Nfld. & Labrador·Point of View

Mexican by birth, here by choice: I finished school, and I'm sticking around

Contributor Santiago Guzmán is proud to call himself a 'Newfoundlander by choice.'

Santiago Guzmán came to N.L. to pursue his dream of an acting career

Born and raised in Mexico, Santiago Guzmán moved to Newfoundland four years ago to study theatre. (John Gushue/CBC)

"Coffee, anyone? ¿Alguien gusta café?" I repeated the question, now in Spanish, just to make sure my family would understand why I was excusing myself from the table.

As I was piling dirty dishes on my hands to take with me to the kitchen, I realized that my family was sitting across the table from some of my most beloved Newfoundlanders; a day I had constantly dreamt of, but never thought would happen.

I must confess that I never saw myself as a writer, a director, and definitely not a producer. My dream was to become a professional actor. That was it.

I aspired to memorize the longest monologues, make audiences get teary-eyed with my performance, stand on the most beautiful stages. But my fear to not be able to pay my bills, to eat, and to support a family hunted me, pushing me away from pursuing my dream. Instead, I decided to study a degree in communications in Toluca, Mexico, because it was the closest thing I thought to studying theatre. 

My parents, always supportive, came with me to an open house at the local university to look at the communications program and its curriculum. I asked the professor who was leading the school tour how that specific career could line up with my love for theatre.

"If you want to do art, go to a fine arts school. Go to London, Los Angeles, New York. But don't stay here. This is a business school, not a fine arts academy," he said. That was enough for him to crash the safest path (also known as comfort zone) I had envisioned for my future. 

I was offended. I was devastated. I was hopeless.

It was in Newfoundland where I confirmed that perseverance and hard work can make your dreams come true.

My dad simply said, "Maybe he's right, Santiago. Why don't you look for another university?"

After questioning for years my passion to do theatre, I never imagined that my father — an industrial chemical engineer by education, health and safety manager by trade — would motivate me to look elsewhere to pursue my dream. Of course he never imagined that I'd move to Newfoundland and Labrador, a province in Canada neither of us had heard of before.

I convinced him to bring me to a college fair at the World Trade Center in Mexico City, where different Canadian universities and colleges had booths promoting their institutions. Memorial University was there. In fact, it was the only university present that offered a bachelor of fine arts degree in theatre.

I thought they took acting very seriously — and I liked that.

My dad, on the other hand, was more mesmerized by how to physically get to Newfoundland, because it was hard for him to picture this province on a world map. Naturally, he hesitated. I kept insisting, even when all responsibility fell on my shoulders.

For the admission process, I ended up filling out the application form on my iPad while we were on vacation in the middle of nowhere, taped my video audition in the dining room of my house, and made all of the arrangements between my dad and the bursar's office, and sent in everything they asked me for. And then, I hoped for the best.

Guzmán performs in The Laramie Project, a play written about the death of Matthew Shepard, an openly gay college student who was brutally murdered in Laramie, Wyo. (Leah Vokey-Sing)

No 'Plan B'

I didn't apply anywhere else. There was no Plan B.

I knew, deep inside me, that I would be accepted into the theatre program at Grenfell Campus. Otherwise, I would have had to figure out what to do with my life, and I didn't know where to start. 

I sent emails at least once a week just to gently check in (I'm sure they didn't find it gentle at all). I stopped insisting once I ended up annoying myself. I didn't hear from the recruitment officer who insisted I apply, neither from the university itself for months. 

"Hello from Memorial University, Grenfell campus. I am writing you today to inform you that we have received enough information on your file to offer you a provisional admission to the Grenfell campus of Memorial University."

In August, I received a provisional admission, and that was enough for me to start booking my flights, packing my suitcase, and start dreaming about what Newfoundland had in store for me.

Fast-forward: four years have passed, I graduated, and I now call St. John's home.

It's amazing to think that it was it was only during the beginning of my second year of university when I realized I didn't quite think through the idea of moving to Newfoundland.

Sarah Connors and Guzmán perform in the Theatre at Grenfell production Turkeys, Turkeys and More Turkeys. (Aidan Devereaux)

Perhaps, if I had done more research (which I refused to do, because Corner Brook looked small in Google Maps and I told myself I would discover it in the four years I would live there) I probably wouldn't have moved to Newfoundland.

Perhaps, acting in my second language wasn't as easy as I thought it would be. That perhaps, I would loathe the long, painful, sad winters.

I kept telling myself that moving here was the most beautiful accident I could ever experience, until it became a reality. And I feel pretty grateful about that, because I wouldn't be the man I am today if I haven't had moved to Newfoundland to begin with.

I've had the chance to meet and work with the most amazing Canadian legends I've read about in textbooks during university. I've performed with the most talented actors I've ever seen onstage.

I've had local writers who I admire recognize my storytelling skills, but — most important — I've had the chance to work with artists I believe in and I've helped them produce their own art.

Guzmán and Robyn Vivian perform a scene from Twelfth Night in April at the Grenfell Campus. (Aidan Devereaux)

'In good hands'

Newfoundland, its culture, and its people have a very special place in my Mexican heart.

It was a Newfoundlander who taught me what love really feels like for the very first time after breaking my heart, and it was a Newfoundlander who believed in me and said, "I want you to write a short film."

It was Newfoundland rum that made me accept that tequila was my drink of choice, and it was my Newfoundland voice that pushed me to seek, respect, and praise my Mexican identity.

But it was also in Newfoundland where I confirmed that perseverance and hard work can make your dreams come true. That's why I decided to stay. I decided to remove the tag of being a "come from away" that I was crowned with, and humbly replaced it with "Newfoundlander by choice."

Calling Newfoundland home has never felt as right as it did before.

Guzmán's family travelled from Mexico to Newfoundland earlier this year. (Santiago Guzmán)

My family came to the May convocation at Memorial this year. They were "froze to death," as people say here. 

I took them around to places I had performed, and my dad, with so much joy in his words, said, "I have seen that, Santiago, you sent us a picture!"

Finally, after four years of sending them pictures and videos of what I claimed to be my life, my family got to witness with their own eyes that all the things I've said through a video chat or message were actually true. And when they met the people I kept talking about, they confirmed these people were not imaginary friends I had come up with just to make them feel like I had someone here to rely on.

"Santiago is in good hands, sir. We love him and we really want him here," my friend Ruth Lawrence said while tapping my father's shoulder. He smiled, and allowed some tears of pride and love to fall down his cheeks. 

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

About the Author

Santiago Guzmán is an actor from Mexico City currently living in St. John's, N.L.