grandmother told me how shoes helped them survive during the war and the postwar period. People offered them all kinds of goods, such as eggs, milk, flour, and even a radio, in exchange for new shoes. My grandfather told me how he had wanted to be a bullfighter, but at the age of 16, he had to fight in the war. (He was lost for years until his father found him.)

I also liked hearing about my grandparents whom I didn’t know. My paternal grandfather went to Madrid to study chemistry. To pay for his education, he fought boxing matches and danced in the shows of some famous artists. During the war, he saved the lives of several families. This act and his role as a republican mayor led the fascist dictatorship to put him in jail. To support their children during this postwar period, my grandmother became a tailor.

Of course, my parents shared their stories with me, too. When I was a child, I liked to try on their shoes. I imagined that I was a character in their stories. With this foundation of the courage, effort, grief, joys and broken dreams of previous generations, I learned how to be proud of both my failures and achievements, and to be strong in the face of difficulties.

I fell in love with my first and only boyfriend. We got married when I was 22, and I still love him as much now as that first day. After a short time, we moved to Greece because of my husband’s work: helping to build large engineering projects. For me, it was a very drastic change. I could no longer pretend to be someone else by wearing their shoes.

We lived in five different countries where in addition to learning different languages, I had to teach my children at home because it wasn’t always possible for them to be enrolled in school. I also had to keep the family together and make a home wherever we went.

Nobody told me it would be easy or even that dreams would come true, but I have learned that the journey to the unknown can be exciting. Thanks to this life we chose, we were able to climb volcanoes in the inhospitable lands of Kamchatka, dive in the waters of Easter Island, climb Mount Aconcagua in the Torres del Paine, and drive to the Arctic Circle. We enjoyed every moment.

Finally, we arrived in Canada, a place where people help you for no reason and apologize for not speaking our language. It’s a country with difficulties, of course, but it’s also made up of immigrants from all over the world, walking the same path as us. For that reason, we decided to stay and raise our children here. We hope to contribute to this country as much as it has given us, but always without forgetting where we come from.

There is still a long way to go. but some day, I will tell my grandchildren about the adventures we’ve had while they try on my shoes—made in Spain.

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