"Be grateful for the opportunity to be here".
Country of Origin: Argentina.
State of Residency: VIC. Favourite place in Australia: Camp Eureka. Upon arrival: Surprised by how organised and clean Australia was
By Cristy Abela
Juanita Esposto is a loving grandma from Cordoba, Argentina. While settling in Melbourne during her first years, she co-founded a Latin American mothers' group for newly arrived immigrants who did not speak English. The aim of the group was to assist women cope better with loneliness and depression. The group still meets today and is a testament to positive initiatives by immigrants wanting to feel a bit of support and comfort while trying to make home away from home.
Tell us Your Story
My family and I decided to immigrate to Australia in 1975 because of the political turmoil and social violence in Argentina at the time. In Argentina, we were actively involved in the community as we were owners of a lovely and well-stocked grocery store. Unfortunately, we were held up twice with the thieves pointing guns at our heads while our kids were watching. We worried for the future of our kids and started considering options to leave Argentina. A friend told Franco, my Italian husband, that life in Australia was wonderful and that there was a large Italian community that would make him feel at home. Although we were granted the permanent residency in 1973, we had to wait for two years until our house and the grocery store were sold. When we moved in 1975, three of our four kids came with us (Giovanni, 17, Alexis, 15, and Hernan, 11). At that time, our eldest son did not want to come to Australia because he had a good job and did not want ot leave his native home. He joing us some years later.
Flying to Australia was a long tiring journey but upon arrival we were treated very kindly and immediately felt welcomed. A taxi was waiting for us at the airport and took us to the Midway Hostel (which is not a migrant hostel anymore) where we lived for a few months before being relocated to a Housing Commission flat in Maribyrnong. Two years later we bought our house in Reservoir where we were able to frame one of the very few things we brought from Argentina: our beloved Che Guevara canvas. At the time of our arrival, the Australian government assisted immigrants providing accommodation, food, access to English courses, and some pocket money. At the Midway Hostel, there was a person providing information to help us find a job. A few days after we arrived we got our first jobs while walking around the industrial area. Franco started working as a tool maker at the Fergusson Company in Sunshine, and I worked at Perfect Cheese, a cheese factory. Later on, I worked on a kitchen factory and then at a military and firemen uniform factory until I retired.
When we arrived in Australia we had a few contacts, but by getting involved in events from the Italian and Latin American communities our network grew and we were able to ease into the Australian way of life. I noticed many newly-arrived female immigrants were depressed as they stayed at home with their young children, unable to go out as they did not speak the language or had any family or friends to visit. So, a friend and I founded the Latin American Women’s Group in Thomastown as an opportunity for women to get together once a week to socialise through different activities. We were lucky we had the support of the local MP Peter Batchelor to use the council premises for our weekly meetings. Franco was also a very generous man and an active member of the Italian and Argentinean communities. He received a posthumous medal from the Victorian Government for his multicultural work. I was lucky to be his wife.
I am very proud of my boys who grew into successful men who contribute to Australian society in different ways. Two of my children, Alexis and Hernan, have published books, hold PhDs and work for universities. John is an Italian-English-Spanish translator, and Emilio is a diesel engines engineer. I still live in our first house in Reservoir surrounded by the love of my children and grandchildren.
Adjustments to a new life – The children started school close to home. They had to adjust to the different education system and a new language, among other things. Australians were helpful and sincere and these helped us to adjust quicker.
Homesickness - While you will always miss family, we were happy in our new life. However, one of our sons, John, was unhappy. He missed Argentina a lot so for us it was important to understand his feelings and supported him. He went back to Argentina several times. We also used to travel quiet often to avoid homesickness.
Australian kindness - The first good thing we noticed when we arrived in Australia was people’s kindness: if you asked for a favour, people will do it without expecting anything in return. Also, the government reimbursed us for the money we spent in airfares. Currently, as part of the aged care system the government provides services including home care assistance. I receive help or advice through my local council as well.
Easy to live – Australia is a very quiet and organised place to live compared to Argentina. I would say that one of the main differences is that people here respect and obey the law.
Temperament – While we have been very happy in Australia, I can’t stop noticing that Latin American people are warmer and more open than Australians. The majority of our network is Latin and Italian.
Opportunities - Australians have a very resilient temperament. People start working from a young age. This provides them with the opportunity to learn how to save and manage money. In Latin America, young people don’t have the opportunity to work professionally as the unemployment rate is quite high; even qualified and mature people struggle to find a job.
Piece of Advice
Be grateful – In our particular case, we were very grateful for the opportunity to be here. Otherwise, we probably wouldn’t be alive. Therefore, my advice is: value the present and try not to miss what you left behind.
Relax – Don’t pay attention to the bad things other people tell you. Experiment first as experiences are very different for every person.
Enjoy – I think Australia is a place where everyone can enjoy life. Contrary to Latin America, average wages and work-life balance allows people to enjoy life more fully. However, if something goes wrong, there are always institutons where you can ask for help (i.e. CELAS, Salvation Army, local council).
In the next few years...
Juanita will continue enjoying life in Melbourne surrounded by her family, reading books in Spanish, and watching her favorite Italian TV shows. She would love to learn pencil drawing techniques and be able to spend time with her extended family in Argentina. If you wish to contact Juanita email us at firstname.lastname@example.org