CM . . .
. Volume XXIII Number 19. . . .January 27, 2017
Paola Gomez realized from an early age that she had a drive to make her world a better place for the vulnerable in society, especially abused women, their children and street kids. Although her father was a successful Colombian coffee grower, he was an abusive husband and mean-spirited father. With encouragement from her beloved grandmother and help from others, Gomez was able to find work and continued pursuing a legal education after being literally thrown to the curb by her father. While still a law student, Gomez was hired as a local Family Commissioner in a small town – a position of power and great responsibility, and a position which she hoped would enable her to help address social ills around her. She quickly discovered that not everyone welcomed her enthusiasm, her youth and certainly not her gender.
Stay Silent is the second volume in the publisher’s “Arrivals Series” that highlights inspiring immigrants and refugees to Canada who tried to make a difference in their homelands and continue to do so in their new home. Hyde tells Gomez’s story in a fast-faced, breezy style with lots of recreated dialogue that will appeal to young readers.
The destructive effect of a massive earthquake provided an opportunity for Gomez to convince the mayor of the need for a child and youth shelter. The shelter helped to protect kids from pimps, drug dealers and the so-called “cleansings” when vehicles swept the town at night capturing homeless of all ages, sex workers, those with mental illness or drug addictions and made them “disappear”. When Gomez spoke out against those she suspected of killing one of her clients, death threats quickly arrived.
Gomez used familial connections to find immediate shelter in New York City. The American government’s failure to recognize Colombia as an unsafe state for refugees to return to forced her to apply to the Canadian Immigration Services. She was recognized as a refugee and found shelter in Toronto at the well-known Romero House. While many welcomed her to her new home, Gomez also discovered that even amongst fellow newcomers and instructors in English language classes that prejudice and homophobia persist. She quickly resumed her interest in working with women and children fleeing violence. She has also worked with PEN Canada’s Writers in Exile Program and co-founded an art organization called Sick Muse that works with refugee children. Her passion for social justice and desire to make the world a better place imbues this story. Colombia’s loss is truly Canada’s gain.
In keeping with its dyslexia-friendly design, the book avoids the use of distracting visuals such as sidebars and marginal notes. Photographs are grouped onto two pages inserted between chapters mid-way through the book. Other features include an index, a timeline, useful online resources and a short bibliography of age-appropriate books that deal with Colombia. As Stay Silent may inspire readers to get involved, it includes information about three organizations where volunteers can help settle refugees in Canada or work with a shelter system that houses street youth.
Val Ken Lem is an arts and humanities liaison librarian at Ryerson University in Toronto, ON.
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Copyright © the Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any other reproduction is prohibited without permission.