Gladys Casanueva was born in Chile of Mapuche and Spanish ancestors, but has lived most of her life outside her native country. She lived in Venezuela for 27 years and now lives in Australia. A former midwife, Gladys is interested in arts and crafts. Although she has received formal instruction in a couple of them, she describes herself as a self-taught creative artist. Learning and practising to create beauty is her motto. She enjoys exploring Latin American culture through her works. Now residing in Canberra, Gladys is involved in the Spanish Seniors Group in Belconnen, the Spice of Life Group for Seniors through Communities@Work, and is a member of the Migrant Women’s Art Group in Gungahlin.
I never imagined in 1992, on my first visit to Australia, that almost 30 years later, I would be here in Canberra writing about my experience as a migrant.
My life was always full of tasks: study, work, husband, children, house, garden, friends, etc. Little time for fun. However, I always sought to enjoy every possible moment with family, friends and nature. And now, in the ninth decade of my life, I am lucky to have time for myself and my hobbies.
Emigrating was one of several of the good things that life gave me. When I was younger and still living in Chile, I realised that it wasn’t the whole world; that there were other landscapes, people and ways of life out there. Of course, for me, Chile holds a unique position, and its memory always accompanies me wherever I go. I especially remember its mountains: so high, so beautiful in winter, when they’re covered with snow.
Still, I moved to Venezuela, and lived there for 27 years. Today, I enjoy the memory of its people, so friendly, who live in the present without thinking too much about the past or the future.
Migrating to a country with the same language was easy in some ways, though not always simple. For example, in a Venezuelan newspaper, I remember reading a recipe for lizard (lagarto) soup, with auyama. ‘Oh, here they eat lizards!’, I thought. ‘And what would auyama be?’ Later, I learned that lagarto is actually a muscle from the leg of a cow, and auyama is a pumpkin.
More difficult than learning a new language, however, is battling against nostalgia. I cried a lot in my first months in Venezuela, remembering my native country, until I told myself that tears would not take me back. The best thing to do was to adapt to my new life. I decided to engage fully in everything, as much as I could, and I have continued to do that ever since.
When my children were of school age, I helped to form a Scout Group, participated in AFS, an international student interchange program, and attended to the many artistic and cultural activities that took place in the industrial city where we lived.
When I was 11 years old, a homework task for my visual arts class was to draw something; anything. I drew an old stone bridge that I had seen on an ornamental plate that hung in my grandmother’s house. When the teacher saw it, she said, “This was not done by you.” “Yes, I did it”, I protested. “No, this was done by another person. It is too well done.” And she gave me the minimum mark because she believed the work wasn’t mine.
For a long time, that is where my artistic career ended.
Fortunately, 40 years later, in Venezuela, I had the opportunity to learn and practise many arts and crafts. Among them was stained glass, papier maché, and black and white photography with its various secrets, like framing, focus, lighting and development. I even had my own dark room. Later, when I was back in Chile, I learned how to paint on glass, and explored mosaics. The latter is the one I have devoted the most time to in the last 15 years.
So how did I end up in Australia? My husband had recently died and my youngest son had started his higher studies. To cheer myself up, I decided to visit one of my sisters who had been living in Sydney for 20 years. When I saw the remarkable social organisation in this country, I said to myself, ‘This is the place for my sons.’ I encouraged them to go to Australia, and they decided to go, along with their Venezuelan wives. 10 years passed between when the first one began his immigration procedures and when the last one came. And another 10 years passed until I received my family reunification visa and arrived here myself.
I am now in Canberra and, as always, participating in life as much as I can. I attend two social groups and one artistic group on a regular basis. I was lucky enough to meet Michele Grimston, from Belconnen Arts Centre, and Kiran Grewal, who leads the Migrant Women’s Art Group in Gungahlin. At this group I meet women much younger than me, all of great artistic aptitudes, of different languages, religions and ways of seeing life. And I get the chance to explore my own artistic practice, in mosaics, stained glass, papier maché and more.
All this makes my life even more interesting. I think it is not bad at my age. Isn’t it?
© Gladys Casanueva, 2021