Skip to content

For these Yukon refugees, home is where the family is

Two weeks ago, Border Services told the Gonzalez family it would have to return to Mexico.A week later, Miguel and Maribel Gonzalez and their four…

Two weeks ago, Border Services told the Gonzalez family it would have to return to Mexico.

A week later, Miguel and Maribel Gonzalez and their four children received refugee status.

It took four years of applications and petitions.

“Everything is different now,” said Miguel beatifically, sitting with his family in their Riverdale apartment.

“To me, everything seems easier — it’s a relief.”

Relief is an understatement considering the recent Border Services letter the family received.

“It said we had to leave Canada immediately,” said Maribel.

“We were shocked.”

The letter was the decision on one of two applications the family made for refugee status in Canada.

The first application, which was denied, was a removal assessment based on the risk to the family if they were to return to their home country of Mexico.

“There was a very, very low chance to get accepted through it,” said Maribel.

“The other one, the humanitarian one, that was really our concern because they review how well you are adapted into the community.”

After the first letter, Maribel called to ask for more time.

Border Services said that it had made a mistake and neglected to send the ruling on the humanitarian assessment.

So the family had to wait another agonizing week for a second letter to arrive.

Although chances of acceptance were slim, the family felt that they met all of the criteria required in the humanitarian assessment.

Both parents were working. Miguel has his own painting and dry walling business and Maribel works at a daycare.

Their four kids are healthy, well behaved and doing well in school.

When asked how school was that day, 10-year-old Brandon answered as any of his Canadian classmates would if asked the same question.


In February, the family spent a week on Main Street, braving -15-Celsius weather to gather signatures from those that supported their application.

Over 1,200 signatures were collected.

The family also received recommendation letters from their employers and other members of the community such as Liberal MP Larry Bagnell.

“Everyone here was very supportive,” said Maribel.

“We are very lucky to live in Whitehorse — we couldn’t have done this in Toronto.”

The family also helps with the Spanish newspaper, Northern Latino, and is a big part of the local Latino community.

“We know someone that had to go back to Argentina,” said nine-year-old Saul.

“That sucked.”

But after the first letter, the family had given up hope.

“We thought, ‘OK, we are not accepted,’” said Maribel.

“They are just preparing us to leave, so we did that — mentally we prepared to go.”

When Miguel saw the second letter from Border Services in the mailbox, he expected the worst.

“I didn’t want to open it because I knew that it was going to be, once again, a negative answer,” he said.

“It was our last chance — we didn’t have the energy to do it again.”

Miguel tried to figure out what his life would be like back in Mexico.

He thought of their first night in Canada, trying to sleep on the floor of an unfurnished basement apartment, using luggage for a mattress.

The family fled from Mexico City, Mexico’s overpopulated and crime-ridden capital.

Safety was a huge concern with growing levels of violence, hit-and-runs, and kidnapping.

Children had been kidnapped from the very school where Brandon and Saul were studying.

“We weren’t even allowed to go outside at recess,” said Brandon.

“Yeah, they had a slide inside the school,” piped in Saul.

“That was weird.”

Saving up their money, the family hoped to be able to buy some land in the country where it was safer.

But then a friend told Miguel about Canada.

The family decided to give it a try and bought a package for a one-week trip to Toronto.

At the time, Maribel was seven months pregnant with their third son Bruno.

“It was scary, we couldn’t speak to anyone,” said Miguel in his richly accented but comprehensible English.

“When I bumped into people I didn’t know what to say.”

They learned about Canada’s refugee program from a Spanish newspaper.

“A day before our plane was leaving, we met a person who helped us to apply,” said Maribel.

“We had that night to think it through.”

The next morning, just before their plane was scheduled to leave, the family decided to stay.

A year later, they moved to Whitehorse because it looked like a nice place to raise a family.

Then came Violeta, the family’s youngest.

The two-year-old slept soundly on the couch as her parents recounted their story of the four-year struggle.

It all came down to one letter.

When Miguel was finally able to open it, he flipped to the back and read those life changing three words — “You are accepted.”

“I started to cry, what can I tell you,” said Miguel.

“We were very strong. Whenever we got bad news we couldn’t afford to cry — you have to look at what you are going to do next.

“We saved our crying for good news.”

“A lot of my friends would ask, why would they send you the first letter? Was it a bad joke?” said Maribel.

“You know what, it was better that way. It gave us a chance to analyze where we are and what we want in life.

“We learned that the most important thing for us was that we’re together as a family — it doesn’t matter the country.”

“But we are really happy that we can stay in Canada,” added Miguel.

“This is our home.”