Multiculture, Profiles

Silvia Tovar, immigrant, studious, and persevering

She lived illegally in Spain for years until the economic crisis forced her to fly to the U.K. Looking after elderly people and cleaning offices, she always dreamed of continuing her studies and giving her children a better future. From Ecuador to London, passing through Italy and Spain, this is the life of an unrelenting migrant.


SilviaTovar02Marcos Ortiz F.


“I left Ecuador aged 18 due to the economic crisis. My parents couldn’t pay for my university course and this forced me to leave the country”. When Silvia Tovar recalls the moment she left her homeland, family and friends, she doesn’t show even the slightest hint of melancholy.

“I finished secondary school and I wanted to study Systems Engineering, but at that time, each year cost 12 million Ecuadorian sucres. It was impossible.” Originally from Balzar, in the Guayas province, you can hear genuine pride in her firm voice. By her side, her children of 9 and 11 listen carefully to a story that never ceases to amaze.

Silvia didn’t think twice when an Ecuadorian friend living in Rome invited her to follow in her footsteps. “If you want, let’s go”, she said. While in Italy, Silvia would learn the language and stay one year.

Looking after elderly people, she didn’t waste any time. “The first thing I did was get lost, get to know the city, try and fit in, look for work and study Italian”.

Avion PixabayIt had been the correct decision, but there was still an unresolved issue in her life. While she was studying in her native Ecuador, she met a man and fell in love. She says, “It was a promise that we both made. I said to him, ‘if you love me, come with me, because I’m not coming back’”.

The agreement was to meet in Spain. “I arrived there after crossing three illegal borders on the way from Italy”, she explains. She ended up working for 6 years as a waitress without papers.

“The life of an illegal immigrant is very difficult. On several occasions, I went to the university with the hope of studying but the papers were always a problem. You can’t go to a classroom because you know at any moment the police can come and harass you.” With perseverance, there also came luck. “One time when I was at work the police turned up. Thank God the police officer was a relative of my boss and he said, ‘don’t worry, we know them’. But the fear that comes over you is horrible”, she recalls.

It took 6 years working as a waitress to validate her school certificates in Spain. With this in order, she started studying and obtained a certificate of higher education in Administration. Nonetheless, Spain would not turn out to be the paradise she once thought. The crisis hit Silvia and her family hard. After 13 years, there would be no other option but to leave again.

SilviaTovar01“For a second time, a crisis hits a country where I’m residing. Now I had a family, so 20 days after getting my residency, I was off,” she states. Only telling her husband 15 days before getting on the plane, Silvia set off for England. “I arrived with a hotel reservation, a plane ticket, and a suitcase, miming for directions, in search of a life as no one was waiting for me there”.

In Spain, her husband was left with the role of both father and mother. “I had to be brave for my children. It wasn’t the case of the male provider, but instead the female with two ovaries”, she jokes with a smile. (I am guessing she had to be brave for her children and build a nest for them. Don’t shoot the messenger!)

Settled in London, her first job was cleaning nurseries, and then judges’ offices in the Supreme Court in London. Just as in Spain, Silvia took up her studies once more and managed to get a place at university to study Business and Management.

One year and two months later, with enough money for the tickets, her husband and children arrived in London to join her.

consuelo-moreno-6-foto-pixabay“I started as a cleaner and then they made me supervisor. When I finished my studies, I spoke to the boss, did some training and now I’ve been working in my field for almost a year”, she explains.

Her children – now bilingual and adapted to life in London – listen carefully to their mother’s story as if it was any other. Silvia, 5 years after her arrival, calls her husband to come and get in the photos. Will this be her permanent residence? Silvia shrugs her shoulders. Nothing in her life has ever been predictable. Apr 10, 2017 @ 03:16

Photos: Marcos Ortiz and Pixabay  –  (Translated by Lucy Daghorn:

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