By Erian Amor De Los Reyes
The faint smell of Spanish rice and empanada’s lingered in the house. It is the kind of scent you wouldn’t notice if you lived in a world of Aji sauce and chilli spices. In fact, it made the house smell warm all throughout the year. It was a piece of Ecuador a lifetime away tucked in a small suburban home in Toronto.
This is something Andres Reiban has grown up with, something he himself can no longer discern when he enters his home but knows visitors will pick up instantly.
Being the youngest son of a family of four, most of what he knows of his homeland wasn’t taught in school or books, but by his mother who one day will let him choose Canada or Ecuador.
Andres was born in Ambato, Ecuador, and moved to Toronto at the age of two. He’s since visited Ecuador more than five times, though his mom visits nearly every year. Why doesn’t he visit just as often? “It’s much too different there, not just in climate but also in people – also money’s a factor.”
Most of his mother’s side of the family is still in Ecuador but his father’s side has immigrated to Canada. Pictures of his family and relatives are plastered in the traditional place of honour in most homes – the front of the refrigerator. Wooden memorabilia on walls and shelves showcase a culture that Andres says is far different from Canada’s.
“It’s very community based there, you hardly feel alone. It’s like if you need some sugar cause you ran out, you’ve got five aunties within walking distance in the neighborhood ready to lend you some.”
Though he didn’t actually grow up there, he still misses it from time to time. When he visits for a month, he is always surprised by how simple life there seems to be. In the mornings his grandfather simply enjoyed a cup of coffee and his grandmother would never be far, making breakfast.
Everything seemed simple, and the things he worried about seemed miles away. It was the way the breeze and the heat met but never fought one another. Each breath of air was slow and deliberate.
Family never felt like they were far apart in Ecuador, but Andres chuckles at his many failed attempts to meet with the family he has in Toronto.
Though it was hard for his family to leave their warm and comfortable life in Ambato, ultimately it was because of family that his mom decided to make the move to Canada.
As with many migrants who leave their home country in search of a better home, Andres’ family falls in to one of the top three migrant groups according to Statistics Canada: family class, economic migrants and refugees. Andres and his family are considered economic mirants.
There were more than 260,000 migrants starting a new life in Canada in 2014 according to Statistics Canada’s figures Immigration Overview: Permanent Residents, by Statistics Canada – down just slightly from 280,000 in 2010. Of the 2014 migrants almost 26 per cent were made up of family class, those sponsored by family members. More than half, 63 per cent were economic migrants individuals leaving their own country in search of better job opportunities or standard of living.
Andres recalls his visits to Ecuador: the warm weather and almost constant sunshine but most of all he remembers his grandmother’s cooking. “You never leave hungry there,” he says. The matriarch is the boss of the family. He says no one moved until she got a say in it. It’s the same at home in Toronto, nothing goes without mom’s knowing. Just as his grandmother ran the family in Ecuador, so to does his mom. He doesn’t mind though, he says he’s the favourite child and can never be seen as anything less – his sister chuckles.
Despite all the talk of missing everything about Ecuador, Andres admits it’s not for him to go home and stay there. “Everything’s too different, I just won’t belong there.”
It’s not so much a problem with the place, he perceives, it’s him that doesn’t belong there.
Seeing how different his cousins are from himself he feels distant in not just miles alone. He simply can’t see himself moving there for good. It’s a simple life, but he’s now more a part of the Canadian culture.
Currently studying law on his way to become a lawyer, Andres remembers the slums of Ecuador.
He says the city is dirty not just in looks but also in politics. Becoming a lawyer there would not be ideal. He’d make enemies, he says, and surely wouldn’t be the most popular guy there.
However, the dream of becoming a lawyer is not just his dream but also his mother’s.
Though his mother desperately wishes her son would soon want to go home for good, she also understands that the reason she brought him here was to be able to be anything he wished. It’s true, he remembers the greatest moment in his life was when he received his law degree in front of his smiling mother. He could almost hear her say “Mijo” above the thousands of people in his graduation – above all the deafening applause.
“Mijo means ‘my son.’”