Don’t we all have those moments that when we look back, we realize how much they changed our lives? Mine is emigrating from Peru to Canada.
Hola, mi nombre es Erika (my name is Erika).
My drive to lead a life full of meaning and adventure is born from my hometown experiences and Peruvian roots. You might think that my life back in my home country was hard and that was why I emigrated to Canada to look for a brighter future. Well, the truth is, I had a beautiful life in Lima, Peru, where I’m originally from. I lacked nothing as my parents provided me with everything.
I was raised by hard-working parents and barely saw them during the first ten years of my life. This is why I don’t have too many memories of them at the time. My mom, who started to work at the age of 18, retired in her 50s and stayed at home with my brother and me. That’s when the fun began.
Early days in Peru
You see, my mom loves to travel so guess what we did the most? Travel! After her early retirement, she was able to spend more time with us so I have a lot of fun memories with my mom. During these years, she and my dad opened up a business selling ice in Lima and it became our family business which is still up and alive to this day, thanks to my brother. My entrepreneurial career started as a kid helping in the family business, especially during the weekends when ice sells the most.
I went on to study Communication Science and graduated with a Master's Degree in Journalism at a University in Lima. I took an internship at a local newspaper’s sports section. After only a few months, I got hired to work in the political section of the second biggest Peruvian newspaper, La Republica. My work required me to travel from time to time, and I got to visit different native communities all over Peru. My love for my country grew more as I interacted with different types of people.
Soon, I realized that politics is not my cup of tea as I wanted to tell stories, travel, and challenge myself to think outside the box instead. I wasn’t ready to settle for marriage either. I was curious to explore the world beyond Peru's borders and see what life was like on my own. Now, as I look back, that was the moment that changed my life.
Brewing Canada dreams
It was a thirst for adventure that really motivated me to emigrate to Canada. In the beginning, I looked into moving to Spain, but a scholarship I applied to didn’t work out. So, I kept searching.
I started to look into emigrating to the US and it seemed almost impossible, so I went to the country next door and saw Canada wink at me with its big welcoming doors. I was keen on research and took my time to learn more. So, in the year 2000, after becoming an ‘expert’ in Canadian immigration, I submitted my application for Permanent Residency.
I will never forget the many times I lined up outside the Canadian embassy in Lima, on Calle Libertad (Freedom Street). I couldn’t use the internet to look for information because it was simply not a thing just yet! I needed hard copies of documents that I could only find at the embassy. Thank goodness, nowadays you can find all the information you need on their website.
I applied as a skilled worker after I had my journalism education credentials assessed, and completed my language testing. I passed a language interview with the Canadian consul in Peru and that’s when the waiting time began. My application took two years to be processed. I received the invitation in November 2002 and by early December of that same year, I was already on a plane, on my way to beautiful Canada to start the next chapter of my life.
Being a newcomer in Canada
It felt surreal. I’ve always believed that dreams do come true. But when that moment comes, you can’t help but think: is this really happening or is this just a dream? I had to be strong.
Canada offers many exciting opportunities to newcomers. I was able to attend school to get the credentials I needed to continue my education in Canada. I completed the Language Instruction for Newcomers to Canada (LINC) at the Vancouver Community College. I attended this school free of charge for the first two years while working two jobs to sustain myself as an independent 24-year-old. I had to buy my own food, pay bills, and put a roof over my head for the first time.
One of the biggest challenges I faced when I first came to Canada was the lack of knowledge when it comes to applying for jobs or writing a Canadian resume. I didn’t let that limit me. I searched for ways and that’s how I found the Immigration Society of BC (ISS) which helped me put a resume together and trained me on how to highlight my qualities in a job interview. During my first three months in Canada, I focused my energy on sharpening my new skills and looking for jobs.
I was on my own in a new land, and with only about US$1,000 in my pocket. So, I needed to move fast. A friend agreed to host me until I was able to get on my feet.
I landed my first job at a 24/7 restaurant in Vancouver and my second job soon after as a cashier at a Superstore Branch. With two part-time jobs, I was able to move out and rented my very first bachelor suite.
Housing was a bit challenging during my first full year in Canada. In order to make ends meet, you might need to share expenses so I started looking for a roommate. I was stretching myself too thin and I didn’t realize how difficult finding the right roommate could be. Sometimes you click with a person and sometimes you don’t, so you keep searching until you find the right fit.
Few things I learned, like how to cook for myself, how to manage my finances after opening up a bank account at a Canadian banking institution, and got used to saving every penny I had. Learning how to use public transportation to get around town is a basic skill since it will be the only way to move around the city in the beginning.
I finally felt at home. I started making friends, made short trips, and explored the city. I became more and more confident with my English skills and kept learning by asking questions. I was able to maintain a pretty active social life. Became a member of a hiking club, I signed up for salsa lessons, and I started to discover beautiful British Columbia.
Establishing a new life
In 2006, I was able to take a student loan and went to BCIT (British Columbia Institute of Technology) where I gained my Canadian education and completed Business Administration. After graduating, I landed a stable job in the insurance industry. I felt like everything was falling into its rightful place but the idea of running my own business never really left me.
Soon, I met the love of my life, Philip, who was born and raised in Canada. We met during a salsa dance class I was taking at the time and got married in 2008. We are now proud parents to two wonderful kids.
During the global pandemic in 2020, I grabbed a chance to attend a virtual seminar where I was able to revisit my roots, explore my past, and find my identity. Between emigration, marriage, and parenting, I seemed to have lost myself.
When you are handed with many responsibilities and challenges in life, you sometimes forget to create your own dreams and aspirations. I didn’t want to lose what my parents taught me, which makes up who I am today. So, I made it a point to reflect and choose a path of entrepreneurship. The moment I made that decision, I started attracting opportunities.
I got connected with Diversecity , a non-profit organization that provides community resources to newcomers. There were a lot of hurdles and I had to stay positive despite the challenging times. It was that one beautiful Fall morning when I got a call from Diversecity Program Coordinator Florence Kao, who gave me the good news that there was room for me even when I was already a Canadian citizen (no longer a newcomer).
The birth of Pasos Fashion Co.
My new journey to explore a business idea started in December 2020. By May 2021 I was graduating from the Diversecity Immi-preneur Program, and by June 2021, I was already registering my first business in BC. I had a complete business plan, a couple of Peruvian suppliers all lined up, product samples, and a dream that now turned into a reality. That was how Pasos Fashion Co. was born.
Pasos was then launched online in November 2021.
Pasos Fashion was conceptualized after realizing that the pandemic shut down the tourism industry in Peru and the craft markets had remained closed; sending talented artisans home to fend for themselves without any source of income.
I wanted to make a meaningful mark as a Peruvian and now a Canadian. At Pasos, we want to promote Peru and strengthen the ties between both countries, while supporting artisans and their craft. This is why I personally travel to Peru to curate the products that I know are desirable in the Canadian market. As a small business with strong values, we aim to support Peruvian artisans in remote communities by buying directly from them and paying them upfront with fair costs. As we grow, our dream is to start funding projects that directly benefit Peruvian women and children in remote communities.
There’s a big learning curve when starting a business. I’m thankful there is an awesome community of entrepreneurs helping each other out here in BC. Even though we’re still in our first year and are still self-funded, we make it a point to be present and visible. We love being out in the community where you can find our products either online or at local craft markets.
I think it’s lovely to meet other entrepreneurs, the people behind the brand, as well as people interested in other cultures. Knowing that they can find a mom, a woman, and a passionate entrepreneur who still struggles to find balance in her life behind the Pasos brand could be all the connection they need to feel less alone.
This year marks my 17th anniversary since I moved to Canada (I know! Where the time went?).
Since day one, I found people in Canada to be very welcoming to newcomers, respectful of other cultures, and always open to learning more. This vibrant country has a high standard of living and great respect for human rights and freedom. In Canada, you can be anyone you aspire to be really!.... within reason.
Many immigrants reinvent themselves by starting a new life, venturing on different career paths, or daring to be the best version of themselves. My advice to future immigrants is to come here with a goal in mind and a plan to make it happen because, after all, a goal is a dream with a plan.
Do your homework, and don’t be afraid to connect with organizations even before you land in Canada, and don’t delay. I’m a firm believer that when one door closes, another opens, so don’t give up.
As for me and my business, my goal for Pasos Fashion’s first year is to make the right connections and learn as much as possible. My personal long-term goal is to become self-employed and have the freedom to travel as often as I like, while I continue to advocate for indigenous women and artisans in Peru. I also aspire to one day, become a mentor for other women who dared to dream big, just like me.
By Erika Torrejon