Carmen Puga Peña is taking on the world and, according
to her, Montreal is the best place to start.
The Concordia student is in her third semester of a self-designed MA Special
Individualized Program (SIP) in Human Systems Intervention and Hispanic
Studies. The degrees title obfuscates the idealism and enthusiasm
of the woman behind it.
The daughter of a Spanish father and an Ecuadorian mother, Puga Peña
is familiar with the Latin American immigrant communities of Montreal.
While she affirmed that Canada has many wonderful programs
for immigrants, no support system exists for the specific needs of Latin
Americans. Moreover, while immigrants from each Latin American country
are cohesive, Puga Peña believes that they can benefit from sharing
common experiences and resources.
Essentially, she wants to create a central resource for Latin American
immigrants in Montreal similar to those created by established communities
like the Italians and Jews. Her research will be twofold: to determine
what resources are available to immigrants in Montreal and in Latin America
and then to improve and add to these services.
She will focus on immigrants from Chile, Argentina, El Salvador, Guatemala,
Honduras and the Dominican Republic. Most of them arrived in Montreal
as refugees of brutal dictatorships or civil wars in the 1980s. Although
Puga Peña stressed that people from each country are distinct,
they are all traumatized by their experiences and in dire need of therapy.
Because they were oppressed for so many years, they are afraid
to voice their opinions, she explained.
In addition, Latin Americans tend to be intimidated by people of other
cultures, even if they are trying to help them. She gave the example of
a Venezuelan girl who was trying to enter Canada as a political refugee
because her family was an opponent of the government. She only divulged
that government officials had raped her to her Canadian-born lawyer the
day before the trial, which made winning the case difficult.
Puga Peña envisions an internal support system in which people
like her would accompany immigrants to lawyers and trials, effectively
acting as a link and fostering trust between the two parties.
She would also like to seek government aid for families whose aging parents
live with them. While it is often the custom here, Latin Americans do
not typically send their parents to retirement homes.
Puga Peña knows that other immigrant communities share these values
and she hopes to collaborate with them.
Having earned a bachelors degree in Spanish language with a focus
on translation, she is also in a position to translate official documents
in Spanish, French and English. Puga Peña described existing translations
It was her dissatisfaction as a professional translator that led her
to the SIP MA program at Concordia. I needed to be around people,
and to get something in return, she said.
Her desire to help the situation in Latin America led her to a masters
degree in international relations at McGill, but she found it too theoretical.
It comes to a point when you have to stop debating and just do something,
Puga Peña said.
Though shes brimming with energy, she is very focused on her studies.
She will conduct exhaustive research over the next two years to find the
best way to help.
Catherine Vallejo, chair of the Classics, Modern Languages and Linguistics
(CMLL) Department and Puga Peñas advisor, said that Puga
Peñas degree is an example of the flexibility that SIP allows
Since CMLL does not offer masters degrees within the department,
SIP is an opportunity to keep students and get them into graduate
school, Vallejo said.
The SIP allowed Puga Peña to choose the courses that would best
suit her career objectives from both departments. Vallejo said, Carmen
basically decided what she wanted to do with her life, and then she did