I am a Canadian of Russian Mennonite ancestry born and raised in the Niagara Region of southern Ontario. My ancestors arrived to Canada during the Mennonite migrations of the 1870s and the 1920s, settling on the prairies of southern Manitoba and along the fertile fields surrounding the Niagara Escarpment. Both of my parents were raised on family farms, my father in Dunnville, ON, and my mother in Niverville, MB, but both left their rural lives behind for an urban one in St. Catharines. Although I grew up as a suburban Canadian kid, I worked in agriculture at a local nursery, clocking five years of full time work over the course of thirteen seasons. It was on fields along the shoreline of Lake Ontario that I learned to speak Spanish, drawing letters and numbers in the dirt as I waited for freshly potted plants with migrant Mexican workers. Every year I “entered” into Mexican pueblos on the outskirts of Port Dalhousie, a transnational experience that profoundly influenced my future. I have been living between two worlds ever since my first encounter with “Greater Mexico” on Third Street.
Drawn into Latin American studies through the Spanish language and my friendship with migrant Mexican workers, I began to focus on the region’s past in the final year of my undergraduate studies. In 2002 I earned my BA in History and Philosophy from Brock University in St. Catharines, and during the last semester I lived in Quetzaltenango, Guatemala for one month studying Spanish. Immersion was indeed the best way to learn a foreign language, so I decided to train at another Spanish school before taking up graduate studies, only this time along the Pacific coast of Nicaragua in San Juan del Sur. I eventually obtained my MA in History in 2003 from Queen’s University in Kingston, and by good fortune I received some research money to explore the archives of Mexico City before moving on to doctoral work. For roughly ten months I lived in Naucalpan, commuting back and forth between the State of Mexico and the District Federal to read colonial texts in rare book libraries. With this archival experience under my belt, I began doctoral studies at the University of Toronto, receiving my PhD in History in 2012.
Between my MA and my PhD, while performing research in Mexico City, I met my future wife Cynthia, a sweet Mexican girl from the colonia (district) Ajusco of Coyoacán. Like many capitalinos of her generation, her grandparents or parents had arrived to Mexico City from rural pueblos after World War II, specifically Jiquilpan, Michoacán and Graseros, Durango. During our engagement we constructed a blue and white casita at the back of my mother-in-law’s property, a solid home built upon the volcanic rock characteristic of southern parts of the Mexican capital. We now reside together with our son Diego in the Grantham ward of St. Catharines, but having two homes is representative of our lives more generally. Our transnational existence deeply informs who I am and my work as a historian, which is why I join Serge Gruzinski in affirming that “mestizo phenomena offer the privilege of belonging to several worlds within a single lifetime.”