Paola Murillo’s list of local heroes mirrors the diversity of Latin America.
Murillo serves as executive director of Latincouver, the nonprofit behind Carnaval del Sol. Started in 2009, the Vancouver festival celebrating Latin-American culture is the biggest of its kind in the Pacific Northwest.
Her list starts with Waldo Briño from Chile.
“Waldo Briño worked very hard for the Latin-American community in B.C. to have a voice,” Murillo said to the Georgia Straight about the late advocate and newspaper publisher.
Latincouver’s Inspirational Latin Awards includes a category named after Briño. This prize recognizes people whose work elevates the Latin-American community.
Next comes Antonio Arreaga, honorary consul of Costa Rica in Vancouver. “He has been one of my strongest mentors,” Murillo said.
She also counts Rosario Ancer from Mexico as one of her heroes. Many consider the Spanish-trained cofounder of Flamenco Rosario as the mother of flamenco dance in Vancouver.
Carmen Aguirre from Chile makes the list. Aguirre’s 2011 book Something Fierce: Memoirs of a Revolutionary Daughter recalls her experience as a child whose parents fought Chilean strongman Augusto Pinochet.
Murillo likewise mentions Laura Cuner from Argentina. Cuner is the founder and president of Avafina Organics, a Coquitlam-based distributor of organic foods.
Another is Pilar Portela from Costa Rica. Portela is the president of Astra Smart Systems, a high-tech company.
The list includes Gabriela Rojo from Argentina. Murillo related how Rojo helped popularize tango as a dance form in B.C.
Walter Mérida from Guatemala gets cited as well. Known as a UBC scientist, engineer, and professor, Mérida serves as senior advisor to university president and vice-chancellor Santa Ono.
Murillo also mentioned temporary farm workers from Mexico and Guatemala. “They’re the ones that are giving us our food,” she said.
According to the 2016 census, people with roots from Latin America compose the fifth-largest visible-minority population in Canada.
The count tallied 447,325 people of Latin-American heritage. They came after the top four: South Asian, Chinese, Black, and Filipino.
Founded in 2008 by Murillo, Latincouver brings together various Latin-American communities in B.C. The nonprofit estimates the group’s population in the province at around 100,000.
Murillo hails from Colombia. Educated in the U.S. and France, she returned to Colombia to work for the International Committee of the Red Cross. She moved to Canada in 2005.
Murillo noted that Latin America shares many similarities with Canada. She pointed out that people from all over the world call Latin America home.
“We also have our First Nations people, like the Aztecs, Mayas, and Incas,” Murillo said. “This makes us a very diverse and unique mosaic.”
According to Statistics Canada, most immigrants from the Latin America arrived relatively recently. Of the foreign-born Latin Americans in Canada in 2001, 47 percent had come in the previous decade. Another 35 percent arrived in Canada between 1981 and 1990. Moreover, only three percent arrived in the 1960s, and less than one percent came to Canada before 1961.
Murillo said that Latin Americans bring a bright disposition to their adopted country: “Our socioeconomic problems [in Latin America] have helped us build resilience and creativity, and looking at the future in a positive way.”