"Coming to Australia was not difficult, the challenge was to start my life again".
Country of Origin: Mexico.
State of Residency: VIC. Favourite place in Australia: Rottnest Island. Upon arrival: Surprised by the lack of Spanish speakers (at WA), and the street signs with the family of ducks!
By Cristy Abela
Maggie Alonso is a promoter of Mexican culture in Melbourne. She is the producer and event manager of the Mexican Festival at Federation square since 2012. Last year the festival drew crowds of over 50,000 people, making it one of the most attended festivals in Melbourne’s Federation square. Maggie is also a Freelancer Senior Graphic Designer who has worked with high-profile companies such as PwC, Australian Unity, Mission Foods, William Angliss Institute, the Vault, and Nous group.
Tell us Your Story
In 2005, I was working as designer and marketing coordinator at URMAN. I was working crazy hours with no life/work balance. One day, I unexpectedly met my now husband Brad. I fell in love and I quit my stable job and left my career to run away with the circus! I literally ran away with my husband who at that time worked with Cirque du Soleil touring South America, Canada and the USA. While on tour, I freelanced as designer for my old job and I also started teaching Spanish and arts to the kids on the circus. In February 2007, I had a stroke which affected all the motion of my left side. After woken up from a coma I had to do lots of rehabilitation and learn to walk and move again. Mental rehab was the most challenging as I had to reinvent Maggie Alonso! The biggest challenge was to forget who I used to be and start again.
We continued touring with the circus until one day Brad told me: “We are moving home” (he is Australian). Before moving to Melbourne in 2011, we spent 6 months in Mexico. During that time, drug cartels from north Mexico were in war so lots of shootings on the streets and supermarkets occurred on weekly basis. This situation helped not to question the option of moving so far away. Once in Melbourne, I was determined to find a job, so I literally applied to 200 jobs. My resume was great but I lacked the local Australian experience, so I never had the opportunity to get a job in a company. However, I wanted to work even if it wasn't in my field, so I started working as a waitress. I found this very difficult as I had never being a waitress before, but I enjoyed the opportunity to meet people and talk to customers. After some time, someone advised me to get an ABN and start my own graphic design business. I did it and I got my first design gig as freelancer with “Mini Maestros” designing an ad for a kids' magazine. I did illustrations for kids books (something that I had never done before) and I loved it! I'm currently illustrating for Mini Maestros in Australia and Asia. So far, I have illustrated 8 books and 4 cd covers for them. I am also working with different design agencies as freelance graphic designer. This has gave me the opportunity to work in different sectors (education, advertising, finance, retail, fashion and editorial) and with different companies such as PWC, Australian Unity, Mercer, Mission Foods, William Angliss Institute, The Vault, and Nous group. I can't explain the sensation you get when you see your work outside a Nike shop, in a magazine ad, or advertise in a tram.
In 2012, I wanted to meet people so I started as a volunteer with ANZMEX. This is where I met Claudia R., Juan Caraza, and Javier de la Rosa. We came up with the idea to create a Mexican Festival for Melbourne. I volunteered to manage it as I had the expertise and the time to do it. I had to learn all the regulations and requirements to produce events in less than 2 months. Luckily I worked alongside some great people (Claudia R., Vikki Greensmith, Juan Caraza, Eric Catalayud and Pedro Chan). I remember Vikki and I visited all the Mexican restaurants trying to get them involved (we got 7), and in September 2012 we had the first Mexican Festival with 15,000 attendees! The festival was a success and it is now a yearly event. Last year we had a record attendance of 55,000. We are currently working for the 2017 edition which will feature 19 restaurants. I really enjoy sharing what Mexico has to offer. I'm proud of being Mexican and I think this type of events are a wonderful way to exhibit our culture as we are so much more than tequila, sombreros and burritos!
Start from zero – Coming to Australia was not difficult, the challenge was to start my life again; to recreate myself. It was hard to leave my pride on the side and accept that I was in a new country where no one knew who I was. My resume meant nothing unless I proved what I was capable to do the job.
Aussie accent - Trying to understand the strong Aussie accent mixed with kiwi accent wasn't easy! The Aussie slang and how the words are shorten was quite weird. Working as a waitress allowed me to practice. This experience helped me in my design and event management careers as now I understand all different accents and various slangs.
Resilience - Latinos are hard workers as we know that if we don't fight for what we want someone else will. In contrast, Australians are use to having many opportunities; therefore, they have a more easy going approach to life.
Standard working hours – In Australia jobs are generally from 9am to 5pm. In Latin America, we tend to work crazy hours - from 8 am to whenever I'm done. I was shocked when on Friday’s the 9-5 schedule turned into 9-4 and you start seeing people opening the beer and wine (social Friday). Also, holidays here are longer. In Mexico you only have 6 days of holidays and unfortunately not time for them because of work.
Economic status – I love that there is no economic status here. Everyone is the same no matter if you are rich or not. Here you are recognised for your work and for how hard you worked to earn what you have. That is completely opposite in Mexico.
Piece of advice
Reinvent yourself – Never be afraid to start again from zero. You will always learn something new. Take the risk of failure and reinvent yourself. You are in a new country so take the opportunity to do it!
Prove yourself – Do not come to Australia thinking that your degree from a private University and a high position on a large company back home, will give you a senior position in Australia. Here you first have to prove who you are. You have to graduate from the "how to be humble" class.
Have a dream – When I came here I had the dream of creating and managing my first event, not only overseas, but my first big event after being on standby after the stroke. And I did it! So, do not stop dreaming, make your dreams a reality. The worst thing that could happen is having to start again; and trust me, that is the best opportunity life gives you.
In the next few years...
Maggie wants not only to continue creating the Mexican Festival in Melbourne, but also take it to Sydney and Perth. In her graphic design career she sees herself managing a graphic design studio as well as illustrating more books for kids. If you wish to contact Maggie email us at firstname.lastname@example.org