Mario Gordon

When you feel you are in the right place for you to thrive, you take comfort knowing you have made the right decision for yourself.

Mario Gordon is a freelancer graphic designer and street photographer. He worked at YGAP (a non-profit that helps to impact positively entrepreneurs around the world) as Creative Director during their 2016 polished man campaign. Mario’s creative skills has seen him perform as deejay, percussionist and radio show production. He has played with Latin Grammy award winning groups during their Australian tours. He is always looking for ways to give back to the community so he volunteers regularly with non-profit start ups. 

Country of Origin: Panama. State of Residency: VIC. Favourite place in Australia: Tasmania. Upon arrival: Surprised by the fact that I was able to wake up everyday in this amazing country.

 

Tell us your story 

A childhood friend recently mentioned that when I was eight years old I pointed to Australia on the world map and said: “this is the place I will explore when I grow up”. As destiny would have it, years later some family members moved to Sydney and I had the opportunity to visit them on a holiday in 2000. Early on I fell in love with Australia; I knew I had found a new home. Back then immigration laws were more flexible and I was able to apply for a resident visa while I was on holiday. I barely spoke English so I had to take jobs not many would take. A challenging job I took was as carer of handicapped children. This was difficult as these kids could be violent with challenging behaviours. During that time I focused on my music and was able to become a well-known percussionist in the electronic music scene in Sydney. I had the opportunity to play at the Sydney Opera House, Sydney Festival, New Year Eve parties at Luna Park and Harbour Bridge amongst others. I even had the golden opportunity to play with two international Grammy award winners Los Amigos Invisibles and Aterciopelados. I was also the body double for Jamie Fox in Stealth and an extra for the Matrix Reloaded movie filmed in Sydney. 

Around 2005 I was visiting Canberra once a month for music gigs. I figured I should move there for few months to explore opportunities. Those months turned into 8 wonderful years. I will be forever grateful to Frank Madrid as he opened the doors for me. He gave me my first opportunity there and has always looked after me since. I worked for FAMA as Latin American talent promoter bringing bands like Fulanito, Wilson Saoco and Tito Puente Jr. among others. I also worked as graphic design for the arts industry, government and private sector. Later I was Creative Director of a dance studio with whom we produced a musical of Ruben Blades famous song Pedro Navaja amongst other events.

In 2013 I did a soul searching trip for 18 months. I visited some countries in America and returned to Panama to work as graphic designer helping startup businesses. Upon my return to Australia, I decided to move to the city I consider is a hot spot for creativity and innovation – Melbourne. I updated my knowledge on the latest industry trends studying full-time graphic design and was lucky enough to volunteer and then work for YGAP as Creative Director. With YGAP I had the opportunity to travel to Africa. At the moment I am back as freelancer, working hard to establish the Mario Gordon brand. Whenever possible I am still involved in the music scene.

Mario playing at the NYE Sydney Celebrations in 2002. Photo by Mark Matthews

Challenges 

Unplanned move – Since my holiday turned into the start of my migration journey, it was a challenging start as I was not really prepared for my new life. Migrating requires you to learn the language and of course the culture so that you can really thrive in the new environment. I ended up learning English here, mainly by watching movies with subtitles and encouraging myself to talk in English as much as I could. In hindsight, a bit of planning and extra time to make the move would have been beneficial.

Not having it all – Family and friends are irreplaceable and very important to one’s life, you wish you could take them with you wherever life takes you. But, when you find a place far away from your home country and you feel you are in the right place for you to thrive, you take comfort knowing you have made the right decision for yourself. 

Being an entrepreneur – Having enough money is a challenge for everyone, even more so for new migrants. When opening a business, you know you will struggle at the beginning. I have been blessed with a set of skills that have helped me to make the journey less stressful. I believe a strong grit makes the difference when facing challenges.

Contrasts 

Creative out of necessity – In the neighborhood where I grew up (in Panama) we had to be creative out of necessity to survive. That experience of living with less developed in me the ability to live simplistically. This has enabled me to find and create opportunities for myself and always coming back to the core needs to experience happiness in life. On contrary, in Australia essential needs are provided to high standards; so this allows Australians to thrive in a supportive environment.

Only geography separates us – At the end of the day, we are all humans. We all enjoy food, music, being in the company of friends and expressing love to our family. I would like to stop talking about the insignificant differences between Latin Americans and Australians. The instruments we use are different but the essence is the same. 

Mario playing with in 2015

Piece of advice 

Be prepared – Be mentally prepared for the emotional, financial and spiritual challenges that come with a change in environment. Engage with your local community, study and network socially and professionally.

Embrace your culture –  It is up to us how we bring our culture into the context of how we live in Australia. I express my roots by sharing my Latin American music and my art. In Australia is common that people ask you where you come from; so be proud of your heritage and don’t try to detach yourself from it.

Know your true self  – The identity of a person projected to the world is an individual with ambitions, fears and motivation, so measuring success can be difficult as it is different to each and every individual. Being a Latino abroad can be faced with its challenges at times; however, knowing yourself and your feelings can get you the reward you are seeking.

Share your journey –  I’m passionate about helping people in transitioning to find a life of enjoyment in Australia. I’ve been sharing my journey with others to help them. I find this is a great way to have a positive impact on people’s journeys. 

Mario took this for photo for YGAP while on assignment in Kenya

In the next years, Mario sees himself continuing to work hard to find fulfilment in the present. He looks for growth in the now and enjoying the present moment. He tries not to worry about the future as he knows life constantly changes by situations outside his control. In the next few years he is looking forward to consolidate his business and get recognition in the graphic design industry in Australia. If you wish to contact Mario email us at latinstoriesaustralia@gmail.com

Chachy Peñalver

The knowledge and experience you developed for years were not left behind, they are with you wherever you go.

Chachy Penalver is a professional flamenco dancer and teacher. Founder of “The Sydney Flamenco Studio”. On 2013 she was awarded a scholarship in the “Ciclo Dedicado a la formation completa del Baile Flamenco” at Amor the Dios in Madrid. In 2015 she was awarded as a “Prominent young talent” by the Australian Hispanic Woman Business Network. She recently joined the Venezuelan Association of Australia where she volunteers to fund raise money to send medical supplies to Venezuela.

Country of Origin: Venezuela. State of Residency: NSW. Favourite place in Australia: The Gap lookout in Watsons bay. Upon arrival: Surprised by the peculiar sound of the local birds. Photo by: Octopus Studio.

Tell us your story

My husband Jonathan and I applied to be Australian permanent residents whilst living in Venezuela as we were looking for a better life. We were attracted to its multicultural society, its international aid programs and the friendly carefree character that defines Australians. We migrated in 2012 after a two year process. I was hoping to continue my career as a flamenco dancer. I knew beforehand that the flamenco community wasn’t as big as it was back home, due to the vast cultural heritage difference (Venezuela was colonised by Spain). Nevertheless I found there was a flamenco following with schools and professionals performing regularly. So, I contacted flamenco teachers, performers and musicians through different social platforms. I organised catch ups over coffee where I introduced myself. I felt I could have come across as a crazy person but it turns out coffee catch ups are the norm in Australia. These people were very generous with their time. To this day, I still work with those first connections that helped me understand and navigate the local scene.

Chachy with ‘Arrebato Ensemble’ in the show “Neither from here nor there” at NIDA’s Playhouse, 2017. Sydney. Photo by: Roberto Duran.

After a few months, I rented a small space in an artist’s studio where I gave my first classes. I had to move my classes to five different locations in a year because flamenco can get quite loud and not everyone enjoys the noise. Despite these moves I was able to cultivate a strong student base that followed me around throughout the years with loving loyalty. They didn’t care if we were doing our classes in a beautiful studio or under the Harbour Bridge on a Sunday morning. The quality of the human beings that I have crossed paths as students and colleagues is without a doubt the biggest gift that this country has given me. After a four year search for the perfect location, including endless nights reading paperwork, construction assessments, a kick-starter campaign, a bank loan and family loans; I was able to establish my own space! On 18 April 2016 The Sydney Flamenco Studio officially opened its doors and today we run daily classes for all levels and ages. At the moment I am also performing constantly in Sydney and trying to find new ways of exposing flamenco to a wider audience within Australia. 

In building my reputation I took any opportunity to show my work. One instance took me to busking on the streets of Adelaide during the 2013 fringe festival where I was asked on the spot to lead a few workshops. Now, I feel I am part of the local flamenco scene joining other artists as well as performing independently. I have worked with incredible musicians including Arrebato Ensemble, Bandaluzia Flamenco and La Peña Flamenca. In 2013 and 2015 I collaborated with a group of classical pianists, led by Natalia Ricci, for the Sydney Conservatorium of Music

During all my projects, my husband has been always by my side with his unconditional support. He is the best business partner as he cares for us in the most intelligent and loving way. I won the lottery the day I met him. I think from the day we met we realised we both have the same profound respect for freedom (even within a couple). That is something that has bound us in the most beautiful way. I love our life together in Sydney.

Challenges

Missing the family – Leaving my family and friends back in Venezuela while I came to Australia in search of a better quality of life was hard. What has helped me overcome this is the technology as it has allowed me to keep them present on a daily basis, despite the amount of kilometers between us. 

Language – You always think you speak enough English to get by, until you face “Australian English”. I spent several months feeling frustrated as I could not fully understand the accent and the slang. Hence, I couldn’t figure out people’s world views. I knew it would take time to be proficient, but I wanted to see the progress immediately. I had to change my perspective and work towards improvement without a time limit. I allowed myself to make mistakes when I speak but to learn from them. I still try to take every moment as an opportunity to improve.

Setting up a business – The process of trying to comply with the council requirements to establish the studio was a lengthy difficult process. We spent hours reading legal documents about noise regulation, building’s fire structure resistance, and disability regulations amongst other things in order to get council approval for the project. I remember there was a point when my husband and I thought on quitting the project and facing debt. We are resilient and managed to find strength to keep going.  

‘Neither from here nor there’ at NIDA’s Playhouse on 2017 with Arrebato Ensemble. Photo by: Monica Buscarino

Contrasts 

Resilience – I think Latinos are inherently very resilient as we come from countries where achieving things is very difficult. We work hard and to look for opportunities where all you can see its difficulties. If we believe in our work or idea, we will make it happen.

Warmth – Latinos are people who like to see into each other’s eyes and to show affection without shame. We kiss and hug each other to say hello (even if you are just meeting that person for the first time). This warmth brings joy into people’s hearts. In this sense I feel Australians are more reserved than Latin Americans.

Welcoming attitude – Australians are humble, friendly people, with a wonderful sense of humour and a welcoming attitude. This is very similar to how Venezuelans used to be – a space where everyone was welcome as long as you were honest, hard worker and a good-hearted person.

Piece of  advice 

Be patient – Adapting to a new culture might take a while so give yourself the time and opportunity to appreciate the culture. Approach this with curiosity and without comparisons, as Australia offers you a complete different reality. Learning cultural differences allow us to understand where people’s reactions and world views come from. This in turn helps us coexist by respecting each other. For me it has always been important to remember that it’s me who is trying to find my way, and a place, within a society that has being welcoming to me.

Do not dwell on the past – Most of us have had successful careers before migrating. Once here, we miss having that public recognition and it feels very hard to start all over again. Don’t let your ego get in the way. Don’t try to compare and feel bad for what it feels like a loss. All your past achievements are going to be useful at some stage. The knowledge and experience you developed for years were not left behind, they are with you wherever you go.

Find what makes your heart sing – No matter what it looks like, no matter how difficult it seems, believe that you can achieve what you dare to dream. Work hard to achieve it and make sure you prepare well. So, if migrating is your dream, then explore in depth the local context of the culture you are trying to insert in.

Jonathan and Chachy in Dee Why Beach, Northern Beaches Sydney 2016. Photo by Monika Moller

In the next years, Chachy would love to create more stage productions to spread the word not only about this incredible art form but also about the importance of arts to humans and the huge impact this can have in young generations. Also, she sees her studio growing and allowing new talents to grow as professionals who can also showcase this dance art on their own. She would love to see the community around flamenco becoming stronger and fruitful. If you wish to contact Chachy email us at latinstoriesaustralia@gmail.com

 

Ivan Aristeguieta

Every time you feel anxious because things are not happening the way you expected or wanted, take a deep breath and review your plan.

Ivan Aristeguieta is a household name in the Australian comedy scene. Despite being an immigrant and new to the comedy scene, he has already been invited to participate in two gala nights of the Melbourne International Comedy Festival [MICF]; the opening show of the Festival which is nationally televised. He has also been awarded the “Best Newcomer – Sydney Comedy Festival 2016” and the “Best Comedy – Adelaide Fringe Festival Weekly Awards 2017”. Recently he came together with other comedians to create a comedy gala fundraiser to send medical supplies to Venezuela. 

Country of Origin: Venezuela. State of Residency: VIC. Favourite place in Australia: Adelaide Hills. Upon arrival: Surprised by how he easily connected with Australians.

Tell us your story

Around 2003 my wife at the time and I decided to move out of Venezuela for a few reasons: (1) Safety – like many Venezuelans I was a victim of crime, my car was stolen at gunpoint; (2) career change – I have a degree in Business but I wanted to do study something related to food processing; and (3) life experience – we wanted to change our environment and improve our English. So, on January 2004 we moved to Brisbane where we lived for two years while I studied a Diploma of Food Technology at Southbank TAFE. I had part time jobs including gardening, painting, building camping tents and as a singer in a band called “La Gran Salsa”. I also participated in a Latin American community radio show in Spanish called “La Esquina Latina”. After the completion of my degree, we moved to Spain where I studied Brewing and Malting technology and due to unplanned events we went back to Venezuela in 2007. In Venezuela I worked in a commercial brewery and a friend advised me to start doing stand-up comedy. I fell in love immediately with stand up and kept doing it on a weekly basis; few years later I quit the brewery to become a full time comedian. The situation in Venezuela was getting worse, crime rates increased, economic instability and an authoritarian government, so we started to find ways to go back to Australia and we applied for the 475 (regional visa).

Ivan performing at one of his shows. Photo by Rednaphotography

In January 2012 we moved to Adelaide. Because I was focused in doing comedy in English I enrolled in a course at the Australian Radio School to gain confidence in speaking English in front of a microphone and to do networking on the field. In April 2012 I did my first ever open mic in English (5 mins on stage for amateurs). I continued writing comedy and doing open mics weekly. I had many “day jobs”. All of them related to food; from cooking in a Mexican restaurant to teaching food safety and principles of food processing in food factories. To work my way up on the comedy field, I contacted comedy promoters and traveled to different cities (all at my own expenses, as you don’t get paid for comedy until they make sure that you are funny and that you can keep an audience laughing for at least 20 mins). At the end of 2012, the associate director of the MICF saw me in a comedy night in Adelaide and chose me to be part of the 2013 comedy zone – a show that is produced by the festival and puts together the best up and coming comedians of the country. It was my first festival and this experience opened the doors for me to the Australian comedy scene. In 2014 I produced my first solo show in English “Lost in Pronunciation” at the MICF and Adelaide Fringe festival. That year, with the support of my wife at the time, I left my “day job” to travel around Australia to get paid gigs.  I’ve presented a new show every year since: Permanent Resident, Chorizo Sizzle and Juithy. The last two with sold out seasons at the MICF. During the run of Permanent Resident I was contacted by Buxstock Comedy Management and have been working with them for the last two years. I am currently writing Season 2 of my TV show “Lost in Pronunciation” and I just recently moved to Melbourne.

Challenges

Separation – I’ve heard lots of stories of couples splitting up after they move to another country. That was my case as well. After 16 years of relationship my wife and I separated. Immigration changes you, we grew apart. It has been extremely difficult, and it’s a challenge very hard to overcome. Thankfully I love my job and comedy has kept me grounded during rough times.

To be someone – Before coming, a lot of my friends suggested me not to move to Australia, as in Venezuela I was “someone”. I had friends and family and people recognised me as a comedian and as a radio announcer. For me, to be someone means: how many people will ask “hey, where’s Ivan?” if you disappear one day. So, the challenge was to become “someone” again; to make good friends and good relationships in Australia and spend time cultivating those relationships.

Balancing between cultural groups – When immigrating, is very easy to stay inside social circles with people whom you share the same cultural identity. This is very important but also very tricky because is extremely comforting and easy to do. In order to immigrate properly and adapt to your new culture you must have a healthy balance between your social groups. In my case, the Latinos and the Aussies.

Ivan at the MICF. Photo by Latin Stories Australia

Contrast

Communication – We (Latinos) tend to give a lot of information when we speak. We give the full story, the details, even the drama. Australians are more concise and straight forward when communicate. It’s a big cultural shock when we hear people being too direct to us. Sometimes we take it personally. We see it as dry and impersonal. Most of the time is not about us, they are simply more efficient and not in the mindset for a soap opera.

Freedom to change – I was very impressed to see Australians quitting their jobs to try doing new things without hesitation. They have a different mindset because the Australian system has like a safety net to prevent people from hitting rock bottom. This generates progress as it helps people to try things they are really interested in. In Latin America, we don’t have any benefits from the government, so people cling to a job forever and are afraid to give a go to anything new. If you made it all the way to Oz, you might as well do what you love.

Piece of advice

Ask questions – When you are in the middle of a conversation in English and you don’t understand what they are talking about, don’t be afraid to stop the conversation to ask things like; can you repeat that word? What is the meaning? How do you spell that? People will appreciate your interest and will make time to explain it to you. Remember, the squeaky wheel gets the oil.

Set goals and make a plan – Whatever goal you want to accomplish in Australia, make a plan. Do your research and find out how long will take to reach your goal and what are the logic steps to get it. Create a sensible plan. Every time you feel anxious because things are not happening the way you expected or wanted, take a deep breath and review your plan. I have seen many people quitting too early without realising that they were on track.

Listen and be humble – One thing is to believe in yourself and have a healthy self-esteem and another thing is to be stubborn and proud. If you keep hitting the same roadblock time and time again, you are probably doing something wrong. Open yourself up to constructive criticism and advice; listen to the experts and the people who care for you. Be humble and accept your mistakes. In my case, comedy is a very humbling experience. When the audience is not laughing is because you are not being funny, we need to listen to the audience and accept the horrible truth.

Ivan promoting his show “Juicy”

In the next years Ivan is planning to launch a podcast. One of his long term plan includes writing movie scripts. Of course, he would also like to keep expanding his comedy career by taking his stand-up shows to the US and Europe. If you wish to contact Ivan email us at latinstoriesaustralia@gmail.com

Gustavo Recaman Koppel

Take the time to know yourself, find your passions, and make the most of the opportunities life throws at you.

Gustavo is currently a Waste and Resource Recovery Data Analyst for Sustainability Victoria. He also has experience in energy and thermal performance efficiency. Gustavo is currently undertaking the Centre for Sustainability Leadership Fellowship Program in Melbourne. He is passionate about the environment and promoting triple bottom line sustainability practices. He believes in the power of people coming together to generate better social and environmental outcomes. For this reason he has volunteered for the Centre for Sustainability Leadership, the Great Victorian fish count, Beach Patrol and Clean Up Australia Day.

Country of Origin: Colombia. State of Residency: VIC. Favourite place in Australia: Croajingolong National Park, Victoria. Upon arrival: Surprised by how cold it was. I didn’t expect it at all!

Tell us your story  

After having worked for a couple of years in a bank in Colombia, I realised that I was more interested in the environment and sustainability than in the work I was doing at the time. I started getting involved and learning about sustainability and decided I wanted a career change and to study further. I then came across the Masters of Environment from the University of Melbourne and enrolled to start in July 2009. To be honest, I didn’t really do a lot of research about Melbourne, so when I arrived in the middle of the winter, the dream of surfing in sunny beaches quickly disappeared.

First things to be done on arrival were to get a phone, find a place to live and open a bank account. I couldn’t rent a place without a bank account and a phone number; I also couldn’t get a phone number without a residential address and a bank account, nor open a bank account without a phone number and a residential address! Everything seemed too complicated at the time but I managed to sort it out in time for classes to start. Luckily I had my good friend Felipe who had arrived at the same time as me in Melbourne and was going through exactly the same problems. At the end of the day we would have a beer and laugh about how lost we felt.  Despite considering myself to have good English, I left my first lecture not understanding much at all. I found it hard in part because it was my first ever lecture in English but also because I didn’t know many of the local Australian examples used in class to explain principles and theory. My understanding grew over time and with that my participation in lectures. In 2010 I met Sam, a fellow Master of Environment student who was also passionate about sustainability and protecting the environment. We have been together since then.

While studying I worked in hospitality. During this time I also volunteered my time to organisations with whom I shared values. There are several organisations and groups needing a hand and many different ways to help that it wasn’t difficult to be accepted as a volunteer. One of these organisations is the Centre for Sustainability Leadership (CSL) which offers leadership programs for individuals, organisations and communities who have the passion and commitment to make a better future. My volunteering experiences allowed me to remain connected with the issues I was interested in, to develop skills, and to meet a likeminded network of people.

Gustavo and Sam at Banks Peninsula, New Zealand (2015). Photo courtesy of Catherine Coghill

A couple of months before graduation I started looking for a job. At the time I held a bridging visa for a temporary residency. It had no working restrictions but it didn’t seem the visa was very appealing to potential employers. My biggest challenge was to build my network and understand how the employment and recruitment process worked. After speaking to different people I was recommended to contact recruitment agencies in Melbourne who recruited in my field of interest. Through the agency I got hired for a 1 month contract role. I was working in energy efficiency, for a rebate program which focused on the replacement of solar hot water and heating systems at Sustainability Victoria (SV). This Victorian Government agency facilitates and promotes environmental sustainability in the use of resources.  My contract continued being renewed and it has now been five years since I had that role. I am currently a data analyst for the Waste and Resource Recovery team. I lead the collection and reporting of the recycling industry data to support the Victorian State-wide Waste and Resource Recovery Infrastructure Plan (SWRRIP). This data helps us understand waste generation and recycling in Victoria. I plan to continue working in this field and develop the skills and experience to be more influential and effective as a sustainability leader through the 2017 Future Makers Fellowship Program.

Challenges 

Family and friends – Of course being far away from family and friends is always hard. I regularly wish I could go more often to Colombia to visit them all. However, I am very lucky to have my partner Sam and her family as my family here. I also have a great group of friends as an extended family.

Visa process – After almost 8 years in Australia I am yet to become citizen. I am awaiting an invitation to the citizenship ceremony any day now. Back at the beginning of my Australian journey, it seemed like a very expensive and almost impossible task. Not having a visa that evidenced that I intended to stay in the country made my job search more difficult than it would have been otherwise.

Gustavo enjoying the outdoors at Lake Wanaka, New Zealand (2016). Photo courtesy of Samantha Mikus

Contrasts

Cultural traits – I think we Latinos are very resilient and perseverant. When I decided to stay in the country I had a clear plan of what I wanted to do and where I wanted to be. Having that focus helped me stay motivated and determined to find a way into the workforce in my chosen field. I particularly like Australians punctuality, humour and trust in each other and enjoy the diversity of cultures.

Outdoor activities – I love the outdoors culture of Australia. If they’re not out surfing, they’re hiking or camping or playing sports, but it is always outside! I also love how you can’t get bored because there is something happening at all times. Melbourne has different festivals all year round. We also have the tennis, rugby, AFL, football (aka soccer), beautiful parks and coasts, the bay and much more. I didn’t use to do as many outdoors activities or to attend so many public and cultural events back home as I do here.

Piece of advice

Give it a go – My recommendation to someone thinking of moving to Australia is to give it a go. You will not know if you like it until you try it. I would suggest coming with an open mind and to be aware that there will be ups and downs.

Build your network – I think it is very important from the beginning to build your network. Make new friends, work with your community, volunteer your time to something you are passionate about, join a sports team, etc. You will feel better supported as part of a group.

Self-awareness – Take the time to know yourself, find your passions, and make the most of the opportunities life throws at you.

Gustavo at Croajingolong National Park, Victoria (2015). Photo courtesy of Samantha Mikus

In the next few years, Gustavo would like to be working more closely with the community reducing the environmental footprint, protecting marine life and keeping our oceans clean from waste. He wants future generations to be able to enjoy outdoors, and to be able to snorkel in clean waters. Sam is currently 5 months pregnant and he visualises his family going camping, hiking, kayaking and snorkelling. He also wants to ensure his kids stay connected to their Latin roots, understanding his culture and Spanish language. If you wish to contact Gustavo email us at latinstoriesaustralia@gmail.com

Karina Ojeda Rodriguez

Make sure you look after yourself and keep good mental health. You will need a strong spirit to navigate the immigration challenge.

Karina is the co-founder of social enterprise Mosaik Experiences and Not for Profit organisation Casa Cultura. She is also a board director for the Colombian Children’s Foundation – an Australian NGO that supports projects which reduce the participation of children in Colombian armed conflicts. Recipient of important scholarships including the New and Emerging Communities Women’s Leadership Program at Leadership Victoria, Melbourne Accelerator Program at the School for Social Entrepreneurs and the UQ Latin American Professional Internship Scholarship. Her time in Australia has seen her establish her career as a social entrepreneur and as a community leader.

Country of Origin: Colombia. State of Residency: Victoria. Favourite place in Australia: Sapphire Coast in New South Wales. Upor arrival: Surprised by the cultural diversity and beautiful natural surroundings. Phot by Juan David Giraldo

Tell us your story

I had been working as an Electrical Engineer in Colombia for five years when I decided I really wanted to work for an international social development organisation. To be a suitable candidate I needed to improve my English and get a higher qualification, so in 2010 I moved to Brisbane to do my studies. I worked part-time as a waitress and cleaner. This experience helped me to better understand the local culture, build friendships and to rapidly improve my vocabulary. Looking back at those tough years as an international student, it felt as if I did a master in personal development as I worked physically and mentally very hard. My new life in Australia taught me a deep meaning of perseverance, discipline, commitment, determination, humility, compassion, faith, hope, and love. It was worth it as I realised what I was made of.

In 2012, I returned to Colombia to get married to my high school sweetheart Juan David. We then moved back to Australia to continue our journey together as doors were opening professionally for both of us. I undertook a Masters degree in project management with a focus on social entrepreneurship by the University of Queensland, and Juan David got a professional opportunity as IT Operations and Infrastructure Team Leader.

Upon graduation in 2013, I secured a scholarship to do an internship in Melbourne with Engineers Without Borders. In 2014, I volunteered in this organisation, and then became part of the staff team working as a coordinator of its social venture program and as executive assistant in 2015. I was lucky enough to work for Lizzie Brown, an exceptional leader who later became my mentor and close friend.

Around 2014, I met Eyal Chipkiewicz and Catalina Gonzalez with whom I was able to materialise my social entrepreneurship dreams. They are both passionate Latin American professionals interested in community development and in promoting our culture. I have been blessed to work alongside them since.

Karina and Catalina with the Mosaik Experiences team. Photo by Julie Hartskeerl.

Catalina and I started a social enterprise, Mosaik Experiences which aims to inspire a sense of community and belonging by immersing people in the rich Latin Culture. We offer authentic and participative experiences that include the most exotic ingredients of the Latin culture: music, dance, arts & craft, food and language. Our experiences are perfect to spice up private functions, corporate and community celebrations.

Eyal and I established Casa Cultura, a Not-for-profit organisation that promotes a model of an inclusive society, drawing on the example of Latin-American cultural values as they pertain to a collaborative and connected community that embraces diversity.

‘The School of the Word’ is a social and spiritual community project I started in Melbourne in 2014. It is an initiative from the Verbum Dei Community where we aim to help the Latin community with spiritual guidance. I have been lucky to have the support of Capellania Hispana and Refuge of Hope in an initiative that feeds the soul.

My journey as a social entrepreneur has been professionally rewarding but financially challenging. As such, I have had to find part-time paid jobs. Last year, I worked at Leadership Victoria as recruitment and operation coordinator supporting different leadership programs such as ‘New and Emerging Communities’, ‘African Leadership’ and ‘Williamson Community Leadership Program’. Additionally, I work as Spanish teacher at different community houses in the Moreland area.

Karina in carnaval outfit. Photo by Juan David Giraldo.

Social entrepreneurship, cultural and community development, leadership and education are my passions. I believe they are a vehicle that brings positive social changes to get a better world. I will continue working hard to obtain outcomes to impact our world positively from a spiritual, cultural and economic perspective.

Challenges 

Dual identity – It is a privilege to be an Australian citizen as well as a Colombian citizen as this gives me a dual identity. I have chosen to adopt and keep aspects of both cultures. Not only I am able to maintain my roots and cultural heritage, but I am also privileged to share it in a new cultural environment.

Outside of my comfort zone –  Working in casual jobs, self- acceptance of an accent in a second language, and starting a new life from zero have all been lessons of resilience and adaptation. I was able to overcome this by keeping a strong soul and taking decisions guided by clear mind and heart.

Casa Cultura – Encuentro 2 A three-fold musical collaboration. Photo by Gabriela Gonzalez 2015

Contrasts

Family – I come from a close-knit family that supports each other regularly and with constant communication and union. In Australia, people tend to be very independent and un-tied to family activities.

Detachment –  I have observed Australians have a high capacity to be detached from material things. They are very open minded and leave jobs to make sure they don’t miss out on travelling and experiencing the world. In Latin America, we are very attached to our country and think twice before travelling abroad for long periods.

Flexible workplaces – Australians highly value their work-life balance. Workplaces have annual leave, sicks days, paid parental leave and maternity leave (your job is kept for you while you take one year off work). Our Latin culture is all about hard work but with little allowances for a healthy balance.

Piece of advice 

Faith, hope & love – As Mother Teresa said “Not all of us can do great things. But we can do small things with great love.” Undoubtedly, love is the source of a happy life, try to do everything in your life with a lot of faith, hope and love.

Keep a balance – Living in a different country is a big challenge: culture shock, new relationships, the absence of family, and other little things that will challenge your beliefs. Make sure you look after yourself and keep good mental health. You will need a strong spirit to navigate the immigration challenge.

 Self Acceptance – Being mindful about your own life is a key aspect of achieving a successful personal journey. Acknowledge who you are right now, let go of the past and immerse yourself in the present moment that will shape your future.

Karina and Juan David at her Australian Citizen ceremony in December 2016

 In the next few years, Karina plans to continue planting seeds of social change. She wants to continue working in the community and cultural development of social projects, exploring opportunities to consolidate ties amongst Australia and Latin American. She hopes to strengthen further and consolidate Mosaik and Casa Cultura. Karina and Juan David will be very busy in the next months as the couple is expecting their first baby girl.

Juan Pablo de Anda

Don’t linger in the past, live the present, but use your heritage to your advantage

Juan Pablo is co founder of the first Mexican Paleteria in Australia ChillBro! Paletas. Despite being a new and novel business, ChillBro! Paletas has participated in renowned events and festivals such as the Australian Open through Mamasita Restaurant, Tennis Australia Christmas party, The Puma Flagship store launch at Melbourne Central, St Jemores Laneway Festival among others. To continue increasing the awareness of the Mexican food, they work with restaurants such as Mamasita, La tortilleria and Cantina Bendigo amongst others. Juan Pablo still works part time as a fashion consultant at Politix Menswear. During his time at Politix he has been in charge of project developments and has won awards such as sales leader and area manager.

Country of Origin: Mexico. State of Residency: VIC. Favourite place in Australia: Byron Bay. Upon arrival: Surprised by how dark it was at 4:30pm in a Melbourne winter day

Tell us your story

After I graduated from my degree in Marketing, I got a job as a visual merchandiser and sales manager at Sony Electronics in Guadalajara Mexico, which got me connected with people from a well-known advertising agency. I really wanted to work there to learn as much as I could from the advertising industry. I finally got the job and worked at that agency for 2.5 years. I have to admit, it was not an easy job. Working in that field can put a lot of pressure and require from you a lot of dedication and long hours. Eventually, I needed a break. I wanted to do a Master’s degree overseas, to experience another culture while studying. In 2005, I chose RMIT in Melbourne to study a degree in advertising. When I arrived to Melbourne, a couple from Mexico helped me a lot to settle in more smoothly. However, I have to admit that since my early years I had to learn to be adaptable to changes, moving houses, meet new people and make new friends as a kid I moved a lot within Mexico due to my dad’s job.

I got my very first job by walking in different shops and asking if they needed help. My first job was in a busy coffee shop in Elizabeth Street, Melbourne. Melbourne has amazing coffee and soon I realised that I knew very little about coffee compared to Melbournians and the people in the coffee shop. So, I had to refine my coffee skills straight away. Few months after I got the job, a Colombian friend invited me to his birthday dinner. That night I meet other Colombians; one of them suggested me to apply for a job at the company she was working for – Politix Menswear. She gave me tips on how to dress for an interview at a fashion retailer and the basics on what to say. I followed her recommendations and I went to talk to her boss which gave me my first trial.  It wasn’t easy at the beginning, I had to step out of my comfort zone and learn to engage in quick conversations to customers and basically sell not just items of clothes but a full styling and outfitting service. I proved to be a valuable staff member and worked between intermittently during my time as student.

After completion of my studies I was ready to go back to Mexico. However, someone suggested me to approach my boss at Politix and ask for a sponsorship visa to stay and work in Australia. At that moment, I wasn’t too serious about the fact of staying in Australia, as that was not my original plan. However, something inside of me, made me reconsider it. So I decided to put together a presentation to the big boss. He not only gave me the opportunity but also offered me a job in marketing at head office. A year later, I was promoted to Regional Sales Manager.

While I was in the sponsorship visa process, I met a beautiful girl, at a community charity event from El Salvador. It took me a while to convince her to date me. After dating for about 4 years we got married in 2012. Around the same time, I decided I wanted to have my own business. Matt Liang one of my friends from work had the same interest, so we started to develop a few projects and it was until 2014 that we had the idea of opening a Mexican Paleteria. We chose this concept because we saw the opportunity to introduce “Paletas” – a popular Mexican style of ice treats on a stick. Despite, the idea being there, we had to learn first how to make them. So I went to Mexico to take an intensive course on Mexican artisan ice cream making and Paleta making, which was also an opportunity to see my family and friends. Once I came back, Matt, my wife, and myself worked for about 4 intensive months improving and developing our own recipes. We were presented with a huge opportunity to partner up with one of Matt’s friends as an investor. He is a restaurateur with lots of experience in the field, so together we opened up a shop in July 2015.

From left to right: Co-founder of ChillBro! Paletas Matt Liang, Juan Pablo,and one of the staff at ChillBro! Paletas

Today we make Paletas using the artisan method I learned in Mexico using fresh fruits, milk, cream and other delicious ingredients as dulce de leche, chocolate and nuts. Currently, ChillBro! Paletas is open to the public on ground level in Melbourne Central. We also operate 6 Paleta carts (Ice Cream carts) to cater for events and festivals in Melbourne and surroundings all year round.

Challenges 

Staying in Australia – An overwhelming challenge for me was to get my sponsor visa. While I had been working with the Politix for 1.5 years, I knew it would be a big challenge to sell myself to my boss. However, I was determined to give it a shot and stay in Australia, so I put all my effort to achieve it. I deliver a presentation to my boss on Marketing insight and the challenges and opportunities that I saw back then. The opportunity to be sponsored by my company to stay in Australia was huge.

Relationships – I struggle to convince my now-wife that I was serious about her. I was straight up to her, but she got a bit funny about me being so direct. That, the age difference (She is almost 8 years younger than me); and the possibility of me going back to Mexico made here hesitant. The challenge wasn’t terrible but it needed time and dedication.

Paletas – a popular Mexican style of ice treats on a stick

Contrasts

Humour – I’ve always found a bit hard to fully understand the Aussie humour, and it’s funny because I actually enjoy it a lot, I wish I could be quicker at getting it and to crack a good Aussie joke. In some countries in Latin America we don’t always take the things lightly. I feel that in Australia I’ve learned that sometimes you have to relax and let it go. And that is how I see the Australians get by with life.

Piece of advice

Find your identity – Try to evaluate what do you like about being a Latino and what do you like about Australians. Try to make the best version of yourself with these two concepts.

Live in the present – I try to take my life in Australia as it is and just enjoy the everyday. Whatever you do when you come to Australia be yourself and never look back, you are who you are because what you inherited where you come from; but don’t linger in the past, live the present, use your heritage to your advantage.

Consider advice carefully – Listen to your parents and friends, as they want the best for you; however, form your own opinion from an Australian perspective. Be open minded, respect the country, its nature and beliefs.

Juan Pablo with Pamela

In the next few years, Juan Pablo plans to continue growing ChillBro! Paletas. They are aiming to explore different sides of the business. He believes that as long as he is alive and healthy, he can overcome the challenges that will present for him and the business.

He sees himself raising his family, living happily and enjoying life. He would also like to take his family to Mexico for a long period so they can experience and understand their father’s heritage and to practice their Spanish. He would love to do a road trip around Australia with his family so they can experience road trips as the ones he did with his parents when he was a kid. If you wish to contact Juan Pablo email us at latinstoriesaustralia@gmail.com

 

Karina Lehman  

Every story is different, so be patient and believe in yourself 

Karina is an experienced analyst within the Investment Management industry. She is also a singer and songwriter for Terrasur Band. The band songs are played in different community radio stations in Australia, through The Australian Music Radio Airplay Project. In addition, she works with different organisations and projects. For example, she is  a board member of CASA CULTURA; she is part of Canto Alma; and the executive producer of a project called Timber Music Box. Although, this city has allowed her to find herself, it hasn’t always been easy.

Country of Origin: Chile. State of Residency: VIC. Favourite place in Australia: Melbourne. Upon arrival: Surprised by the cultural diversity which makes this country so rich in music and food. Photo by Ívarr Inn Víðfaðmi

Tell us your story  

I’ve always been a traveller. When I was 17 years old, I went to Perth for 6 months as an exchange student. I chose Australia because I wanted to learn English and I didn’t want to go to USA. I lived with a lovely Australian family and although I enjoyed the experience, at times, it was difficult to be far away from home. However, this trip increased my desire to get to know the world. So after University I went to Barcelona, Spain to study for a year. It was one of the best years of my life! In 2007 I returned to Chile after finding a job in a Spanish Investment platform, Allfunds Bank. I was enjoying a very successful career in the investment industry; however, I wasn’t totally happy. I felt like a prisoner of my routine (you know when you have the feeling of something missing in your life but not sure what it is). So I started looking for options to travel again, I needed fresh air. At that time, Australia seemed like the best option for me and my boyfriend.

We came with a working-holiday visa. We lived in Perth as I knew the city and my Australian family was kind enough to host me again. Later, after visiting Melbourne, I knew that it was the city I wanted to live in. We moved here and after two weeks I found a job in an important English Fund Manager, Aviva Investors. I felt so lucky! Things went well and they offered me a sponsor visa. I was really living the dream: A great job, in the best city! Like it was meant to be. On the other hand, my partner was having trouble finding a job and adapting to the new life, I could see that he wasn’t happy. We were living my dream but not his. The relationship was getting affected by the circumstances and we decided he needed to go back to Chile to pursue his career. I promised him I was going to go back after a few months. However, we broke up 3 months later, I felt I needed to be loyal to my dreams. It was a really difficult and painful decision. I felt very lonely and I used to cry a lot. I almost went back home many times as I wasn’t sure about my decision. The break up made me realise that I needed to find myself again, and I did it, through music.

Cover page of Terrasur’s first EP. Photo by Katherine Gailer

I always wanted to take guitar and singing lessons, so back in 2012 I started taking classes with Oscar Poncell (guitar teacher and player, San Lazaro- Kunataki) and Ximena Abarca (Chilean singer – Huanchaco). After a year, I started a band, Terrasur, along with Nicolas Corvera (Chilean musician and sociologist) and Vanessa Estrada (music teacher and current singer of the band). Initially, the band played covers on the street (busking), but soon we were invited to restaurants, music venues, and festivals around Melbourne.

Shortly after, we were composing originals songs. Nico had to go back to Chile and three others member joined the band. Last month we released our first EP (with 4 original songs and 1 cover of Victor Jara). Currently, our music is being played in community radios around Australia. I’ve also been involved in other musical projects as “Canto Alma”, a group of talented women singers and musicians who have come together to pay homage to the cultural heritage of Latin America.

Also, while all these good things were happening in my life, after a hard year, in December 2013, I met Francisco (a Mexican RMIT Academic). We felt in love and we had just got married in Mexico. My journey here has been at times difficult and challenging but rewarding in the end. It takes time to build a home in a foreign country, to make real friends, to start a new life. Australia has given me the opportunity to develop my artistic skills, has made me a better person, and has allowed me to meet a bunch of good friends and the love of my life… what else I can ask for?

Challenges 

Family support – Living abroad can be fun, especially in a city as Melbourne. You are always meeting new people and going to many parties and cultural events. However, when you have real problems, when you are going through hard times, it is when you miss your family the most. You have to be strong to go through the problems without them.

Professional performance – At the beginning, working in a professional environment in a foreign language was very hard. Even if I had 8 years’ experience in investments, I had to learn new terminologies and words, and even how to write emails and talk to clients in a professional way. As an immigrant you need to prove that you are capable. It takes time to feel confident.

Karina playing the guitar. Photo by Ívarr Inn Víðfaðmi

Contrasts

Group vs. individual orientation – As Latinos, we tend to be highly group oriented, we need to have close friends, those ones that we trust and become your family. People in Australia are very friendly and happy, and I love how respectful Australians are with your private life. However, they love their own space as they are very individualists and everyone is expected to look after him/herself (people tend to feel lonely). It takes time to adapt and make friends. 

Safety – As a woman, I really appreciate the safety in this country. Walking at night with friends or riding your bike at night by yourself is not dangerous.  Also, I don’t have to deal with any kind of harassment on the streets anymore because I’m wearing a skirt or a tie dress. It is very sad and shocking the high level of psychological and physical violence against women in Latin American countries. Unfortunately, when you live there you sort of get used to it.

Piece of advice

Open your mind – Australia is a multicultural country, open your mind, accept, respect, learn and embrace diversity. Also be open to different jobs opportunities, here every job is well paid and dignified, so leave your judgements at home.

Persevere – Persevere trying to achieve your goals and dreams; and dream big. Every story is different, so be patient and believe in yourself. I remember arriving in Australia believing I wouldn’t be able to get a job in my area. But I did it because I never gave up, I knocked a lot of doors and finally got a job and a sponsor. Australia always gives opportunities to those who work hard.

Find yourself – Take the opportunity to find your roots. Contradictorily, living in Australia made me find my identity, my roots, and my culture values. I couldn’t have appreciated my culture if I had stayed in Chile. Being proud of my roots has made me be an ambassador of my country. That is the reason why I’m sharing the music from my land in Australia.  

Karina and Francisco. Photo by Gabriela Isabel Gonzalez

Karina is planning to continue sharing South American culture through her music; hopefully one day go on a tour with the band. She is also planning to continue working on a new video production project called Timber Music Box, were she is the Executive Producer. In the near future, she would like to travel and live in other countries as she loves experimenting and learning about new cultures and history. If you wish to contact Karina email us at latinstoriesaustralia@gmail.com

Piece of Advice: What we learned this year in Latin Stories Australia

Telmo Languiller. Country of Origin: Uruguay.

Education –Nelson Mandela said ‘Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world’. Education will transform your life and your community. In my case I have no doubt that if I hadn’t studied, I wouldn’t have achieved anything.

 

 

 

 

Roberto Barajas. Country of origin : Mexico.

Know your motivations – It is tough and challenging leaving everything behind, even when you know that it is what you dreamed of. Keep in mind your motivations; they will give you the strength to get through the hard times. I thought about quitting my job several times during the first months, but finding reassurance in my motivations got me through those initial hard times.

 

 

 

 

Frank Madrid. Country of origin : Venezuela

Reinvent yourself – Australia offers an opportunity for reinvention, so use it. If you have an entrepreneurial spirit and innovative ideas, this country offers you the ideal environment where those dreams can turn into reality. It is not easy! But, if you have the energy and enthusiasm to overcome challenges; and if you can still laugh when the situation becomes difficult, even better.

 

 

 

Angelica Correa. Country of origin: Colombia

Be positive – Make every effort to maintain a positive attitude. Make the most of every situation and avoid falling into discouragement or despair. Understand that there is no success without sacrifice. In Australia, we learn that our essence is not based on what we do, but on who we are.

 

 

 

 

Paulette Arvizu. Country of origin: Mexico

Avoid comparisons – It is important to not compare the way things are in Australia to the way things are “back home”. In adjusting to Australia, expect things to be different, not better or worse, just different. It is better not to try to live in a bubble pretending we’re still back home.

 

 

 

 

Maria Elena Chagoya. Country of origin: Mexico

Get involved – As soon as you arrive to a new country, let the embassy or relevant migrant organisations know your details. This will give you the opportunity to find out about relevant events where to meet like-minded people with a similar background to yours.

 

 

 

 

Oscar Jimenez. Country of origin: Colombia

Be culturally intelligent – Be open to what this country can offers you, but also see what positive impact you can bring to it. As a good friend told me: we are entering into an era when it is important to be culturally intelligent. If you want to survive in a country that is very different to yours, you must make the effort to understand its culture, language, music and history.

 

 

 

Glenda Mejia. Country of Origin: El Salvador.

Embrace your new life – Be open-minded, embrace the experiences and have a positive attitude even if it gets hard and lonely at times. It is a beautiful country with good quality of life and great opportunities if you go for them. If you are here, you are here, don’t compare and don’t look at what you don’t have any more but what is in front of you and go for it!

 

 

 

 

Alejandro Saravia. Country of Origin: Peru.

Adjust – Come with an open mind as you might need to do things you never thought you would have to. But don’t worry, for every sacrifice, there is a reward. And doing it tough helps you to value things. Some people come here with their “I am someone special” Latin American mentality and that is useless. Here you are a new person in a new city and you will have to adjust to it as the city will not adjust to you

 

 

 

Cristian Trujillo. Country of Origin: Chile.

Believe it is possible – Australia taught me that nothing is impossible. If you want it, just go for it. I remember arriving in Australia believing I would never be able to speak the language, be part of this society, and join the work force. Today I am an Australian citizen, have beautiful Australian friends and run a successful company that employs people, who after learning my story, get motivated to follow their dreams and have successful careers.

 

 

 

Maggie Alonso. Country of origin: Mexico.

Reinvent yourself – Never be afraid to start again from zero. You will always learn something new. Take the risk of failure and reinvent yourself. You are in a new country so take the opportunity to do it!

Immigration Challenges: What we learned this year in Latin Stories Australia

Telmo Languiller. Country of Origin: Uruguay.

Speaking with an accent – Not having an English speaking background can be difficult at times. The challenge is, having to be twice as good to be considered equal. Nowadays having an accent and a different background is celebrated; however, some institutions still hesitate to hire people that have an accent, missing out on the potential that bilingual people bring. I consider myself as bilingual but most importantly bicultural.

 

 

 

 

Roberto Barajas. Country of Origin: Mexico

Leadership style at work – I found the Australian work-place extremely direct. It is standard to disagree and to challenge your colleagues without making it personal. It took me a while to feel comfortable being direct but I can appreciate the benefits of constructive and argumentative discussions.

 

 

 

 

Frank Madrid. Country of origin : Venezuela

Rejection – When knocking at doors I soon realised I was going to have to develop very thick skin and learn to deal with rejection. The arts industry networks are as tight-knit here as they are anywhere in the world. Something I kept in mind was my mother’s favourite motto “Pa tras ni pa coger impulso” (never go backwards, not even to gain momentum).

 

 

 

 

Angelica Correa. Country of origin: Colombia

Expressing myself – I think my biggest challenge was being able to express myself as natural as I do it in my first language. I miss all the special ways we communicate non-verbally in Colombia and expressing humour the Colombian way! I think I have succeeded at speaking English fluently, but I believe I will never get to express myself as I do it in Spanish.

 

 

 

 

Paulette Arvizu. Country of origin: Mexico

Being away from the family – Paco’s family is in Spain and mine is in Mexico. Every trip overseas has to be really well planned and we need to take turns going to Mexico one year and to Spain the other. Now that we have a baby being away from the family is harder, it breaks my heart to see her grow up without her grandparents, uncles and cousins. However, with the aid of technology, we get to see family every week (at least on facetime and skype), so they are kept up to date with Olivia’s development.

 

 

 

Maria Elena Chagoya. Country of origin: Mexico

Transmitting my heritage – One of the biggest challenges I have encountered with shared custody is to teach my children Spanish and my Mexican values. Here children spend most of their time speaking English, so it is hard for them to embrace the language and the traditions. However, I try my best to celebrate and pass on my Mexican heritage to them.

 

 

 

 

 

Oscar Jimenez. Country of origin: Colombia

 

Real connections – Sydney is a very fun city; however it can be very superficial so you must look deep for real connections. Living in Bondi, a very touristic spot, I had the opportunity to make friends from all around the world. At the beginning it was hard to have a sense of home as I would often hang out with tourists. Only in the last years in Sydney I felt I had made meaningful connections.

 

 

 

Glenda Mejia. Country of Origin: El Salvador.

Take pride in yourself – I have a big issue with talking about how good I am at something as I find it arrogant and pretentious. However, in Australia you need to do it as it is very competitive. When you are after a job or a promotion you have to say that you are the best of the best in order to get the job or be promoted.

 

 

 

 

Alejandro Saravia. Country of Origin: Peru.

Travelling home – South America is not around the corner. Having lived away from Peru for a while, got me used to not seeing the family that often. However, during the first years of living in Australia I was not able to attend celebrations that I would have loved to be there but I knew that was the price I had to pay to achieve my goals. It’s only been in the last 4 years that I have the means and time to travel.

 

 

 

Cristian Trujillo. Country of Origin: Chile.

Being nobody – When I first moved I faced the fact that I was nobody – nobody knew me and since I couldn’t communicate, my knowledge and work experience had zero value. After learning the language, I could show what I was capable of and things just got better and better

 

 

 

 

Maggie Alonso. Country of origin: Mexico.

Start from zero – Coming to Australia was not difficult, the challenge was to start my life again; to recreate myself. It was hard to leave my pride on the side and accept that I was in a new country where no one knew who I was. My resume meant nothing unless I proved what I was capable to do the job

Maggie Alonso

Coming to Australia was not difficult, the challenge was to start my life again

Maggie Alonso is a promoter of Mexican culture in Melbourne. She is the producer and event manager of the Mexican Festival at Federation square since 2012. Last year the festival drew crowds of over 50,000 people, making it one of the most attended festivals in Melbourne’s Federation square. Maggie is also a Freelancer Senior Graphic Designer who has worked with high-profile companies such as PwC, Australian Unity, Mission Foods, William Angliss Institute, the Vault, and Nous group.

Country of Origin: Mexico. State of Residency: VIC. Favourite place in Australia: Rottnest Island. Upon arrival: Surprised by the lack of Spanish speakers (at WA), and the street signs with the family of ducks!

Country of Origin: Mexico. State of Residency: VIC. Favourite place in Australia: Rottnest Island. Upon arrival: Surprised by the lack of Spanish speakers (at WA), and the street signs with the family of ducks!

Tell us Your Story

In 2005, I was working as designer and marketing coordinator at URMAN. I was working crazy hours with no life/work balance. One day, I unexpectedly met my now husband Brad. I fell in love and I quit my stable job and left my career to run away with the circus! I literally ran away with my husband who at that time worked with Cirque du Soleil touring South America, Canada and the USA. While on tour, I freelanced as designer for my old job and I also started teaching Spanish and arts to the kids on the circus. In February 2007, I had a stroke which affected all the motion of my left side. After woken up from a coma I had to do lots of rehabilitation and learn to walk and move again. Mental rehab was the most challenging as I had to reinvent Maggie Alonso! The biggest challenge was to forget who I used to be and start again.

We continued touring with the circus until one day Brad told me: “We are moving home” (he is Australian). Before moving to Melbourne in 2011, we spent 6 months in Mexico. During that time, drug cartels from north Mexico were in war so lots of shootings on the streets and supermarkets occurred on weekly basis. This situation helped not to question the option of moving so far away. Once in Melbourne, I was determined to find a job, so I literally applied to 200 jobs. My resume was great but I lacked the local Australian experience, so I never had the opportunity to get a job in a company. However, I wanted to work even if it wasn’t in my field, so I started working as a waitress. I found this very difficult as I had never being a waitress before, but I enjoyed the opportunity to meet people and talk to customers. After some time, someone advised me to get an ABN and start my own graphic design business. I did it and I got my first design gig as freelancer with “Mini Maestros” designing an ad for a kids’ magazine. I did illustrations for kids books (something that I had never done before) and I loved it! I’m currently illustrating for Mini Maestros in Australia and Asia. So far, I have illustrated 8 books and 4 cd covers for them. I am also working with different design agencies as freelance graphic designer. This has gave me the opportunity to work in different sectors (education, advertising, finance, retail, fashion and editorial) and with different companies such as PWC, Australian Unity, Mercer, Mission Foods, William Angliss Institute, The Vault, and Nous group. I can’t explain the sensation you get when you see your work outside a Nike shop, in a magazine ad, or advertise in a tram.

Maggie managing the MexFest 2014

Maggie managing the MexFest 2014

In 2012, I wanted to meet people so I started as a volunteer with ANZMEX. This is where I met Claudia R., Juan Caraza, and Javier de la Rosa. We came up with the idea to create a Mexican Festival for Melbourne. I volunteered to manage it as I had the expertise and the time to do it. I had to learn all the regulations and requirements to produce events in less than 2 months. Luckily I worked alongside some great people (Claudia R., Vikki Greensmith, Juan Caraza, Eric Catalayud and Pedro Chan). I remember Vikki and I visited all the Mexican restaurants trying to get them involved (we got 7), and in September 2012 we had the first Mexican Festival with 15,000 attendees! The festival was a success and it is now a yearly event. Last year we had a record attendance of 55,000. We are currently working for the 2017 edition which will feature 19 restaurants. I really enjoy sharing what Mexico has to offer. I’m proud of being Mexican and I think this type of events are a wonderful way to exhibit our culture as we are so much more than tequila, sombreros and burritos!

Challenges

Start from zero – Coming to Australia was not difficult, the challenge was to start my life again; to recreate myself. It was hard to leave my pride on the side and accept that I was in a new country where no one knew who I was. My resume meant nothing unless I proved what I was capable to do the job.

Aussie accent – Trying to understand the strong Aussie accent mixed with kiwi accent wasn’t easy! The Aussie slang and how the words are shorten was quite weird. Working as a waitress allowed me to practice. This experience helped me in my design and event management careers as now I understand all different accents and various slangs.

Miracles happen - Maggie thanking for the opportunity of reinventing herself

Miracles happen – Maggie thanking for the opportunity of reinventing herself

Contrasts

Resilience – Latinos are hard workers as we know that if we don’t fight for what we want someone else will. In contrast, Australians are use to having many opportunities; therefore, they have a more easy going approach to life.

Standard working hours – In Australia jobs are generally from 9am to 5pm. In Latin America, we tend to work crazy hours – from 8 am to whenever I’m done. I was shocked when on Friday’s the 9-5 schedule turned into 9-4 and you start seeing people opening the beer and wine (social Friday). Also, holidays here are longer. In Mexico you only have 6 days of holidays and unfortunately not time for them because of work.

Economic status – I love that there is no economic status here. Everyone is the same no matter if you are rich or not. Here you are recognised for your work and for how hard you worked to earn what you have. That is completely opposite in Mexico.

Piece of advice

Reinvent yourself – Never be afraid to start again from zero. You will always learn something new. Take the risk of failure and reinvent yourself. You are in a new country so take the opportunity to do it!

Prove yourself – Do not come to Australia thinking that your degree from a private University and a high position on a large company back home, will give you a senior position in Australia. Here you first have to prove who you are. You have to graduate from the “how to be humble” class.

Have a dream – When I came here I had the dream of creating and managing my first event, not only overseas, but my first big event after being on standby after the stroke. And I did it! So, do not stop dreaming, make your dreams a reality. The worst thing that could happen is having to start again; and trust me, that is the best opportunity life gives you.

Maggie drinking her favourite drink: a margarita

Maggie with her favourite drink: a margarita

In the next few years, Maggie wants not only to continue creating the Mexican Festival in Melbourne, but also take it to Sydney and Perth. In her graphic design career she sees herself managing a graphic design studio as well as illustrating more books for kids. If you wish to contact Maggie email us at latinstoriesaustralia@gmail.com