“My research has focused a lot on community and connection and about those grounding principles of everyone’s humanity.”
When Sofia Palma Florido, a 2022 Health, Aging and Society grad, moved to McMaster from rural British Columbia, she did so looking for a community.
And not only did she find her own community, she also preserved the memories of Hamilton’s Latin American community, and strengthened connections among Latin American students at McMaster.
During her time at McMaster, Palma Florido was awarded an Undergraduate Student Research Award (USRA), using it to conduct research into the stories of Hamilton’s Latin American community, which would make national news when it was featured by CBC.
Through her work with the Organization of Latin American Students (OLAS), Palma Florido connected with an organization called the Asociación Fraternidad Hispana (AFH).
AFH works to support the Latin American community in Hamilton. One of their initiatives, called Cafecitos, invited elders in the community to share their stories. During the pandemic, a period of isolation, these became more popular.
Through attending these sessions, Palma Florido knew what she wanted to research.
“From participating and connecting in that sphere, I was inspired. Not so much to study these stories but to gather them,” she said.
From that inspiration, Palma Florido, who immigrated to Canada from Honduras, created her USRA project: Calling Home: Oral histories of Latin American older immigrants in Hamilton.
“It was just about hearing these stories and seeing how these very different immigrant experiences connected,” she said. “It was very emotional. Hearing these stories that were so like my own in my language… was a challenge but also very moving and a very healing experience.
“It was really beautiful, particularly speaking to the person from Central America, because I was born in Honduras and lived a little bit in El Salvador. Also to the person who was from Colombia, because my mother’s Colombian, makes all of those stories just feel so much closer.”
Latin American Network
During her time at McMaster, Palma Florido’s community-focused principles also led her to help set up the Latin American Network at McMaster University (LANMU) on campus, with Dr. Rodrigo Narro Pérez, Dr. Stacy Ann Creech, Dr. Felipe Fajardo, Milly Freire-Archer, Dr. Gaston Rueda, Katy Sandoval and other “brilliant McMaster scholars.”
LANMU was founded in summer 2021 and is composed of students, staff, and faculty who have various ties to Latin America and its diasporas. It celebrates teaching and research conducted by Latinx/Latin American faculty, staff and students.
The work of LANMU culminated in the launch of the interdisciplinary minor in Latin American and Latinx Studies in 2022.
The first graduate with the minor, Ian-Carlo Morales-Nunez, is due to cross the stage in June. And for Palma Florido, that’s a proud moment.
“It’s surreal,” she said. “I remember when we had only just started talking about the possibility of this happening and how these operated in different universities and how it was absurd that McMaster didn’t have anything like that. And now we’re having the first grad… I’m so excited.”
Palma Florido may have graduated from the McMaster community, but she’s still giving back to the community in her current role as a settlement worker at the YMCA.
“I work with newcomers, and I facilitate a youth mentorship program in schools that supports youth in their transition towards settlement, which is a process that never really ends,” she said.
And for Palma Florido, there’s a sense of her journey coming full circle, from immigrating to Canada from Honduras, collecting stories of other Latin American residents, to helping other newcomers settle into the country.
“It’s strange,” she said. “It’s strange waking up in the morning and knowing that I do what I do… It’s almost comical how things happen.
“Going back to immigrating at twelve, and how challenging that is. How hard, at that age, you just want to assimilate and be part of the greater culture. How little I wanted to identify and explore my immigrant identity.
“And now I’m working in a space where I almost get to heal that and allow kids to be all the things they need to be to sit with the challenge… to settle and transition fully into this new environment.
“It’s a cosmic gift that I get to do this.”