It’s estimated that there are 2,500 people in Barrie whose first language is Spanish. That’s about the size of the town I grew up in.
For people moving to build a new life in Barrie, people like Natalia and Max Fernandez and their wee daughter, there’s so much to learn. School systems, neighbours, culture, how business operates, language, music, and the isolation of being all alone without family support… these are daily challenges that new residents grapple with.
When there is so much to tackle, just being able to slip back into your own language and tell a joke and laugh is sheer relief. It’s hard to joke, hard to handle colloquialisms in another language. So, just the comfort of your mother tongue can take the edge off the week’s challenges.
That rang true for me this week after meeting Natalia and Max, she from Uruguay and he from Venezuela, here in Barrie and starting a business. I set out to help find Spanish speaking people with whom they could connect… and guess what? I found Lourdes Palmer and the Barrie Latin Club! I’ve known Lourdes for several years but had no idea she was so involved with making culture and language a celebratory opportunity for Barrie residents of Latin descent.
And here it is! www.barrielatinclub.ca and totally run by volunteers. Members become members by logging in and signing up. And then they get invited to events like Salsa Nights, family celebrations, coffee visits, and help.
“We don’t have a home to call a centre, but lately we’ve come up with an agreement to have our Salsa Nights at Corsons Restaurant on Bryne Dr,” says Lourdes. “Tomorrow we’re having a Salsa Night for mothers to celebrate Mothers Day. We have a great response to these!” Language. Fun. Music. Movement. Relaxation.
Lourdes joined the Barrie Latin community in 2009 and began to help as a volunteer. The Latin Festival was one of her first events and now she’s quite involved with Celebrate Barrie, giving it a Latin presence. With about 200 active members in the Barrie Latin Club, there’s a great mix of members, ages 30 to 50 and many different religious denominations. Lourdes pointed out there are several pastors who speak spanish and there’s a Spanish speaking church group that meets regularly on Ferris Lane.
“I need a lawyer.”
“I’m looking for an apartment or a house.”
“How do I get a visa?”
“I need help with a SIN#”
These are just a few questions that get dealt with through the website and members know that other members, who’ve been here longer, are ready to help out.
With monthly meetings and regular email newsletters, the group pulls together volunteers to help with various events planned during the year. That gives even further opportunity for newcomers to get to know other Spanish Speaking people.
The search for a location, a gathering place, continues while membership to the organization is absolutely free.
And who to thank for this incredible outreach, a friendly hand and a Spanish speaking voice at the end of the phone? Sarai Porretta is secretary. Lourdes is president. Lucy Bonjour is vice president. The group is looking for a treasurer at present.
For Natalia and Max, this will be a lifeline as their new residence in Barrie takes shape, along with their business.
Thanks, Barrie Latin Club, for the initiative and the care and the outreach!