S.U.C.C.E.S.S. Forum: Interview with Javier Barajas and Kasey Reese
S.U.C.C.E.S.S held a forum on February 22, 2017 which discussed racial discrimination and immigration. Before the forum took place, Schema Magazine interviewed respected immigrants who were featured in a short documentary that premiered at S.U.C.C.E.S.S.
Kasey Reese worked at Telus as a Vice President for Risk Management and Chief Internal Auditor in 2002-2014. Francisco Javier Barajas has a degree in Psychology, and moved to the States in the 80s. He works mostly with the Latino community and also became an interior designer.
Javier and Kasey came to Vancouver in mid 2002. This is their story.
Hilary Leung: When you came to Canada, did you specifically choose Vancouver?
Kasey: When I joined the Telus team as the VP for Risk Management and Chief Internal Auditor. A large majority of my team members were based in the Vancouver area and so for a number of years, actually for the entire time I was at Telus, my office location was at Kingsway and Boundary. Telus still has a facility there. With the role I had, I was frequently Downtown and had frequent travels. As you know, Telus has operations in British Columbia, of course but also in Alberta, Toronto and in Ontario, and in Quebec. The position I had, had a lot of travel associated with it as well. Our entire time was located in Vancouver and was really tied to the role I had.
H: Is there a moment when you felt you were in the right place?
K: It was unexpected for us. [Javier and I] were together for nine years before we moved and so British Columbia became the second province to allow same-sex marriage and so we had the wonderful honour of getting married in our home in October 25, 2003. It was totally unexpected. It became a law in the summer and we decided to do it. It turns out we were one of the first 500 couples in BC who were able to be married that year. It was a wonderful thing that we hadn't planned on. Less of an opportunity for us in Chicago and in the US where we lived. Ultimately it took another 10 years for Illinois to have the same rights afforded to people. It was a really wonderful, affirming thing for us to be able to do. So we celebrated 10 years of being together by being married. On another note, to reinforce it: a couple of months later in early 2004, Darren Entwistle who was and is the Chief Executive Officer at Telus, he found out that we had gotten married. And he was joking and said "Why didn't you invite me?"
And [I said] "Well, Darren, it was a small ceremony."
And so he found out about it on a Tuesday and the following weekend, there was a knock on our door and we got this beautiful, huge floral arrangement from the CEO of Telus and his wife. It was just one of those things that really stood out for us of how welcoming and open and accepting of diversity and inclusiveness Canada is.
It was one of the things that told us we were in the right place for us.
H: What have you contributed to the country? What do you hope to contribute in the future?
K: Over the course of my time at Telus, I was able to foster and help the company move forward on diversity and inclusiveness in a number of ways: helped the company with benchmarking in 2006-2007 and assisted with the development of Telus's diversity and inclusiveness business case. I was able to serve as the inaugural members of Telus's Diversity and Inclusiveness Council in 2009 and 2010. I also had the honour of helping one of the founding members of Telus's LGBTQ Employee Resource Group, now called SPECTRUM. We held the first conference call in May 2009 with 8 people and I'm told today, that SPECTRUM has over a thousand members scattered across the country, and internationally. It was a wonderful opportunity to help and be involved.
[Javier and I] have also both been involved in the LGBTQ community here in Vancouver: have been involved Out On Screen and Out in Schools in terms of charitable donations and volunteering time. I'm on the Board of Community which is the LGBTQ source centre and have been serving as the Board Treasurer. And through the LOUD foundation which is part of the GLBA (the Gay Lesbian Business Association of BC), Javier and I have been giving scholarships every year. One of the scholarships we give away every year is to LGBTQ folks who are pursuing a higher education. That and a number of other organizations that we've been involved with, including HIV/AIDs organization such as Positive Living and Loving Spoonful, the AIDs Walk and AIDs Vancouver.
Looking forward to the future, helping to build sustainable and resilient communities is something that is near and dear to both of our hearts and that is something that we will continue to be doing.
It starts close to home. For example, 6 years ago, Javier organized our neighbours and they launched the first block party. Every June, we'll have a block party on the street where we live. It's an example to foster a sense of connectedness and community with our neighbours. For us, it's been helpful to get to know our neighbours and for them to get to know us.
Javier has had more opportunities for the past 15 years to take leadership roles. He's been on the Board of the Vancouver Latin-American Film Festival since its very beginning. With the time that he's had available, he's really been helping that organization: continue telling the story of the community. It has had an impact on Vancouver and beyond that as well. In a similar way, that Out on Screen and Out in Schools, the LGBTQ film festival that we both support and have been involved with since we moved to Vancouver--Out in Schools is focused on Vancouver and BC in terms of bringing age-appropriate LGBTQ films that tell stories of the community and help encourage respect and valuing diversity in the school system, it goes beyond BC in that other provinces and other cities have wanted to learn how to do similar work in their school systems.
Most of our work is focused locally but eventually has a larger impact.
J: Besides the Latino community, the LGBTQ community, [I have also been involved] with the City of Vancouver and the cultural community. I've been able to do a little work, and participation to the city.
I was doing a lot of work for the Latino community. I had to learn how to tackle, how to manage, how to talk to people. How to read the people and to maneuver and tell them what it is.
In my work with the City of Vancouver, I'm learning about the history. [I was researching] any opportunities that it had for women, for minorities and for indigenous people of the city of Vancouver and why? I think it was to start naming the First Nations of this land and the women who have contributed to the city and the minorities that have contributed to the city.
I believe it's most important for any citizen to educate and tell people who you are, how you are. And if not, ask me questions. If you don't know who I am, please ask me. I'll be able to talk to you, or to teach you or to let you know what is my story and what is my contributions to have a better community, a better city or a better country.
So that's why I'm happy in Canada. Seeing the diversity of the country that I love and seeing people helping others. And we'll do better once we keep talking to each other and sharing and learning from each other and have a better community.
H: What was the hardest thing to leave behind?
K: We were very well-established with our friends and family and our community in Chicago where I was born and raised and lived for many years, and as Javier has said, that he moved. So for us, moving to Vancouver, it was a bit jarring.
We try to go back and visit every year or so, so it ends up with being 12-18 months that we go back to visit but what we really gave up was the opportunity to spend a lot of close time with a lot of family and friends and community members back in Chicago. It took us a while, after we moved, to make similar connections within Vancouver so the first couple of years, from 2002-2004 or 2005, it was an adjustment for us. It became clear to us, when we were out for dinner with some friends--couple of years after we moved here--we were sharing some stories. And one person asked us "Vancouver is really beautiful, the people are nice and the weather is wonderful. If your family and friends could be magically transported to here, which city would you choose?"
And we both immediately said "Vancouver." (laughs)
That's when we really realized that we started to view Vancouver as home.
H: What did you hope to find in Canada?
J: I hoped to find more opportunities to give to the community. Moving here and being in a very good position, Kasey coming to full-time work. Being given the opportunity to say "Okay, what can Francisco Javier do now in this new country and this new city?" I felt it was really important to see how I can contribute, to give back more to the community. And to encourage people to integrate more into the larger community of Canada.
H: Did you find any xenophobia or racism in Canada?
J: There is but it's more hidden. For example, when we arrived here. We were here and we didn't know nobody (sic). I'm a very open person; I like to talk to people. I started meeting my neighbours. One of the neighbours used to tell me "Oh yeah, we used to do this." So I said "Let's break the ice and get together." And it's actually going to be the seventh year I'll be organizing the block party. I would like to start something.
H: Do you have any birthday wishes for the country for its 150th anniversary?
J: I think there should be a celebration, there's no doubt about it but for any nation, for any country, we need to remember that we are celebrating colonialism. And we need to have a moment to reflect on the past and the history and what is Canada? And how we can [ensure] history won't repeat itself in the future. We need to remember, we need to start looking for who's the next victim or the next group to blame on. And I say that because of what's happening in the States. Now, as you know, the Latino community is coming more into Canada and now we tell people that we are the new Canadians. We are the new Canadians who are going to work and contribute to keep this country as wonderful as it is.
The States has labelled us. We are people who want to be part of this wonderful country. We want to make, we want to participate. But we make that effort because we have a culture and a history and we have a different language. But we're trying to be part of this [culture]. It is easy to criticize or label but they forget that we are learning a second language--that we have a history and a culture behind us. But we are wiling to learn and to share.
And I think it's important to focus on what we are going to do for the future. How are we going to make this more diverse and [create] more oneness? I'm guessing it's embracing gender [etc.] in different ways.
K: As Javier said it, it's important, particularly with the result of the recent US presidential election, it's that candidates make a strong commitment to welcoming and valuing and celebrating the wide spectrum of diversity and inclusiveness within the context of peace, order and good government. And to remain true, north, strong and free.
J: This past year, the number of Nobel Prizes were won by immigrants. The country forgets the new people who come in, can help the country do better. And that's a strength.
I once said "Don't call me a new immigrant. I'm a new Canadian."
The media calls us the new Canadians.
If you really want us to integrate, you need to do your part as well. Don't label us the immigrants who are coming here [to Canada]. We are the new people who are coming here to become a Canadian.
For more information about the forum, visit the S.U.C.C.E.S.S page.