From interviews with Guillermo and Diego De la Rosa.
Guillermo and Diego De la Rosa came to Canada in 2011 from Caracas, Venezuela, to study in Toronto: Diego would pursue a degree in drawing and painting at OCAD University, and Guillermo would study film at York University. Back home, they were always seen as the DelaRosa brothers – the twins. They had attended the same schools and had the same friends. Leaving that behind along with their family, they set out together. Diego and Guillermo share their stories of setting goals, making new friends, starting careers and discovering themselves in Canada.
On leaving home to study in Canada
Guillermo: “When I graduated from high school in Venezuela, I didn’t have a clear idea of exactly what I wanted to do with my life. I remember speaking to one of my teachers about it, and she suggested that since I was an artistic person who liked writing and acting, maybe I should consider film. At that moment, I thought, “I can be a filmmaker. This will be my thing.”
Many students from my community would pursue a Master’s somewhere abroad. The university I attended at home was small, with under a thousand students. It was like a high school, and I really wanted to go where there were lots of different people with different ideas.
My teacher recommended that I speak to a university consultant who would help guide me through the process – she had a specialization in Canadian universities. I applied to five universities and was accepted at Emily Carr in Vancouver and York University in Toronto. I chose Toronto because I really wanted to have a big-campus university experience.
Diego: “My parents always wanted me to study abroad. I was an artist, but with the economy in Venezuela at the time, it was not possible to have a successful art career. At first, I thought I would go to the US because I’m a US citizen through my grandmother. But in Canada (especially Toronto), there was a really vibrant art scene, a very interesting art world. I started to apply to come to Canada.
I started to imagine my life as an immigrant, someone who was going to live away from my home, from everything I knew. After checking in at the airport in Caracas, going through the doors, I remember looking back to see my family smiling at me, but with sad eyes, and my girlfriend just crying her eyes out, but also trying to smile for me. It’s a moment that I will never forget. At that moment, I promised myself I would make this work: I would make this sacrifice worthwhile and something to be really proud of.
The act of saying goodbye can make you stronger and wiser and make you grow in much more interesting ways.
On distant comfort zones, and long-distance relationships
Guillermo: “In Venezuela, there’s a very distinct and drastic class difference. Most of the country, especially nowadays, is very poor, and then there’s a minority that’s very privileged. I was part of the latter. Along with people my age who grew up in this situation, I lived in a kind of bubble.
Back home, I felt like an exceptional person: I felt smart and unique, and all my teachers told me I should develop my talent outside the country where it could really flourish. And yet, I didn’t feel confident that I could do things on my own. I was living in my comfort zone, and I had never faced the kinds of struggles that I believed make you a strong, authentic individual.
When I arrived in Canada, in this new, unknown environment where everything’s different, and I had to fend for myself, I was very much outside of my comfort zone. In my first university class, I realized, “Oh my God, most people here are so smart and so articulate.” I didn’t feel in any way special or unique; I wasn’t the star of the class or anything. That, for me, was really challenging. Being outside of my bubble – that protective cage I grew up in – it forced me to face reality head-on. For me, coming to Canada was a real coming of age story.”
Diego: “The day I left Venezuela, I was so excited because I was going to a new place. I was starting a new chapter in my life; I was going to be independent. But at the same time, I was anxious. I realized that everything that made me who I am was in this country that I was leaving. I was leaving my family, my friends, my traditions – and my girlfriend Antonietta (Anto). I wasn’t sure if our long-distance relationship would work: I knew a lot of people who had tried and failed at this. Inside, I knew things would be okay eventually – because of the kind of relationship we have; we were in the same mindset. When you share the purpose and the effort, it makes anything possible.
I also looked at the story of my grandparents. My grandmother came to Venezuela from the United States on holiday, where she met my grandfather. They were twenty-something, and they began a long-distance relationship – with no cell phones or video calls! Anto and I promised that we would spend every summer and every Christmas together and that we would do the work necessary to make it work. We are now married and living happily in Toronto.
On setting goals and finding your lane in Canada.
Guillermo: “My goal coming to Canada was similar to most people’s: to get better at my craft and build my career. I wanted to find my lane. I went in to be a film director because filmmaking is so broad. There are so many streams in filmmaking and so many different areas that it touches upon, like video game filmmaking, for example. It’s a storytelling medium that I want to explore.
But to be honest, looking back, I think I just wanted to experiment in every aspect of my life: broaden my horizons, meet new people, see new perspectives, learn different things. I wanted to experience everything I could; I wanted to be more competent in the real world. I wanted to be well-versed in life. Back home, I thought I was a really bad dancer. I was very self-conscious about it and just wouldn’t do it. When I came here, I was freer. I allowed myself to dance, and apparently I’m a pretty good dancer.”
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Diego: When I came to Canada, my goal was to be an artist or an illustrator – something to do with making images. I was maybe a little aloof. Nothing really mattered to me, and I would go with the flow. One of the outcomes of the art school process – studying at OCAD (Ontario College of Art and Design) is finding your own artistic voice. I never realized that in the process of finding that creative voice, I would also find my own individual voice.
In the fourth year, our thesis year, we had to make a body of work that would represent us after graduation. I was thinking, what should I talk about? Interestingly, since coming to Canada, I was much more concerned about everything in my home country, about its politics, the people there, everything that’s happened there. I hadn’t cared so much about what was happening in my country until I was away from it.
I realized that this is who I am. I couldn’t deny this new found passion for my home country that I developed in Canada. So I made my work about Venezuela: its culture, its problems, and how they affect the way people think and act. Staying true to my roots, and embracing them, allowed me to flourish. Before this, I thought people just saw me as Diego, the friendly guy who draws and paints and is always distracted. But I found out that I do have a strong voice and people were interested in hearing from me.”
On making new friends and creating your future network
Guillermo: “The first couple of months in Canada, I had a really hard time making friends. I thought I had made a mistake coming here and that I didn’t know how to read people. But people are just different from what you’re used to at home. I’m really thankful for being in residence in the first year because meeting new people was a priority.
I met my really close Canadian friends in my first year at university. A lot of them have become my best friends and collaborators too because making a film is very expensive – even a student film, or an independent film. You have to have a crew, and call in favours. This most often means your close friends. There’s a sort of unspoken agreement. “I’ll help you out for free because I know that one day you’ll help me out for free.” One of the most important benefits of going to university is building your network.
I think for everything in life that you want to do, you’re going to be so much better off if you have a network of people. It may seem like a cliche, but if you have a strong network of people who care about you, you will be stronger. And for me, the only way to really build a strong network is to be good to others. Show them your good nature. They will pay it forward to you someday.
I graduated from university, and I was on a postgraduate work permit. The purpose of that work permit is to give you time, in my case three years, to get the requisites to apply for permanent residence in Canada if that’s what you intend to do. One of the requisites for the permanent residence is that you have to accumulate 1500 hours of work, which is around one year or so of full-time work, working 40 hours a week or so. The thing is, it has to be skilled work.
Once you get the required amount of work in the properly classified job, you could then apply for permanent residence. I was kind of close to the due date. I really needed to find a job within the next three to six months.
I was catching up with a university friend, also from Venezuela, and during our conversation, I told her about my job situation. She said, “Oh, really? There’s an opening in my company right now. I can recommend you.”
It was serendipitous. In a matter of a week or so, I had my interview. Although there were a lot of other great applicants, I was hired within two weeks. Having a good body of work matters, having a great work ethic is essential, but having someone who can recommend you is the biggest foot in the door.”
Diego: During my thesis year at OCAD, I would work very late in the studio, occasionally even 24 hours straight, just painting and doing my homework. When I would take a break from painting, I’d go for a walk and meet other people who were working late. I would speak to them, not only because I wanted to know about the cool piece they were making, but because deep down, I was kind of lonely. I missed my family. I missed my partner. I missed my friends. I just wanted to talk.
When I applied for my current job at an amazing painter’s studio, a fellow OCAD graduate (who I had met during one of my walks) worked there. She pointed my resume out to my boss, saying she knew me and that my work was strong. Hundreds of artists applied for this job. If I hadn’t strolled around OCAD and chatted with people like her, I might not have the job I have now – doing what I love.
Also, that act of walking around OCAD and meeting new people just for the sake of meeting them led me to some really cool experiences because I met people with very different ideas, even beliefs that I didn’t share. It helped me to grow philosophically and personally. Most importantly, I made some very dear friends that I still have to this day.
On travelling to Canada with your twin and finding yourself
Guillermo: “Back home, Diego and I had always been kind of parallel: the same high school, the same university, the same program. And then we both came to Canada at the same time – he was at OCAD, I was at York. All I wanted to do was meet new people, and so I wouldn’t call my friends back home, I wouldn’t contact my family, and sometimes even Diego himself.
But the thing is when you have a twin you have a very particular connection. You always know that he’s going to be there – even if you haven’t talked in a couple of weeks. The moment one of us called the other, or we would meet, there was never any bad blood, we never felt estranged at all. It is a source of comfort to have a family member here, especially my twin brother. Even though at first, I wasn’t interested in fostering that connection to home, nowadays, knowing I have my brother here gives me peace of mind.
Diego: When we first came to Canada, Guillermo and I lived very far away from each other, and we were also very busy with our own group of friends and homework and all that we were doing at school. I was also a little bit of a kid then: I was very easily distracted, and I needed to mature. I think that distance away from Guillermo and having to be my own person allowed me to grow and gain the maturity that I needed to actually deal with this life.
Guillermo and I now live a 15-minute walk from each other, and we are probably closer than ever. Those years of being apart – in the same city – helped strengthen our relationship as brothers, and twins, of course. This twinness, in a way, has really helped us and made me realize that even when we were on our own, dealing with our own stuff, Guillermo and I have never been apart.