October is Latin American Heritage Month, and this week we got to sit down with Michelle Avendano (@michelleaven) – a bilingual UGC creator who moved from El Salvador to Canada just three years ago.
Avendano is one of the most resilient people I have ever spoken to. In 2019, she uprooted her life and moved to Canada as an adult without knowing any English.
Now, she finds so much value in cultural staples that are important to her – from cooking to music to being close to family. As you can see in her Slice.ca TikTok below, Michelle finds connection to her heritage through cooking.
@slicedotca Making dinner and chatting about moving to Canada with @michelleaven 💖 #LatinAmericanHeritageMonth #HispanicHeritageMonth ♬ Sixty Second Commercial 1 by Michael Reynolds – malcolm
Michelle Avendano on foods that remind her of home
“I feel very connected [to my culture when I cook], because in Canada I can’t find too many Latin foods, especially from my country,” Avendano explains. “Not with the same flavour and everything. I feel more connected, and it helps me remember stuff. Like when I used to go out and eat. But [cooking is] a fun activity to do. And also helps me feel still connected with my culture.”
While she doesn’t always cook complex, traditional meals, Avendano tries to make sure to cook something that reminds her of home on a regular basis.
“I don’t cook dishes from back home too often,” she adds. “Not every day. But I will say every weekend I try to do one. At least. We have many [cultural dishes], but sometimes – because of time – it’s hard. But I do try to cook them often, at least on the weekends when I have more time.”
Her favourite thing to cook from El Salvador are pupusas – thick corn flour pockets filled with meat, beans and/or cheese.
“It’s the main dish from back home and it’s just delicious,” she says before laughing. “I probably can’t make them the same, but I’m improving. It’s step by step.”
I shared that I had tried to make pupusas a few times too, but ended up breaking them whenever it came time to flip them over.
“When you go and buy them, they’re just delicious,” she teased in response. “Then when you try to make them, it’s not the same, but it’s, it’s hard work.”
Cooking is just one way that Avendano celebrates El Salvador. Paying tribute to her home is important to Avendano, who moved to Canada just three years ago. At the time, her dad, siblings and stepmom had already moved here, and they opened up the opportunity for her to join them and start a new life.
The biggest challenge was the language barrier
“I left home on May 11, 2019. It’s — if I’m not wrong — it’s three-and-a-half years that I’ve been in Canada. And, well, when I was moving, at the beginning, it was pretty different. There were so many mixed feelings, you know? I was so excited to start a new life. But until you come here, you don’t realize how things are. Like the language you have to communicate and everything here – weather, people – everything was different. So there were just those mixed feelings. Some days I was a little bit sad missing home, but also excited to start a new life with all the challenges and everything.”
The biggest barrier for Avendano was the language. When she moved here, she couldn’t speak English, which made it hard for her to build relationships with the people around her.
“As I said in my video, the hardest thing was the language because I remember I tried to talk to people when I was very new in the first month – May, for example – and it was hard. I couldn’t speak for maybe like 30 seconds. I was always pausing and needing to have someone translate for me because I couldn’t. I literally was mixing words. It was super, super hard at the beginning — probably the first year.”
Her sister was always there to keep her motivated
Even when she struggled with the language barrier, she was always able to find support in her sister. “I have my sister’s support,” she said through a smile. “She knew a little bit more [English]. So being with her was better for sure.” But, what truly kept Avendano motivated was remembering the end pay off, and that the trials were a part of the process.
“What actually kept me motivated was knowing that it would be worth it. Knowing that, yeah, it would be hard at the beginning, but every experience was valuable. Every job that I had back then at the beginning – even though I wasn’t understanding everything my co-workers were saying – was valuable. It was like a learning experience. Part of it was knowing that it wouldn’t be forever. I knew it was going to be temporary and I knew that somehow I was going to get better. Even though it was hard, I knew that learning English would open more opportunities in the future. So that was pretty much what kept me motivated, knowing it was just part of the process.”
Latin American Heritage Month helps her find community
Recently, she’s really come to value Latin American Heritage Month, even though the holiday is new to her. In fact, she now sees it as a way to connect to people on social media.
“It’s a little new for me because when I was back home, I didn’t hear too much about it until moving to Canada,” she explains. “In the past two years I’ve been seeing more on TikTok and Instagram and it’s started meaning something to me now that home is pretty far away. [There are] so many people you can connect to on social media and relate to some experiences and things they are going through. So, I’m very happy that we have that period of time. It just feels nice. We have that period of time to be proud of our culture and share things about it because our culture, I feel, is very rich.”
Social media isn’t her only way to connect. Avendano has begun to build a community around her.
“[My community] is not the same [as back home],” she added. “But the people I have met so far, the Latin people – I have some friends from Canada – but the people that I connect to the most, there’s a few friends from Latin countries, from Mexico and Honduras. It’s not the same, but I appreciate the circle of friends that I have now.”
Ultimately, Avendano still finds ways to celebrate her culture every day, especially through music.
“There are so many things I’m proud of, but something I’m very proud of is the music because we have so many types of music,” she shared. “I pretty much listen to them all the time and share with my boyfriend who’s from Canada, so I always listen to the music even if he doesn’t understand it. And the food! I feel those two things are so beautiful and unique. That’s what I appreciate it a lot. And music, it’s all around, so no matter where I am, I can at least I can still have that.”
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