My office is on the second floor of the sprawling John Hodgins Engineering (JHE) Building. Hundreds of students go in and out of JHE when classes are held during terms. The place can get quite messy. Winter, in particular, brings in slush from the melting Ontario snow, tracked on the soles of thousands of boots and shoes.
Rina is our custodian. She mops our floors shiny, cleans out our washrooms and ensures that JHE is a home of which we can be proud. Sometimes, she takes a break and patiently teaches me a few words of Spanish.
“You say, Buenos días, or ¿Cómo estás? to me.” So I do. If I’m not rushing past her to a morning meeting, we talk in the hallway, she the teacher and I the pupil. Regrettably, my Spanish hasn’t improved although I’ve still learned important life lessons from her.
Like me, Rina is a new Canadian. We strive hard to communicate and become frustrated when our respective accents get in the way.
She immigrated from El Salvador 20 years ago with her husband and four children. They arrived seeking a better future and found one. Her children are now grown and independent. They work as accountants. She proudly let me know that one son is a McMaster alumnus with a bachelor’s degree.
The Americas share a history of colonial expansion entwined with aboriginal injustice. We must make amends that address historical inequities. We must proactively improve the pathways for aboriginal students so that they form full cohorts within McMaster Engineering.
Our history is also animated with the colours of immigrant hope. If our ancestors weren’t indigenous to the continent half a millennium, or in many cases, even two hundred years ago, then they came from elsewhere.
Rina, like very many who walk through JHE, illustrates the hope of North America – and Canada. We must prepare to teach the children of inspiring immigrants, such as Rina, as they themselves seek hopeful lives and futures to become the next generation of leaders who will transform our world.
Immigrants live through hope and optimism as they tackle both unassuming tasks and profound projects. As dean, I often speak of excellence during meetings and discussions. Isn’t that what immigrants want for their families and themselves? I think that’s what Rina has sought in Canada.
Dime con quién andas y te diré quién eres. Tell me who your friends are and I’ll tell you who you are.