In conversation with Yasmina Proveyer, Supervisor, Newcomer Information Centre

Yasmina Proveyer

Yasmina Proveyer

Could you tell me about your childhood? Where were you born? Is there anything about your childhood that stands out for you? Helped form who you are today? Your parents, friends, school?

I had a pretty intense childhood because I come from a very artistic family (in Cuba). Since an early age, I was enrolled in ballet and piano. My dad and brothers were musicians and for my family, going to arts school was a big deal. I remember being very happy growing up. My mom took me to museums, to ballet, and to shows to get involved in arts. I watched my dad perform in a cabaret so since a very early age I always felt very comfortable in artistic environments. I always had a lot of friends around growing up that I still keep in touch with today.

When did you come to Canada, what made you decide on Canada and Ottawa?

I worked at the Canadian Embassy in Beijing and a few friends that I met there decided to settle in Ottawa. This is where I learned about the possibility of immigrating to Canada. It was important for me to go somewhere that was geographically close to Cuba so that I could visit family and friends. At the same time, I wanted to be able to have the freedom to be somewhere I could work and make a good living, to be able to help my family back home. I have relatives in Toronto, and I explored a few cities including Vancouver and Montreal, but I found Ottawa was a very easygoing city for someone new and single. It wasn’t overwhelming like it felt in other cities I had visited. I eventually settled here in April 2009.

What is your educational background?

From a young age I went to music school. I attended University in Cuba with a Major in Theatre (Arts). I specialized more on theatre critics, education, and research, which allowed me to get a contract to start teaching at university afterwards. I taught for two and a half years in Cuba and then got a scholarship to do my Masters in China. I had to go through the language program first to learn Mandarin and then did my masters in Chinese Beijing Opera.

You spent a number of years studying in China. What was the experience like?

It gave me a lot of stress and troubles but at the same time I learned a lot. Being surrounded by so much culture, history and a new philosophy and the ideology behind things was unbelievable. Although hard, it was amazing in the end.

Can you tell us about your day job? What challenges have you faced in the work place?

Working as a Team Supervisor at the Newcomer Information Centre at the Y is very rewarding. It gives me the opportunity to get in contact with a lot of immigrants who are new to Canada and they are in need of anything and everything. I get a chance to share my own story, because newcomers always need to hear success stories and I think my own is a great tool to use to give them hope.  Sometimes the people I meet come with expectations that are not always realistic. Trying to put people in perspective without discouraging them can be difficult. It’s important that newcomers understand their new environment and how to navigate the system, and a successful integration is not possible without being open minded and being able to consider all the factors and aspects around you. In order to fit into that environment, you can’t create your own bubble like the one you lived in before. It’s important to make people understand the importance of being flexible.

You are fluent in four languages. How were you able to accomplish this remarkable achievement?

I think it is a matter of context and that I have been very lucky to learn Mandarin in China, which is different than just learning in a classroom in your home country. The fact that I have been able to travel extensively has also helped me understand that language is an expression of culture, history, religion and philosophy, and an extension of so many aspects that are not only the literal translation of what I can say in my native tongue. Sometimes we are only able to communicate things that are in our minds and it is important to learn that if you really want to understand others, you need to learn not only the language, but their historic context and traditions.

Apart from your regular job, you are also involved in the entertainment industry as a promoter and organizer. Can you tell us about your experience as a woman in what is a very competitive, male-dominated industry?

It’s interesting because I think in the back of my head I never thought that being a woman is anything that has put me in a disadvantaged position. In China, I started looking at women’s roles really differently in a society. I think I‘m a person who usually sets myself goals and I try to visualize where I want to be and what I want to achieve and I do whatever it takes. The way I get myself involved with the music industry is by learning from role models, people who have been doing it for many years who happen to be men. I try to associate with them and I try to get them to mentor me in some way. I have found that women in this path are doing also amazing work. Today, I think women need more empowerment because I have definitely seen them struggle. I would like to see women taking more risks in this industry.

You are one of a rather small number of Cuban immigrants living in the national capital region. Do you associate with other Cuban nationals? Do you have a formal community organization? Does your community engage in any activities to promote and maintain your Cuban ties?

Yes, I do associate with many other Cubans and the further extension to the Latin community. There is no formal association, but Cubans are very informal people and we enjoy the spontaneity in the way that we interact. Many of the events that I organize promote Cuban music, dance and culture. This brings together Cubans and other Latin communities.

What has been your biggest achievement and what was your biggest challenge? In your work, family life, social life, other?

I feel achieved because I have travelled extensively to places that always fascinated me since I was a teenager and I was able to make those dreams happen. These are places I would read about as a teenager. Interacting with these cultures and visiting these countries has been surreal. Learning Mandarin has been so far my biggest challenge.

If you had to live your life all over again, is there anything you would do differently?

I don’t think that I would do anything differently because I don’t like to have regrets.

Looking at Ottawa’s black community, what do you see as our biggest challenges? How do we overcome them?

I think what I have noticed in the music industry not only within the black community, but all cultural or ethnic groups is that there are challenges in connecting with mainstream audiences, outside of their usual followers. Probably one of the biggest challenges is getting media attention from my own personal point of view. To overcome this, I think gaining exposure by being more creative with new projects is important. People have to come forward and take more risks. From an artistic point of view, I can only talk about the area I am more active in. I think no matter who you are, it is important to create and always do more. Not only by creating projects, but a precedence for others and in order to leave a legacy.

In the years since you’ve been in Ottawa, have you seen the situation of Blacks as changed for the better, worse or same?

I feel like my perspective on this issue is limited. I do still think that there is a lot to do and there is room for improvement to bring forward diversity and inclusion of all people. This is a big aspect that needs to be put forward consciously. People of colour face more barriers, but I think there can be more efforts made for these people. I think Ottawa as a whole should be more aware of the contributions of the black community, because from my perspective it’s hard to promote and engage audiences about black artists. I tried to put together a black music series in January as part of my effort to contribute to the celebration of Black History Month, but I struggled to sell tickets and market the events. It was challenging to engage the general public in this kind of event.

Finally, do you have a message for readers of Black Ottawa Scene?

Find your passion and the things that really inspire you, not only to be better at what you do, but also to be a better human being. We are here to create and leave a legacy for the next generation. It is important to have a purpose and to identify the things that really inspire you to create, because at the end of the day I think everyone has different sources of motivation. Understanding who you are and what your role is in society can be hard and I think by being mindful and passionate at the same time, we can understand our role better. Mindfulness is the ability to make us focus because by being mindful we have a better understanding of the here and now and we think about the outcome of every action we make. When we find harmony between these aspects, we can reach whatever potential we want because we have the flexibility and openness to be listening to our surroundings, and the ability to realize that it’s about us in relation to the ones around us rather than just us. When we are able to reach this point, there is no distinction between any race or gender.

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