A man on a mission to tell you “real stories of immigration.”
Meet Oscar Cecena. He immigrated from Mexico to Toronto in 2013 along with his wife. Oscar is currently the Senior Director of Client Onboarding at a fin-tech company in the city’s financial district, but when he isn’t behind his corporate desk, this 41-year-old produces his own podcast show, ‘Immigrants of Toronto.’
Oscar has come a long way since his initial days as a newcomer in Canada, but the bittersweet experiences are still as fresh as the day he landed in Canada. Those memories coupled with his “desire to do something to help immigrants,” are what led Oscar to embark on a journey to “open people’s minds through real stories of immigration” with his podcast.
“I started thinking about the idea back in December (2018). I wanted to share stories of people to show that immigrants are just normal people who were born in a different country, raised in a different culture and who speak a different language. A month later, I began working on it in the form of a blog… I met a few people to know their stories and wrote pieces inspired by what they had experienced, but it didn’t feel quite right. So, somewhere around June (2019), I decided to change the approach to a podcast because it would allow people to tell their stories in their own voice,” says Oscar.
Another reason why he chose podcast as his medium was to reach out to the ever-busy populace. “People might not be able to spare the time to read a blog, but one can listen to a 30-odd minute podcast while getting ready or on their way to work. They can subscribe to it through various distribution channels, so the content is not restricted to the website,” Oscar explains.
What makes Oscar Cecena’s ‘Immigrants of Toronto’ different from other initiatives out there aimed at immigrants is the program’s target audience – Oscar isn’t necessarily helping new immigrants adapt to a new country. He’s aiming to reach out to non-immigrants to sensitize them about immigration. “It’s human to not trust something that’s unfamiliar to us. I believe that if people choose to listen to how immigrants decided to leave everything behind to start a new life in a new country, they will be surprised. The hardest part of immigration isn’t adapting to a new country in a professional way; it’s as much about building friendships, pursuing your hobbies etc,” he says.
Oscar’s goal is to interview a hundred people in the next two years and share enough stories to aid him in achieving his dream of one day having a world where “everyone will spend time meeting their neighbours, and engaging in deep conversations with people that look different and speak with an exotic accent.”
Immigrants are encouraged to share their stories, irrespective of whether they are good or bad. “I believe that every immigrant has a story to share. In reality, every immigration story isn’t traumatic. There are success stories out there too. There’s a small percentage of people in the world that like change enough to move to a different country, and that’s quite interesting to me.
“My idea is not to picture a perfect Toronto but a real Toronto.”
“My idea is not to picture a perfect Toronto but a real Toronto. For me, it has been a great city. For some others, it has been a challenge. I hope to show diverse opinions but not hate speech in any way whatsoever,” he adds.
The response to his podcast has been encouraging and feedback has been pouring in at work, too. But the task is demanding both in terms of time and effort. As Oscar puts it on his website, he’s the jack of all trades for ‘Immigrants of Toronto.’ He handles everything from interviewing to editing, writing, transcription, photography, the website, and social media by himself. “The podcast takes up a large chunk of my weekly time but in the end, it’s a fulfilling experience,” he concludes.
In the first episode of his podcast, Oscar spoke to Gabriela Casineanu, a Romanian immigrant and award-winning author about her experience of becoming a writer in Toronto and eventually founding the Immigrant Writers’ Association. The second episode featured Rodrigo Königs, ‘an immigrant with a Canadian passport’. Rodrigo shares how it was to be born in Canada but raised in Mexico only to return years later as a ‘newcomer’. Tune in to the next episode of Immigrants of Toronto in which Oscar will be interviewing Gabriela Covaci, a Romanian immigrant who has dedicated her life to helping newcomers to adapt to their new life in Toronto.
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