David Cocco came to Canada in 1977 and has never looked back. He’s built a good life for his kids here, though wishing he’d learned a little English first.
David Cocco, 58, came to Canada in 1977 from the Dominican Republic. He had just graduated from high school and came to visit his sister, who had come to Canada to study and had married. It was while visiting her that he decided to stay, abandoning his dream of studying engineering or architecture back home.
Cocco found work first in the furniture industry and then the construction industry. He married, twice, had four children and built a life in the GTA. He has no regrets about moving to Canada, but advises others to make sure they come knowing one or both of Canada’s official languages. Otherwise it can be very tough to get work.
What was your first experience of snow and winter like?
It was a lot of snow over the night. It was Friday. My friend called me and said, ‘Let’s go get beer.’ It was about a block away. Before I reached the house I couldn’t hold the case. I wasn’t dressed properly and my fingers were frozen. I went out in a t-shirt.
Did you ever face any kind of discrimination when you were here?
Sometimes it happens between co-workers. What happens, you don’t pronounce properly? You don’t know the language; then people want to take advantage of you … Sometimes you feel it; you prefer to not answer back …to avoid retaliation, to lose your job because you need your job. I think I’m not alone in that. I think sometime in life, everybody goes through that.
What would you say is the best thing about being in Canada?
The best thing that happened is I had my kids here. I enjoy them. All my life is through them; through my family.
If you were going to give other immigrants advice about how to adapt to life in Canada what advice would you give them?
To study English before they come. What happens is now there are a lot of people (who) want to be rich fast. This is not the way. Nobody makes it fast. If you don’t win the Lotto, you don’t get rich fast. Work hard.
What did you think of Toronto when you arrived?
The city was nice. Everything was new. There are some things, things we don’t have. The streetcars. In the Dominican there is no streetcar. The construction — the houses, they are brick. We don’t have brick houses. We have blocks and they finish it with stucco. This is the type of construction we have …Life is very different there for so many people. I was fortunate enough to come from a middle-class family.
Did you find the language a barrier?
Yes. This was my worst part because not too many people speak Spanish. I didn’t know Portuguese. Now, I’m fluent. I’m fluent in Italian, also.
How did you eventually learn English?
Working. I didn’t have a chance to go to school. I started working (right away) to survive. You have to pay bills; you have to pay rent; you have to pay transportation …But it’s very important, very important for the person travelling to Canada and planning to stay, to have some knowledge of English before coming.
Is there anything else you’d like to tell people about your experience coming to Canada?
This is a great place to live. It’s a great place to raise your family. To me, it’s a very safe place.
Do you think you made any mistakes when you came here? What would you do differently?
Go to school.
What was the ceremony to become a Canadian citizen like?
It was moving. Believe it or not, it was moving. I told my wife, I should have done this a long time ago. It was touching. You feel part of the country.