Howard Ramos, son of an Ecuadorian immigrant, is an expert on the integration of immigrants and refugees in Canada. He grew up in Toronto, but didn’t focus on immigration until moving 14 years ago to work at Dalhousie University’s Department of Sociology and Social Anthropology. Howard teaches, researches, and consults, often partnering on projects with ISANS and the provincial and federal governments.
Howard’s father came to Canada at 33. “He was looking for opportunities, a new life, adventures. Canada seemed to be a reasonable country to come to, so he tried it out.” He was in the navy and did telecommunications work throughout Latin America. His first wife disliked Canada and returned home.
I feel I know my heritage and know my family I grew up with, and have strong attachments to them.
He found work with CNCP Telecommunications. “It was a place he could see himself making a future,” says Howard. His skills fit Canada’s new immigration point system and there were language classes and community support. Howard says Toronto in the ‘70s was more like Halifax today. “There weren’t sizable ethnic groups. You couldn’t just say I’ll just hang out with the Ecuadorians.” His dad married a Canadian-born woman. “Part of the reason my first name is Howard is my parents wanted to ensure I had an English-sounding name so it would be easier to integrate and have a future in Canada.”
Howard describes his dad, now 80, as forward looking, someone who learned French because he felt that’s what you do as a Canadian. “There were bumps and hurdles, but overall if you asked him today where is your home, he’d say Toronto. But where are you really from, he’d say: ‘actually, Etobicoke!’ He certainly feels this is his country.” The family returned once to Ecuador. “He regretted going back as it ruined his memory of the place.” Howard doesn’t feel a strong attachment the country. “It’s not really my life; I’m just not interested. It sounds harsher than it is, but it’s also important to remember I grew up at a time when there was no internet and calling Ecuador was really expensive. And flying to Ecuador was prohibitive.”
Howard has more cousins than he knows. “I feel I know my heritage and know my family I grew up with, and have strong attachments to them. The first thing people learn and the last thing people let go is the food. I grew up eating all kinds of South American food. To this day I love eating it.” He also grew up eating perogies, borscht, and kielbasa, because his sister’s father’s family was Russian and an aunt often took care of them. “Everyone around me but my mom and sister were immigrants.” His dad’s friend was Iranian and they lived in a predominantly Portuguese neighbourhood. “That was my normal,” says Howard, adding that his wife is from Japan.
Howard later moved to Manitoba, then back to Toronto to study sociology and social and political thought at York University, and Montreal for graduate work in sociology at McGill. He knew his father was happy with whatever future he chose, but one message was clear: “You have opportunities I didn’t have, so don’t waste them.”