David Romero Espitia:
David's Journey from Colombia to Victoria
Where were you born and raised?
I was born in Bogota, Colombia. My family left to the United States as refugee asylum seekers when I was only four years old. I lived in Boynton Beach, Florida until I was 11 years old before our family had to relocate to Canada.
Tell us about why you came to Canada and chose to live in Victoria?
After my family had lived 7 years in the United States, our asylum request was rejected. Returning to Colombia for my family was not an option. We had heard that Canada had “open” borders and that we would have a good chance of being accepted into Canada as refugees. We were given four months to leave the United States- so my parents, sister and I packed our belongings, rented a U-Haul truck and drove up the US east coast and crossed the US-Canada International Peace Bridge. We settled in Fort Erie, Ontario for a year while our refugee claim was being processed. Afterwards, we decided to come to Victoria because we had family here. We were also trying to escape the harsh Ontario winters.
Tell us a bit about you and your family
My mom and dad are both hair stylists. They have been for over thirty years. That’s how they met. Their professional has allowed us to live comfortably wherever we have gone. They both reside now in Langford. I have an older sister who graduated from Mt. Doug Secondary and later completed her Bachelor of Science in Microbiology with a Business Minor. She recently graduated as a Naturopathic Doctor. She resides in New Westminster with her partner. I also have a half-brother who resides in Colombia.
As for myself, I am 26 years old. I graduated from Reynolds Secondary School. I completed my BA in Political Science and Latin American Studies at the University of Victoria. I then completed an MA in Development Studies at the Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies in Geneva, Switzerland.
I am passionate about soccer and have always participated in the local soccer community.
What do you wish people understood better about your cultural heritage?
It is quite common for Colombians living abroad to be approached and profiled relevant to Colombia’s history of cocaine production and its depiction in pop culture. Most people often stereotype and think that when someone is from Colombia, they are automatically connected to the drug trade, crime, violence, and Pablo Escobar. This is not true. Colombians are much more than that. We have reputable scientists, scholars, athletes and artists. We have a rich culture that includes diversity in music, food, art, sports and ethnicities. Colombia has an amazing landscape and our historical and geographical sites are breathtaking. We are a warm and loving people who love to make everyone feel welcome and acquainted with our culture. We are friendly and always like to have a good time. We love to dance, sing and make sure we make the most out of life. Our food is quite amazing as well!
What are you studying and where are you working?
I am currently a PhD Political Science student at the University of Victoria. I am working as a research assistant at the same university and have, until recently, been a part-time staff member at the Community Social Planning Council of Greater Victoria. My current position and professional endeavors reflect my overall interests and passions. I have always been passionate about world affairs, politics, international relations, particularly those relevant to conflict-prone regions and countries in the global south. Nonetheless, I have a strong vocation to serving the community wherever I may be and trying to stay connected with what is going around me. That is why I have always tried to compliment my passion for knowledge and knowledge production with more pragmatic, hands-on work.
As a newcomer, what are three things you appreciate about life in Victoria?
Life in Victoria is safe. I appreciate the peacefulness of Victoria. Within the community you will generally find solidarity and tolerance. There is also freedom and respect.
What have been some challenges about living or adapting to life in Victoria as a newcomer?
As a low-income refugee, the lack of financial resources always made things a bit more difficult. Whether it was paying to be on a sport’s team, paying school tuition or simply enjoying things that others take for granted, it always took that much more of an effort for myself and my family. Upon finishing school I also found it quite challenging to engage with community organizations and participate in community events. Maybe it was the lack of knowledge I had about them or the lack of information. It was extremely challenging and I was always pushed back, until recently. Accessing resources available for newcomers and refugees was also a challenge for my family due to language barriers (my parents) and the lack of community engagement.
I have felt discriminated against on multiple occasions. Not only in Victoria but also across the different Canadian cities where I have lived or visited. This discrimination has been intersectoral due to race, language, income and ethnicity. Over the years, my family and I have learned how to live with this. However, we are well aware that the playing field and the rules of the game are not the same for us. We always have to justify ourselves and make a much stronger effort to reach and obtain the same quality of life that others may consider the norm.
What do you miss about living in Colombia?
I would say my grandparents are what I miss most of Colombia. The warmth of the people and the country’s beautiful places. I love my country. It will forever be in my heart.
What are your three favorite things to do in Victoria?
I love nature and the outdoors. I love hiking and going for long walks. I love cycling and going up all the major climbs in the region. I also enjoy playing soccer.
What is one meaningful accomplishment you are proud of?
Becoming a PhD student. I am the first in my family to have made it this far. Obtaining an MA at a reputable school in Europe. That is also a first in my family.
Do you think Victoria is a welcoming and inclusive community?
I would say it is a welcoming community overall. My family and I have been welcomed here and we have been able to settle and integrate into the community. We enjoy what most people enjoy in Victoria. We feel at home here. It is our home. I cannot imagine calling anywhere else home. There are, however, some very exceptional instances when we are reminded that we are only guests here and that, at the end of the day, we are immigrants and refugees.