Opera singer Victor Cal y mayor found just what he was looking for on P.E.I.
He wanted a good music program in a gay-friendly place — and the Island delivered
CBC P.E.I. brings you eight stories of immigrants from around the world who have chosen to live on Prince Edward Island. Some have come to learn. Some to work. Others for safety. The series, I Live Here Now, reveals why people left their old lives, what they're doing now on P.E.I., and their dreams for the future.
Interviews for the series were conducted in January, 2020.
If you met Victor Cal y mayor sitting in a Charlottetown coffee shop, walking to school or cleaning a hotel room, you might be surprised to learn that he's an opera singer. And that he's from Mexico.
It's OK. Happens all the time.
"Sometimes people think I'm from Morocco or Spain or other country but their last thought is Mexico most of the time," said Cal y mayor, 26.
"Where I'm from, they do not expect me to have that background to sing opera."
With Cal y mayor, hearing is believing. Even then, it might not be what you expect.
"The kind of voice I have, I'm a countertenor. That means that whenever I sing opera I sound like a female voice, a mezzo-soprano in this case, so it's quite unexpected."
He can also sing in 18 different languages — his favourites are German and Latin — and he can speak fluently in three: Spanish, English and French.
So how did a multilingual opera singer from southern Mexico end up in Charlottetown?
Cal y mayor said he had a "marvellous" childhood growing up in his hometown of Tuxtla Gutierrez, which has a population of a little more than half a million.
He went to a Catholic school, travelled to different parts of Mexico and was immersed in its arts and culture.
"I now know that there were political and social conflicts going on during my childhood, but I never noticed a thing," he said.
Music was often part of family gatherings, his uncle playing a bolero with his guitar while others sang and danced the tango. Christmas was always a special time when they would combine traditional turkey with other Mexican dishes and break pinatas on the patio.
Cal y mayor has a close relationship with his two younger sisters. They would shop, go to the beach and practise taekwondo together.
His father is a doctor. His mother, who was a competitive basketball player, also works in health care.
He remembers as a boy accompanying his father to health clinics in rural communities.
"I had great times in villages in the mountains where life is simple, quiet and beautiful. I played with the children there. Barefoot, we went up and down the hills and down to the river."
Yearning to go abroad
He calls Mexico a blend of the pre-Hispanic and the modern — "a place where the whole world collides. It is surreal."
It is also a relatively conservative country, he said, and as he grew older, he yearned to "go abroad and experience new things."
His destination depended on two main criteria: it had to have a school with a good music program and it had to be what he described as "gay friendly."
Cal y mayor's journey from Mexico to P.E.I.
One place stood out. In September 2016 he arrived in Charlottetown and enrolled at Holland College.
"Here I don't feel the need to be hiding or to be repressing that side of me which I consider such a blessing," he said.
"It's one of the things that really motivated me to come here, not only to pursue my academic research and development but also because I knew it would be a wonderful, wonderful place to find a partner."
Cal y mayor graduated from Holland College and is studying administration, in French, at Collège de L'Île. He hopes it will help him with the business side of a musical career.
To help pay the bills, he works in housekeeping at the Great George hotel.
"The work team here is so amazing and I felt quite welcome since Day 1, so that really makes working quite pleasant even in the times where it's so busy and demanding."
He's happiest, though, when he's singing opera. He practises every week at Florence Simmons Performance Hall at Holland College and is occasionally hired to sing on stage or at a private residence. He performed on Valentine's Day at the Guild.
In the summer of 2017, he went to Europe for the first time and performed in France, Belgium and the Netherlands. He said there, too, people were intrigued by an opera singer from Mexico.
Most of the time they don't expect me to tell them, 'Oh what I do is opera and what I sing is Baroque music in German or in Italian.'— Victor Cal y mayor
"Because of my cultural background they are not expecting me, for example, be able to work with so many languages or be versed in English as well," he said.
"Or most of the time they don't expect me to tell them, 'Oh what I do is opera and what I sing is Baroque music in German or in Italian.'"
Cal y mayor said he misses Mexico at times. Sure, it has its issues, but it's a nice place to live and not as bad as the media — and U.S. President Donald Trump — sometimes make it out to be.
"I'd say Mexico is like any other country. It has its bad and good," he said. "But we can go there and have a great time."
P.E.I. feels like home
He also misses the weather but not in the way you might expect from someone moving from Mexico to Canada.
"It might sound somehow peculiar, but one of things I really miss are the heavy, heavy rain and thunderstorms. Because here we do have some lightning and thunder [on P.E.I.] but it's not as strong as back home."
When Cal y mayor first came to P.E.I., it was "just to experience a new thing." But the longer he stays, the more it feels like home.
"I'd like to stay here and I'd also like to keep on doing music locally and also travel around and keep doing music on the side," he said.
"As far as racism or xenophobia I have never, never experienced something like that here. On the contrary, it's been rather friendly and I'd say the people here from the Island have embraced me in a very good way."