Elena Chagoya

"Meditation has allowed me to forgive, adapt, and adjust to my new circumstances".

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Elena Chagoya

Country of Origin: Mexico.

State of Residency: TAS. Favourite place in Australia: Melbourne and Hobart. Upon arrival: Surprised by the beautiful landscape transition between the four seasons

By Cristy Abela

Elena Chagoya is an image consultant who assists vulnerable people to recover their self-esteem and confidence by enhancing their image through “Image by Colour” talks. Her journey in Australia has not been an easy one as she moved here with a marriage dream that slowly faded away. Her honesty, perseverance, and solidarity have opened up opportunities to change her circumstances. She currently hosts a Tasmanian radio show in Spanish, which in 2015 won the ‘National Ethic and Multicultural Broadcaster Council’ award.

Tell us Your Story

In Mexico, I enjoyed a very successful career as film and television make-up artist. I also provided Image by Colour’s services to politicians, beauty queens, and news anchors. I was also a make-up artist trainer and speaker at conferences. In 1999, I met an Australian man whom I later married. We lived in Mexico for nine years and had two children, Aneliza and Andre. While in Mexico, he developed an online system to learn Spanish “SinergySpanish”. He always wanted to move back home, so in 2008 we moved to Launceston with the promise we would travel to Mexico every two years. I left my country, professional career, family, and friends to support my back-then husband and follow my dreams to raise a family here.  It was a challenging move and there were many moments of isolation. I was only “allowed” to study English. Any other activity, even volunteer work, was seen by my husband as “neglecting the family”. I accepted his ideas because my priority was my family. There was a time when I was only allowed to use internet when he was at home. He was neither keen to continue speaking Spanish with the kids or myself. This was the situation until I realised that despite my efforts, the plans we had as a couple; such as going to Mexico to visit my family were disappearing. These and other circumstances eventually led us to re-evaluate our marriage.

  Maria Elena supporting an event for vulnerable women organized by City Mission Launceston, Tasmania... Photo by Jan Greig.

Maria Elena supporting an event for vulnerable women organized by City Mission Launceston, Tasmania... Photo by Jan Greig.

In 2011, I was invited to be part of the Spanish multicultural unit in city park radio. Due to the situation I was living at home, I accepted it. It is one of the best decisions I have ever taken as it helped me to break the cycle I was in, to feel productive, and to be happy again. The program is a vehicle to promote our culture and it has achieved union between Latinos. It also raises awareness of important international days including earth day, autism day, cancer day, and reconciliation day. A big milestone is that my program won the “National Ethic and Multicultural Broadcaster Council’ award for being the best multicultural program in Australia in 2015.

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After the separation in 2012, I had to work on recovering my self-esteem. I now volunteer to support others in vulnerable situations. I use the “Image by Colour” assessment tool to identify which are the most suitable colours for each person to wear. The tool provides them with an opportunity to see themselves under a different light, regain confidence and lift their self-esteem. I have been working with vulnerable people including refugees, international students, bullying or domestic violence victims, and people with disabilities among others. Due to this work, I have been invited to present on: “The positive impact of Image by Colour on vulnerable people” on International Colour conferences in Mexico, Japan, and China. I am grateful that my volunteer activities have allowed me to share with people in difficult circumstances the benefit of colour. It has also allowed my kids to see their mom as an accomplished individual. Currently, I continue working on the radio program, volunteering with Image by Colour and I just started a sound production course at TASTAFE to keep improving on the radio and communication field. I can confidently say that open heart meditation has allowed me to connect with my spiritual heart, and feel joy and gratitude, to forgive, adapt, and adjust to my new circumstances.

Challenges

Transmitting my heritage – One of the biggest challenges I have encountered with shared custody is to teach my children Spanish and my Mexican values. Here children spend most of their time speaking English, so it is hard for them to embrace the language and the traditions. However, I try my best to celebrate and pass on my Mexican heritage to them.

Not having family around – During special dates, such as Christmas or mother’s day, sometimes I feel alone. It is very hard to find someone to celebrate it with. Therefore, I try to organise multicultural events (Mexican Day of the death, Latin themed BBQs, etc) where everyone is free to join.

  Maria Elena interviewing Chris and White ribbon ambassador Stephen Norris.

Maria Elena interviewing Chris and White ribbon ambassador Stephen Norris.

Starting a business – After 32 years’ experience with Image by Colour I thought it would be easy for me to start a business and share my experience. However, Launceston has around 70,000 people so the market is very limited. Around the same time, ironically, I inspired two Tasmanian ladies to start a similar business model. These made me realise I wouldn’t make a living of this, so I decided to do it as volunteer work.

 

Contrasts

Family ties – I think that Latinos highly value family ties. For example, in Mexico I have relatives in their 80s living with family members. Here, people are more independent, and it is more common to see people of that age live alone in their own house or in an aged care home. 

Bilingual education – I found it surprising to learn that in Australia many schools are not bilingual. I feel the government does not promote learning new languages from a young age and this left for after school programs. In Latin-American, schools offer English as a competitive advantage.

Equality amongst couples – I see young couples in university sharing homes and supporting each other from a young age. In Australia, the government supports, educates, and promotes gender equality. I see here that both, males and females have the same opportunity to develop themselves professionally and at the same time have the same responsibilities at home. In Mexico, there is no government support and therefore, gender inequality amongst couples.

Piece of Advice

  Maria Elena, Andre and Aneliza celebrating the Mexican Independence Day (toasting with apple juice).

Maria Elena, Andre and Aneliza celebrating the Mexican Independence Day (toasting with apple juice).

Try before you buy – If you are migrating with a partner consider that you might not work as a couple in the new environment. Give yourself the opportunity to rediscover yourself as a couple before making important life decisions (i.e. marriage, kids, etc.).

Get involved – As soon as you arrive to a new country, let the embassy or relevant migrant organisations know your details. This will give you the opportunity to find out about relevant events where to meet like-minded people with a similar background to yours.

Find your core values – As part of the process to adapt to a new country, it is very easy to put aside your values in order to fit in. However, with time, you realise that those values are what makes you unique. Honour the family values you were brought up with as they may be your life guide during those times when you feel lost.

In the next few years...

Maria Elena would welcome organisations’ invitations to share her knowledge on “Image by Colour” to help more people improve their lives. She hopes to have more radio programs, develop podcasts, and continue building cultural bridges. She also wants to become an advocate for causes she believes in. She thinks education and awareness are key. She hopes to achieve cooperative parenting and be able to visit Mexico with their children soon, so they can enjoy their Mexican family. If you wish to contact Maria Elena email us at latinstoriesaustralia@gmail.com