Melinda Sevilla left her newborn baby behind in the Philippines more than a decade ago to become a nanny in Canada.
She wanted to give her family a brighter future.
“As a mom, it was hard. I can’t even describe the emotions that I’d go through every night,” Sevilla said.
Sevilla and her daughter Hannah reunited in Canada five years later, and now the family has grown to include seven-year-old Hannelle too. Sevilla now works as a nurse aid.
Sevilla’s story, as well as 24 others, are on display at the Art Gallery of Regina as part of “A Rightful Place” exhibit which is showcasing the immigration experiences of newcomers now living in Saskatchewan.
“If my life story can enlighten, can inspire a lot of immigrants out there who are struggling, it gives them a sense of hope,” Sevilla said.
Gerry Ruecker, Common Weal’s community arts southern artistic director, said there are two main reasons he created the project.
“One is to support newcomers and their efforts here, and the other is to try to emphasize the oneness that we all have. If you read the stories, everyone has the same hopes, dreams for themselves, their family,” Ruecker said.
Ruecker spent two years travelling to various locations around the province, working with newcomer welcome centres to create the exhibit. Each featured newcomer has a professional portrait and a story written about their life.
“There’s still an element of racism, lack of acceptance of newcomers, misunderstanding, fear, that sort of thing,” Ruecker said. “The way things seem to be going down south as far as a lack of tolerance, and even attempt to understand, it’s very important that we get this out to people and they read these stories and see these photographs for themselves, and they go oh, OK, that’s kind of just like me.”
“I think it’s really important that people be seen as individuals, and not as themes, or not as global problems,” photographer Michael Bell said.
“In the news, large groups of people are being painted with a really broad brush. They’re being made out to be seen as threats to the country … and I think it’s really important to see the individual in each person,” Bell said.
“You can make a photograph have all kinds of different tones and feelings and emotions,” Bell said. “And what I mainly wanted to do was represent something a little bit essential from each individual.”
Sevilla hopes her story will inspire her daughters to never give up. She said seeing her life’s journey honoured in such a way is humbling.
“I almost want to cry. I think I was a little bit emotional that it’s real. It’s really happening,” Sevilla said.
The exhibit is at the runs at the Art Gallery of Regina on Elphinstone Street until March 10.