'It's not safe for people of colour': Manitoban living in U.S. plans to return to Winnipeg

A Manitoba-born woman and her husband are leaving their home in the United States and moving back to Winnipeg because of the racism they say they've encountered, and because they no longer feel safe living there.

Robin Attas says her husband, originally from Nicaragua, feels threatened by racism in North Carolina

Robin Attas and her husband, Nicolás Narváez Soza, moved to Burlington, N.C., in 2013. Attas says her husband no longer feels safe because of the racism he's experienced, and they are moving back to Winnipeg. (Supplied)

A Manitoba-born woman and her husband are leaving their home in the United States and moving back to Winnipeg because of the racism they say they've encountered, and because they no longer feel safe living there.

On the phone from North Carolina, Robin Attas recalled one of the incidents that's prompted the move involving her husband, Nicolás Narváez Soza.

"He was standing on the front lawn of our home with our two young children and a pickup truck drove by, and the driver threw a bottle out the window and yelled, 'F---ing Mexican, go home,'" she said.

It's just one of many incidents the couple has faced, she said.

Attas, who is from the Pinawa, Man., area, is an assistant professor of music at Elon University near the city of Burlington, N.C. She met her husband while volunteering in his home country of Nicaragua.

Narváez Soza came to Canada with her in 2008 and later became a citizen.

The couple lived in Vancouver for several years before Attas took a job in the U.S. in 2013. Attas says her husband, an artist and stay-at-home dad, has been the target of racial slurs and even police profiling.
Nicolás Narváez Soza and Robin Attas have visited Manitoba several times together and enjoy attending the Winnipeg Folk Festival, where this picture was taken. (Supplied)

She says her husband was driving one day and was pulled over by police. The officer told him it was because he wasn't wearing a seatbelt.

"My husband looked at his seatbelt, which was firmly fastened around his body, and the officer said, 'Well, I need to see some documentation.'"

Narváez Soza told the officer it was in his backpack in the back seat of the car. He asked if he could step out of the car to get it, which the officer allowed him to do.

"My husband got out of the car and the officer put his hand on his gun," said Attas.

"When my husband came home and told me that story, that, for me, was kind of the final straw," she said.

Attas says her husband was genuinely afraid in that moment.

"We see the news, we see how many people of colour are killed and shot by police every year in this country," she said.

"Before then it was taking a toll on my husband's mental health and his emotional health and his kind spirit, but this was a physical threat that could have ended with him dead," Attas said.

"He carries his green card with him everywhere because we are afraid that if he is pulled over at a traffic stop like this, that he might end up in an immigration detention centre if he doesn't have that piece of paper with him."

Attas says the racism started as soon as they moved to North Carolina, but in the beginning they thought it was just cultural differences they were not used to.
Narváez Soza is an artist and sculptor and hopes to connect with the Winnipeg art scene when the family arrives. (Supplied)

"These sorts of things, honestly, have been happening since we arrived in 2013 and I think the election of Donald Trump, for us, kind of confirmed what we already knew," she said.

Attas says her husband had experienced racism in Canada as well, but it was generally things that seemed to stem from a lack of understanding, like being mistaken as Mexican.

"There was never the kind of hatred or fear for his life that he's experienced here," she said.

The couple plans to leave their home on May 31 with their two children and drive back to Manitoba. Attas says they will stay with her parents in Pinawa while trying to find jobs and a place to live in Winnipeg.

"Winnipeg just feels like home. It's where I grew up. My husband is willing to take the risk of the –40 weather," she said with a laugh.

"He feels comfortable [in Manitoba] in a way that he certainly doesn't here in North Carolina," she said.

Feels 'solidarity' with refugees

Attas says she has been following recent news about people crossing the border to make asylum claims in Canada, and is "really feeling a sense of solidarity with what they are experiencing," she said.

She says she understands her family has some stark differences from the refugees — she and her family have savings, family to support them, and documentation that will allow them to return to Canada.

But she says she can relate to the idea of giving up everything and moving north.

"I only hope that Canadians, and Manitobans in particularly, can recognize that the climate in the United States right now — maybe it has always been this way, but especially since the presidential election — it's not safe for people of colour," she said.

"I think that we as Canadians and as Manitobans really need to stand up and welcome these individuals with open arms and do everything we can to help them feel safe and secure," she said.

"This can happen to anyone."