My Student Shoes

Natalia Rodriguez


When I left Uruguay in 2005, I was not sure if I could settle in Canada. Even though I was a traveller with intentions to stay, I wanted to look like one who goes and comes back. A sturdy grey suitcase was my only companion.


In it, I put a set of cotton bed sheets to make me feel at home, my favourite outfits, two books in Spanish, one of them about the psychology of the adolescent male, and two pairs of shoes. Before my graduation, I had bought a pair of handmade leather shoes in the Montevideo street market. They were not pretty, but at that time, those rounded brown shoes with stitches, a buckle on the side and a big sole made from a tire gave me a sense of belonging to a particular community, the student community. Those guillerminas made me feel I was part of something good. 

My first two years here were a mixture of amusement, frustration, and loneliness, but still, I wanted to stay in Canada. Getting married or claiming refugee status was out of the question. Working as a nanny was my only option to get permanent residence. So I became the nanny of three boys. My background in psychology provided me with a sense of confidence, but I lacked practical skills. 

Part of my job was taking the children to the bus stop every morning and picking one of them up at noon and in the evening. Walking with two preschoolers and a toddler was hectic. The oldest used to walk very slowly as if he had stones in his shoes, the middle one loved to run ahead, and the little one was sitting in the stroller. I ended up counting my trips. Six a day for five days is equal to thirty trips per week to the bus stop. 

It seemed to rain every day that April. I walked back and forth with the heavy drops on my face, an umbrella in one hand and a stroller handle in the other. Even more uncomfortable were my damp socks. I didn’t feel like investing my small paycheck in rubber boots; I needed to buy other things. My temporary solution was to wrap my feet in plastic bags and then put my shoes on.  

A middle-aged lady and an elegant woman in her eighties lived less than a block away from my host house. They would enjoy a cigarette every day at the same time on the veranda. They stared at me every time I passed. In Canada, where people are too busy to pay attention to you, that invasive but pleasant focus on me was welcome. Then one day, a kind voice interrupted my walk to offer me a proper pair of rain boots. I waited shyly on the sidewalk until the middle age lady came out the door holding the boots.  

I took off my leather shoes and put on the boots right away. The shame was enormous because having my feet in plastic bags revealed that I didn’t have much money, that I was an immigrant with the wrong shoes.  

That is how I met Isabelle and Nasha. They were mother and daughter and my first friends in Canada. Isabelle was from Syria, and Nasha grew up in Brazil. She could speak a little bit of Spanish. I became a guest at their birthday parties, and that summer, they invited me to go to their cottage. 

After that day, my trips to the bus stop were never the same, not only because my socks were dry but because I stopped being that invisible nanny who had to push the stroller in the rain. 

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.

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