El Salvador is a small country in Central America. When a civil war broke out in the 1980s, teachers like my parents became a target for the repressive government. After getting death threats, we decided it was best for our family to leave. We moved to Mexico, thinking the war would soon be over. We had no idea it would last 12 years. After six years in Mexico, we immigrated to Canada, settling in the Jane-Finch neighbourhood.
I still remember the landscape of the neighbourhood in the 90s. There was a large number of immigrants from Latin America, visible in the malls, churches, doctors’ offices and at school. James Cardinal McGuigan was my high school and the Jane Finch Mall was the cool place to hangout with friends.
The youth employment services office at Yorkgate Mall launched me into my first summer job as a recreation assistant for a seniors program at Northwood Community Centre. York University became my alma mater as I obtained a BA and an MA in Political Science.
The community was vibrant and full of hope as many new immigrants made it their home. On Sundays, we attended St. Jane Frances for service in Spanish where we thanked God for allowing us to leave the horrors of the war behind and start a new life in Canada.
In 1997, our family moved to Woodbridge. We missed our old neighbourhood. My old cat could not get used to his new home and ran away. I drove back to the neighbourhood many times to look for him but he was never found. I still imagine him cruising around the block, refusing to become a suburban feline.
For years, I returned to the neighbourhood to shop at Zellers and Marisel’s Bakery and get my haircut at Josanthony’s, until they closed.
When I visit the neighbourhood now, I am very happy to see the changes but also the things that have stayed the same. The malls bustling with people from so many diverse backgrounds, the flea markets, the community centres offering great programs…
Sure, growing up in Jane-Finch had its challenges. We lived close to a drug house and police presence was a regular occurrence. At times, whole SWAT teams were deployed on our block. There were gangs and shootings. But we had a strong sense of community and we were always resilient in the face of adversity. Within the corridors of what some referred to as “the concrete jungle” lived the hope of many people of all ages and backgrounds trying to improve their lives and their community; there were recreational programs for youth, neighbourhood associations putting together Caribana floats, seniors groups, free family skating days with hot chocolate and many other great initiatives.
I learned much from my Jane-Finch years. Through determination, we can overcome any barrier, whether it be linguistic, economic or cultural. The strength that a community can have when it works together is limitless, regardless of circumstances. Positive change is always possible. These experiences served me well as I became a lawyer. When faced with difficult cases or a fierce opposing counsel, it is my Jane-Finch resilience and strength that help me succeed.