The complexity of conservation research and issues in Alberta require creativity and innovative problem solving; the more people from diverse backgrounds we have working on these issues, the more likely we are to define new and effective solutions. In this new web series, the ACTWS is celebrating the diversity of Alberta wildlife professionals.
It’s been four years since I embarked on this adventure of becoming a wildlife biologist. I was born and raised in Mexico by two passionate parents who work in the medical field. I cannot discern the exact moment I decided to dedicate my life to the field of environmental sciences, but I guess it could be defined as the cumulative effect of early morning walks in the countryside with my grandma when I was a child, counting fireflies at night and playing by the creek behind my mom’s old house, and the intense feeling of accountability I felt after learning in school that our most basic decisions as humans can be extremely impactful to the environment (for better or for worse). The moment I read a notification on my phone screen saying: “Dear Ednna, Congratulations, your application to study in Canada has been approved…” has been undeniably one of the most joyful moments of my life. I felt so fortunate and privileged to experience a new life in a different country! And so, my journey began. The hardest step was out of the way and the rest that was to come should be a piece of cake, right?
Privilege. What is privilege? A quick Google search says: “certain social advantages, benefits, or degrees of prestige and respect that an individual has by virtue of belonging to certain social identity groups”. Have you ever been to a new place and realized that all these differences that appear minimal on a daily basis, suddenly stand out like a sore thumb? Many of the advantages that I had “brought along with me” became very noticeable upon my arrival to Canada, but so did the ones that I was “not granted”.
Not only are international students required to pay double, triple, and sometimes quadruple the amount of tuition to get a post-secondary education in this country, but it is also expected that you will work just as hard to prove to everyone that you’re worthy of consideration for a job opportunity, to fit in a social circle, or even make friends. In my short experience, some of the most “stable” job positions in the field of environmental science require a specific quota of networking and residence status to get hired, including those created through federal funding (ironically), such as student internships/co-ops and summer tech positions in National Parks. And the last thing you want as an immigrant is to be a burden for anyone else around you. So, you dive in with the little knowledge you have on this new world and try to make it through, doing anything and everything that will come across as “I am capable, too”. On one hand, it is an incredibly exciting time, with new opportunities arising that once seemed impossible. But on the other hand, it is also awfully lonely. I usually find myself struggling trying to find that successful wildlife biologist that I could relate to, especially in a location where harmful preconceptions and prejudices still linger. It is a stark reminder that I must carve my own space in this new world of mine, that success doesn’t come as easy for people with my resemblance. On especially tough days, I feel the possibility slip between my fingertips.
But what does it mean to be successful? In a game with a different set of rules, is it reasonable to define success based on whether I win or lose? Perhaps, it isn’t a mark of where I finish, rather it is a measurement of how far I have come, and as a new Canadian, I like to think that I have made it far. Sometimes it may be as simple as being the person I wish I could have looked up to, and with luck, would have taken me under their wing. Maybe success in this new place is measured by my adaptability, like a newfound species realizing its niche, when the daily struggle shifts to daily routine; maybe it’s as simple as carrying on in a place not yet fully my own.
My intersectionality. I have had to learn how to reconcile several aspects of myself and what that means to be a person like me in this field, and better yet, that I do not have to fit into a box made by others, nor do I have to forfeit my identity to make my own. I can be all: an immigrant, a woman, a person of colour, a student, a leader, a wildlife biologist, and in doing so, be a symbol of possibility for others. Being me is all the success I could ever need.