Nineteen-year-old Manuel Moncayo-Adams is on a challenging journey to fully understand his Colombian heritage and how it affects his life. His Colombian-born father, a veterinarian, settled in Canada in 1988 after meeting and marrying Rose Adams, a highly acclaimed Nova Scotia artist who was working in Colombia with Canada World Youth.
The family lived in Dartmouth and in the rural community of Port Lorne. Manuel spoke Spanish as a child and grew up surrounded by music and art. He learned piano, guitar, and euphonium, and played basketball. He ate Latin food, connected with people in the Latin community, and traveled to Colombia as a child. On one such trip, the family adopted a seven-year-old girl, Flor-Angie, just five months older than Manuel. His parents eventually separated and Manuel’s bond with his mother strengthened, while his connection to his father and the Colombian side of his heritage weakened.
It’s a battle of trying to re-establish that identity on my own terms.
He enrolled in Carleton University in Ottawa in global politics. He also studied Spanish as he had forgotten so much. Although global politics remains important, Manuel left after one year to work toward a Bachelor of Community Design at Dalhousie University. He is particularly interested in urban design. “I think my new direction with planning and architecture is heavily influenced by Colombian social structure and how Colombian cities have used design to heal from decades of violence,” he explains.
Manuel is intrigued by Colombia and its history, and returned there for a month last year, accompanied by his father for the first week. Once on his own, he used his vastly improved language skills to get to know his family and to restore “the legitimacy” of his Colombian identity. “It’s a battle of trying to re-establish that identity on my own terms.” Manuel is compelled to learn as much as he can. “It’s important to me because my parents’ moral and political philosophy has shaped my politics and my view of the world,” he says. “I felt culturally Canadian, but I wasn’t recognized as such. Everyone else had their visions of what Colombian meant. I knew it made me different, but I didn’t know how. I was Colombian, but I didn’t feel it; it was like I threw a spear and it didn’t stick.”
Manuel hopes to travel soon to Colombia along with his mother. His return to Halifax has allowed him to be closer to her art and to reconnect with the community arts scene. They once created pieces for a gallery fundraiser, and he enjoys assisting her at Paint the Town, a summer arts festival in Annapolis Royal.
Manuel is working on an architecture portfolio for which he must include concepts of design in his art. He’s not positive of plans after he graduates, but he knows his father’s heritage will play a leading role. “One of my fantasies is I’d somehow make Colombia part of my working life and try to see connections there. I’m trying to use the stuff I learned and saw in Colombian cities to form my perspective of cities and community here and meld those two.”