I immigrated from Paraguay to Manitoba, together with my husband and children, in the summer of 1985. My husband had Canadian citizenship and therefore all our children had Canadian-citizen-born-abroad status. I was the only one who had to go through the entire immigration process of becoming first a landed immigrant or permanent resident and later a Canadian citizen.
The reason we chose Manitoba was simple and practical and it is still the motivation for many immigrant families coming to our province today. My husband's family had emigrated from Manitoba to Paraguay in 1948, and in the years since then several of his siblings had moved back to Manitoba. We therefore had connections and the all-important initial support to help us get settled and started here.
The decision to leave Paraguay essentially was made overnight. My husband, the manager of the local credit union, experienced daily the challenges one faces living under a dictatorship and its inherent corruption. It was made clear at board meeting in April 1985 that no changes in the manner of doing business could be anticipated. That night we made our decision. We left Paraguay without selling our home and landed in Winnipeg on June 5.
I was 30 years old, had seven children under the age of 10, spoke no English and, from one day to the next, was thrust into a new and foreign country and culture. There is nothing easy about a move like that.
In Paraguay, we had enjoyed a well-managed home and I had the privilege of being a full-time mom at home with our children. Here, it became quickly apparent that we could not support our family on one income.
It was equally difficult for my husband, who came from the respected position of bank manager in Paraguay and was compelled to begin here as a yard man, piling lumber at a local building-supply company.
I well remember my own tentative beginning in the world of work. When I applied for my first job as a waitress, I was asked why I would be looking for a job with seven young children at home. Years later, that interviewer told me that it was my reply that secured the job, "If these children could live off love alone, I would not apply for this position."
In 1995, I began assisting families from abroad who had a desire to immigrate to Manitoba. In the years since, I have been privileged to support the immigration of several thousand families from 68 different countries. The majority have been German-speaking citizens from a variety of countries and different church backgrounds.
I have seen my own story repeated countless times. These immigrants leave the security of jobs, homes, relations and friends, uproot their families and move to unknown Manitoba. Often this means initially accepting a lower standard of living, working in a job unrelated to one's training and experience and learning a new language.
The decision to immigrate differs from one family to the next. There are, however, common themes.
Some come from places where the church plays a controlling role in everyday life. They are looking for quality of life, the freedom and more relaxed lifestyle that Manitoba offers.
I frequently ask my clients why they made the decision to immigrate. One of my favourite responses came from a young father. "Das war eine Schnapsidee." ("That was a crackpot idea.")
He had been self-employed in Germany but was not able to get ahead.
One night, over drinks, his accountant said: "Someone like you, young, smart and hard-working, should go to Canada. There you may still find the possibility that your hard work pays off."
When his head had cleared the next morning, his "Schnapsidee" was still a good idea.
"So I called you that same day and here I am," he told me.
Needless to say, he has become very successful here and has no regrets.
Manitoba is still seen as a place of opportunity where you can get ahead by dint of hard work.
But the main reason continues to be the children. There is a sense of security and comfort when our children can grow up in a society where cultural background does not matter, where they all attend the same school and the schools and streets are safe places to be.
In most cases, our children help us to overcome the often grinding challenges of adjusting to a new environment, culture and language. I have often felt that, in a sense, I grew with my children. They were the ones who first learned the language and adjusted to the new culture. They did this much more quickly and easily than I.
Being a Latin American at heart, I still do not like the cold, and the memory of warm summer nights in Paraguay is still very much alive in me.
Many of our immigrant families come from places where they were well cared for under health-care systems superior to Manitoba's and where the standard of living was high and life was comfortable.
But this is not the case for everyone. And, once again, immigration brings its own challenges.
Regardless of one's own determination, to uproot family, immigrate to a different country and settle in a new and strange community creates considerable stress on families and relationships. It is not for the faint of heart. The reward Manitoba offers is a stable and secure lifestyle with an unemployment rate among the lowest in the country. With determination and a good deal of hard work, many of our immigrants are becoming self-employed. They are establishing their own small businesses and providing much-needed services in various trades and occupations. It is eminently reasonable to move to an area where your language is spoken and the cultural values are a comfortable fit, and this is the case for many of our German-speaking families.
Adele Dyck is the founder and president of Star 7 International Inc., an immigration consulting firm based in Winkler. She is a licensed immigration consultant and member of the Immigration Consultants of Canada Regulatory Council. She began her career as a consultant in 1996 with a proposal to the provincial and federal governments for the fast-tracking of 50 immigrant families to the Winkler area. This initiative was labelled the Winkler Project and it became the successful pilot for the establishment of the Manitoba provincial nominee program. Since then, she has assisted several thousand families from 68 different countries with their immigration to Canada.