Becoming Canadian

Being both Mexican and gay, this new Canadian found the U.S. 'melting pot' oppressive

'I couldn’t share all of me, all the time.'

'I couldn’t share all of me, all the time.'

  This story is part of  Becoming Canadian, a year-long project sharing stories of struggle and triumph from new Canadian citizens. 

New Canadian citizen Esther Bejarano was six-years-old when her father took a job in Arizona working for the Mexican consulate. As a result, her family relocated from Mexico to the United States, where she lived for 23 years before moving to British Columbia.

But being both Mexican and gay, Bejarano says she never felt she would be liked and accepted for who she was in the United States, so she hid those aspects of herself while living there.

"At the time, I was married to somebody else. I had a wife and it wasn't recognized, so it was very difficult to be open," Bejarano says. "I was very uncertain as to who I could tell. I couldn't share all of me, all the time, so it was a little oppressive that way."

It was her marriage that landed Bejarano in Canada in 2009, but her big move brought with it challenges and heartbreak.

"It was actually not a happy time when I first came to Canada because I had been married, and when I arrived to Canada, I found out that my ex-wife was having an affair with a coworker," Bejarano says. "We're not together anymore. I had to start all over. It was an empowering time for me because I had to do everything on my own."

It was an empowering time for me because I had to do everything on my own.

It took time for Bejarano to feel comfortable dating again, but when she decided to get back out there, she met Natasha Tobin on an online dating site.

"I would say partner just to kind of hide it a little bit, because I'm not sure the response," says Bejarano. "Then I realized nobody cares here."

Eventually Bejarano and Tobin moved from the West Coast to the East Coast, married and started a family, but it took time before Bejarano felt comfortable sharing details about her relationship with people at work.

Bejarano works in Truro, N.S., helping other new Canadian immigrants get settled.

"In my work, it's not something that I am completely open about because I have people that I work with — people who come from countries where that's still not okay. I'm a little guarded. Eventually it comes out, and so far it's been great, nobody cares, they're very open and welcoming and loving, and I think maybe it's because of what they've gone through before they arrived here."

Tobin says she is immensely proud of her wife's work helping other immigrants.

"I'm very proud of the work she does. She is a huge asset to my life and Canada's very lucky to have her being of service here," says Tobin. "They're coming into Canada as a strange country, they're refugees coming from horrible situations, and Esther's there to help them get acclimated and find services. The things we all take for granted, and you don't realize that maybe that's a very foreign concept to people."

Since arriving in Canada eight years ago, Bejarano says she feels like she can now express her Mexican roots more comfortably.

"I really noticed a difference when I moved to Canada," Bejarano says. "My accent got thicker than when I was living in the United States — my Mexican accent — and I thought that was hilarious because in the U.S. it's a melting pot, so there I really tried to hide my accent."

She says her life would have been different if she had stayed in the U.S. and never come to Canada.

"[Americans have] a lot of negativity towards Mexicans — not to say that everybody was like that. There were a lot of amazing people there, but I didn't want people to think I'm Mexican, then they're not going to like me," says Bejarano.

"Then I get to Canada and it's a sigh of relief. I tell people I'm Mexican and I get smiles," she says. "I just relaxed and my accent comes out, and people like it. I feel like I can be myself and express my culture."