Talk to anyone in Williams Lake’s Latino community and they’ll tell you Ana Rawlek plays a major role when it comes to making them feel welcome.
Patricia Reynado arrived in Williams Lake in autumn 2018 and credited Rawlek for connecting her.
“She’s lovely and very caring and always inviting you to things,” Reynado said during a Spanish language class Rawlek teaches to children at the Cariboo Community Church on Wednesdays. “She’s very welcoming.”
Originally from Chihauhua, the capital city of the Mexican state with the same name, Rawlek moved to Vancouver in October 1993 to study business and English as a second language at VanWest College.
She planned to stay for six months, but that all changed when she met Barry Rawlek in 1995.
“We married in June and right away knew we wanted to have kids. I was working as a nanny and realized I didn’t want someone else taking away the memories of my children.”
Barry saw a job opening for an electronics technician at School District 27, applied, and they moved to Williams Lake in 1996.
“There were not that many Latinos when I moved here,” Rawlek recalled. “There was one lady at Shopper’s Drug Mart for sure — about six all together.”
Fast forward to 2019 and the community has blossomed to the point that Rawlek created a Latinos del Cariboo on WhatsApp to keep in touch. There’s also a Facebook page with the same name.
“I know what it feels like to first arrive because you feel lost,” she said.
She described the community as more intergenerational now as well because lots of moms have moved or visited to look after their grandchildren.
In the last year, Rawlek’s mom, brother and sister died and her aunt came to visit Rawlek to offer her support.
“The family unit is strong in Mexico so here in Williams Lake we have created our own family with the Latino community,” she added. “My daughter Monica did not speak a lot of Spanish, but now she’s more fluent because there are more of us.”
Rawlek said they usually get together for a big picnic in Big Lake every August where one of the Latino women lives and they get together to enjoy a Christmas party, just for girls.
Leslie Forzzani is originally from Peru and when she arrived in Williams Lake with her husband and children, she was told about Rawlek by Maria Salazar from Sacred Heart School, another Latino.
“I didn’t meet her for about six months, but once I did Ana told me about things going on in Williams Lake my children could get involved with, she told us about Lake of the Trees Bible Camp, which some of my kids went to, about shopping and how to be more involved.”
Maria Jackson is also originally from Mexico and loves Rawluk, too.
“She is amazing and very warm,” Jackson said. “She makes sure the Latinos get together and they know what’s going on. When there is somebody new, she lets everyone know and invites people over to meet them. She really brings everyone close together.”
Most Fridays, some of them will gather at the Williams Lake Farmers Market to enjoy lunch prepared by Fabiola Faubert Ruiz, who sells Mexican food there.
During one of those Fridays, Rawlek arrived on her scooter at the Farmers Market which she uses because she has multiple sclerosis.
“The support I get from the Latinos is amazing,” Rawlek said.
“If they have questions, they can ask whenever. I could be in my pajamas, and feeling my worst, but they make me feel like I’m still contributing to society.”
Pausing to push back the tears, she said even when she gives little kids a ride on her scooter it makes her feel “so” good.
“They don’t see the disability, they just see Ana giving them a ride. Even with a chronic illness, I feel valued and able to share with people who are like me. Canada is great, I live in a great country, but I can still be myself.”