Upon entering the attractive offices of La Passerelle Intégration et Développement Économique on Carlton Street in downtown Toronto, you soon find yourself in the thick of the action. In a large conference room, men and women representing francophone Toronto in all its diversity are listening to a human resources manager discussing professional opportunities at her company. In another room, young teenagers whose families have recently arrived in Canada from Congo and other African countries are rehearsing a show called Rire contre le racisme (“Laughing at Racism”). Amid this frenzy of activity, the permanent staff—mostly young women belonging to visible minorities—are hard at work carrying out the latest mandate from their president and director-general, Léonie Tchatat.
A native of Cameroon, Léonie has the “personality of a fighter” and, by her own admission, is “very stubborn.” She speaks honestly and directly about her experiences as an immigrant: “I came to Canada because my parents really liked this country and wanted me to continue my studies here. The process of adaptation was difficult at first, because of family issues, racial injustice and integration challenges.” She was able to overcome these problems, however, “thanks to a strong will to make it and succeed.”
When asked what it was she liked about Canada and made her want to live here, Léonie replies: “I believe Canada is a welcoming land that provides social opportunities, hope and the possibility of success for immigrants who want to integrate and live here. The Canadian values of multiculturalism, solidarity and sharing are values that I believe in deeply. As long as you have desire and persistence, nothing can stop you from becoming what you want to be in Canada.”
Léonie is a proud Canadian and mother of two lovely children who has been highly successful both socially and professionally—but does she ever miss her homeland? “What I miss,” she explains, “is the warmth of Africa, the solidarity found in humility, the love of sharing, the delicious mangoes, the bean doughnuts, the hearty laughter and the scent of the village earth early in the morning.”
In Canada’s First Nations cultures, it is said that having power means being able to share it with the people around you. In the case of the President of La Passerelle I.D.É, she wants to share her love of Canada with young francophone immigrants who have moved to Ontario. Her advice? “The things you need to pack in your suitcase include an open mind, flexibility, a positive approach to integration, a desire to make connections and a willingness to succeed.” On the other hand, according to her, it’s important not to weigh your luggage down with “comparisons between your native country and your new country” or “have a big ego when it comes to your status and background.” An optimist at heart, she concludes: “As long as you are willing to experience culture shock and believe that you will find your way, the rest will take care of itself.”