When Dagoberto Correa moved to Canada in 1977, he was surprised at the lack of resources for immigrants. However, this inspired him to start the Chilean Canadian Association to help new immigrants integrate into Calgary.
Correa grew up in San Francisco de Limache, a small town in the Valparaíso region, located in northern Chile.
“It was a small town. We knew each other. We went to school together and we knew just about everybody in town,” Correa explains.
Correa describes his childhood as a happy one surrounded by his family and his community.
“We would play most of the time outside. We had friends, and I remember every day we would play soccer after five o’clock. We would go to a small field and whoever came, played.”
However, changes arose when Augusto Pinochet took power in 1973. Correa, being a Salvador Allende supporter, was let go from his job and had trouble finding employment.
In September 1977, Correa migrated from Chile with his son — a choice partly made to improve his economic security.
“The fear I felt was gone. I knew I would not be subjected to any repression.”
Although he found work the day of his arrival in Canada, he was provided with little-to-no services.
“Now we have many agencies where they help people get into society, get the services they need. We didn’t have that,” Correa explains.
Hugo Cerpa, a senior board member of the Chilean Canadian Association, had a different experience moving to Canada. He moved in 1976 with his family and had people waiting for him at the airport. He was offered sanctuary at the Carlton Hotel and was provided with money for food.
“They gave me the first push. They pulled me back on my feet,” says Cerpa.
However, Cerpa understands not everyone gets the same support.
“There’s a lot of people coming here. A lot of students looking for work permits. They don’t speak the language, that kind of thing. They’re kind of lost and when they come here they say, ‘Oh they’re speaking the same language, they’re from Chile.’ It’s a big relief for people who come here.”
Throughout the years, Correa took numerous cleaning and welding jobs. While working his many jobs, he lived with his wife and three sons.
It was about 20 years after Correa moved to Canada, in 1997, that different leaders of small groups in Calgary came together to form the Chilean Canadian Association. Hundreds of people participated and the board members were selected through the votes of the people.
Correa says it was the communal desire to help people settle in Calgary that inspired the association to be formed.
“We felt the need to support different groups,” Correa explains.
Correa was a founding board member of the association from 1997 to 2007, taking on the role of president from 2004 to 2006. He returned to the board in 2017 and regained presidency in 2018.
“I think from the very beginning when the Chileans started arriving, it was that community sense to help whoever was coming,” says Correa.
The association provides help in different ways, such as information on housing or work to newcomers who are living in Calgary. Their goal is to promote Chilean culture by hosting numerous events including dance shows and by selling their national dishes.
Georgina Gonzalez is a longtime member of the association and has received help from the community.
“They raise you as a family, which is very important when you’re alone like me. I was alone. I came by myself” says Gonzalez.
Cerpa shares similar views, saying, “Here, it’s like a little piece of our country.”
The community supports their country from afar, one example being the organized protest that took place at Olympic Plaza in Oct. 2019 to support constitutional change back home.
“If a disaster happens in Chile, the facility comes together and help,” says Correa.
They also try to establish a sense of belonging with its members, especially its seniors, as Correa believes the biggest problem with getting older is isolation.
Correa currently enjoys his time with his family, and he plans to return to Chile in February 2020 for a couple of weeks to visit family back home. He’s hoping to step down as president of the Chilean Canadian Association soon and find a replacement.
“I feel very strongly that somebody else should take my position. You know, when other people come with different ideas, different energies and all of that… it’s good.”
Correction and Clarification: This story has been changed from its original version to amend the information regarding Correa’s presidency of the Chilean Canadian Association.
Editor: Sarah Green | firstname.lastname@example.org