A Mexican expat living in Victoria says he was approached by a man claiming to be an immigration officer and demanding to see his work papers while busking downtown in the city.
In a Facebook post, 20-year-old Fernando Garci-Crespo Santalo says he is a busker and was singing a song in Spanish downtown.
“An old white guy claiming to be an immigration officer approached me demanding I show him my work papers so he knew I wasn’t ‘an illegal worker taking jobs away from Canadians,’” the post reads.
It continues, saying the man wouldn’t leave Santalo alone and would get him in trouble if he didn’t show the man his papers.
“I told him until he proved he was who he said he was I had no obligation to show him anything,” the post reads.
Santalo then says the man became angry and reached for something in his bag, which looked like it was filled with recycling. Thinking of the recent deadly shooting in El Paso, Texas, and having been physically assaulted in Canada before, Santalo says he felt “unsafe” and “terrified” and quickly told the man he had a licence and could show it to him.
After doing so, the man took his empty hand out of his bag, “said more xenophobic things” and left.
The incident has left Santalo feeling hesitant to sing in Spanish, the post reads.
“I am afraid. This is repugnant. We cannot live like this.”
He goes on to say people should know things like this still happen in Canada, not only in the U.S., and that people need to fight against racism and xenophobia.
His Facebook post had 471 shares and 257 comments as of 2 p.m. on Saturday, just one day after he posted it. Many commenters expressed sadness on behalf of Santalo and encouraged him to keep singing in Spanish. Some even offered to be with him for support.
“I’ll take a shift being with you sometime and holding space for as much Spanish as you want to sing,” one comment reads.
“I’m sorry this happened to you. Please keep singing! You are welcome in Canada,” another comment says.
Santalo took to Facebook again after receiving support from so many, saying it has been “overwhelmingly positive.”
He says after the man left, he was able to play five songs for a provincial high school basketball team from New Brunswick, who sang along with him.
“I had never gathered such a big crowd before, this was right after I was approached by the man claiming to be an immigration officer,” the post reads.
Santalo continues, saying he decided to sing in Spanish again after hearing a family speaking the language. He says they were kind and spent time talking with them.
The Facebook post says Santalo is not interested in filing a report or contacting the authorities about the incident at the moment.
“Worry not, I’m going busking again today and after all the support I have received, I am not afraid to sing in Spanish or to speak in Spanish.”
Santalo says he is grateful to have friends from different political backgrounds and walks of life to support him and empower him to fight back.
“We will change the world one guitar strum at a time,” Santalo says in the post. “I’m happy and confident today, proud to be Mexican, proud to be a migrant, proud to call B.C. home. I will #SingOn.”
Santalo did hear from the police following the incident.
“We reached out to Fernando to ensure that he was safe and to invite him to report the incident to us,” said Bowen Osoko, VicPD spokesperson in an emailed statement. “He did tell me he felt greatly supported by the outpouring of concern from his fellow Victorians.”
VicPD added that the police should be called if anybody is in a situation where they feel threatened.