Manitoba ethnocultural communities offer love, condolences for Patel family during online vigil

Jazmín Alfaro wanted to show her love and solidarity for the Patel family, the Gujarati community and Manitoba's migrant community Friday evening.

'Our hearts are very much saddened. We are crying,' says Maggie Yeboah

Jagdish Baldevbhai Patel and Vaishaliben Jagdishkumar Patel are pictured with their 11-year-old daughter, Vihangi Jagdishkumar Patel. (Family handout/Vaibhav Jha/Indian Express)

Jazmín Alfaro wanted to show her love and solidarity for the Patel family, the Gujarati community and Manitoba's migrant community Friday evening.

A migrant herself from Central America, Alfaro was among more than 80 individuals from a broad range of ethnocultural communities in Winnipeg that attended a virtual vigil to mourn last week's sudden and tragic deaths of four people from India.

On Jan. 19, a group of 11 migrants from India attempted to illegally cross into the United States last week near Emerson, Man.

A family of four, identified Thursday by officials as husband and wife, Jagdish Baldevbhai Patel, 39, and Vaishaliben Jagdishkumar Patel, 37, and their children, Vihangi Jagdishkumar Patel, 11, and three-year-old Dharmik Jagdishkumar Patel, became separated from the group and died of exposure to extreme weather conditions. 

"This is a very tragic reminder that border issues happen everywhere," Alfaro said.

"This is an unfortunate reminder of what we need to do collectively and continue to do collectively ... and I think this gives us more fire to look deeper at the context of migrants here in Manitoba, in the Prairies and across Canada, and to understand this better because this should not have happened."

Susan Rodriguez, secretary general of Migrante Manitoba, was also part of the vigil.

She is also a mom.

"As a mother of two children myself, I cannot even begin to imagine the terrible circumstances the parents and their children found themselves in," Rodriguez said.

She agreed with Alfaro that more needs to be done to help make it easier for migrants — no matter what the reason for their leaving leaving their home country — to come to countries like Canada or the U.S.

Rodriguez believes there is a larger number of people fleeing from the global south, including India and the Philippines, attempting to leave uncertain futures behind for the hope of a prosperous future elsewhere. Or as as guitarist Levy Abad sings in his song We Are Migrants, "working on our dreams to be real one day."

WATCH / We Are Migrants:

She adds the current economic crisis the world is facing due to the pandemic is pushing this.

"We dream of a society where families are not broken up by urgent need for survival. We dream and will actively work for a homeland where there is opportunity for everyone to live a decent and humane life," Rodriguez said, reading a statement from Migrante's sister organization in Hong Kong.

Although an American has been charged with human smuggling, the reasons behind why the Patel family left India for Canada and attempted to slog through cold and snowy conditions in the Prairies are not fully known.

A cousin of Jagdish Patel who lives in Dingucha told reporters the couple was struggling financially while operating a small retail shop and weren't able to make ends meet from their farm income. They wanted to leave their Dingucha village in India for better education and opportunities for their children in America, according to Sanjay Patel. 

Maggie Yeboah, who emigrated from Ghana more than 40 years ago and is part of the Ethnocultural Council of Manitoba, said regardless of the reasons behind the family's quest to reach the U.S., society should mourn their loss and remember them.

"Their loss is our loss. We don't know the Patel family but they are human beings," Yeboah said. "They are just like us. They were just seeking … a good life for themselves and for their children.

"Our hearts are very much saddened. We are crying."

Maggie Yeboah, a Ghanaian migrant and part of the Ethnocultural Council of Manitoba, believes the Patel family was simply seeking a better life. (Karen Pauls/CBC News)

She wasn't the only one in an emotional state.

Priyanka Singh of the Indian Association of Manitoba hopes a tragedy like this never happens again.

"We know that there is sadness and grief but we also know there is anger and rage in this community," Singh said.

Winnipeg Coun. Sherri Rollins (Fort-Rouge East Fort Garry)  expressed a similar message.

As a nation, she said more must be done to ensure "that our doors need to be better opened" to migrants to prevent unspeakable tragedies like the one that befell the Patel family.

Rollins was one of at least three politicians at the service who offered condolences to the Patel family, also made a vow.

"My commitment to do better as a political factor to raise voices in a community and stand shoulder-to-shoulder in the settlement community in Winnipeg, the settlement community and the migrant community."

Geraldine Shingoose, known as "Gramma Shingoose," offered love, comfort and a prayer to the family, extended family, Indian community and Winnipeg community who are here for support.

"It's such a huge tragic loss, Creator, so I pray that you bring that comfort and that love so that they can continue to take care of themselves," Shingoose prayed. "Your loss is our loss. Your journey was only to take care of each other."