Put Yourself in Our Shoes

Elisa Ibarra Juarez (+Video)


I remember every second of that day. It seems as if it were yesterday: the morning that my dad, mom and brother dropped us off at the airport. Each of them gave me a big hug, that one you know will have to last until you can see them again. But it was a different day when this story begins. It was September 19, 2017, the day of the earthquake.


Our windows, walls and ceilings fell, along with my dreams, my faith, my home and our lives. I was living with my husband and son in this very tall and fancy building, full of comfort. It felt like an achievement. It was one of those places not everyone in Mexico can afford, and there I was, after many years of hard work. We lost everything. That day I realized that life is just a spark of moments, so fragile that in any moment, everything can be undone. 

We said goodbye to a home that was no longer safe to live in and moved to my parents’ small apartment. We slept in one small room with only one small bed. For nine months, I tried to find a job, to rebuild our lives. During that time, I  survived an armed assault outside my parents’ home. I was robbed of the only money I had. Weeks later, I suffered an attempted kidnapping.

We decided to go to Canada. We arrived as tourists because we were not eligible for other programs due to our low income. You would make that hard decision too if it meant your kids would be safe.

The morning we left Mexico, I was wearing high heels. I loved them. They were elegant. But I wasn’t able to walk in those heels through the long corridors leading to the departure gate. Perhaps it was my body expressing the pain of leaving my family. I had to stop at the duty-free shop and buy a new pair of shoes. Those sneakers were very expensive. I couldn’t afford them, but I had to buy them. 

And  then we arrived in Canada. My “very expensive sneakers”—as I used to call them—were with me on warm days and in the heaviest snowfalls. They walked with me from the lakeshore to the CN Tower, showing me a new world full of opportunities. As an immigrant without the status to work in Canada, I had to take good care of those sneakers, since any expense was a luxury. I volunteered at some places and looked for opportunities to regularize our lives here. I found healing by helping people. I got an amazing opportunity to work at the FCJ Refugee Centre. I helped refugees and others at risk due to their immigration status.

A few years later, we applied to become permanent residents, but we got a negative decision from Immigration Canada. It was like a slap in the face after everything I’d been working at. I thought, “Why can’t they see how hard I’m working to contribute to Canada?” The officer told me my volunteer work, my work at the refugee centre and my attempts to build a life here were not enough. However, because my ten-year-old son was doing so well, the officer suggested that we leave him here—alone and under the care of a tutor. It was a total lack of humanity and compassion. 

A natural disaster that puts your life at risk is enough to generate lifelong trauma. I appreciate everything that Canada has given me. It’s why I’m applying again to stay, but I do wish people could understand how hard it is to lose everything and begin your life again. I continue walking forward, but I don’t have those sneakers anymore. I’ve learned from my new Canadian community the power of giving to others. 

I donated those expensive sneakers to another person in need because an immigration journey is not easy. We are all immigrants in this world, and we must put ourselves in others’ shoes, respecting that everyone is fighting their own battles. Thank You. 

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