Carolina Arai is a graphic designer and photographer whose watercolour prints stood out at the recent Spring Artists’ Café hosted by Central Heights Church. Originally from Cuernavarca, in Mexico, Arai is widely travelled, having lived the longest in Canada and Japan, and visited, among other places, Taiwan, Vietnam, Singapore, and Malaysia.

Arai 1

With photography, I started in high school. My mom used to have a camera that was just kind of there, and when I was in high school I took a photography class and fell in love with being in the lab. I actually asked the teacher, “Can I stay longer?” and stayed hours and hours. The smell, it’s this… this kind of smell that goes all the way through your nose to your brain, and it’s so acidic. I love it. And after that I just continued and went to digital.

After I graduated, I wanted to travel cheap, so I uploaded my profile to an au pair website. My current host family saw me, and here I am. The plan was to stay for a year, and I’ve been here for a year and a half. I’m going to start schooling at BCIT in October. I’m a graphic designer back home, but for me to transfer my credits, I’m going to have to take a course.

Arai 3

I don’t think I have enough time or connections here to tell you if there’s much more access to events than there is in Mexico, but what I’ve noticed is that culturally speaking, for the people I’ve been surrounded with, they don’t give the artistic side of things as much appreciation as we do in Mexico.

For example, if I tell you I took oil painting classes or lessons: “Oh, cool.” It’s just something you stop doing once you start doing your job and focusing on getting money to pay the bills, and that was a hobby — good for you if you do it for yourself. Whereas in Mexico, it’s like, “Oh! She took ballet lessons since she was three years old!” And at the end of the day it’s probably not going to feed you or pay the bills, but we appreciate those things.

Arai 2

I am lucky to have conversations with my host mom, and her husband is also Mexican, so it’s really interesting to get feedback from each other: for her to know more about Mexican culture and me to understand more about Canadian culture. We came to this conclusion: Mexico was conquered by the Spaniards, [who mixed with indigenous peoples] and formed social classes. … And in that pyramid, whiter was better. Everything white people did was [considered] amazing, and they brought fine arts and dancing — so there was that stigma with skin colour, and there’s still this in Mexico. I don’t know if it’s linked, but I think we have this appreciation of arts there because it makes you “better” to be able to do those kinds of things.

Arai 6 Arai 5

When I was first studying in university, I went to Japan for an exchange, and there I learned sumi-e. Comparing that with my previous, short watercolour training, this was super freehand. I really liked when we got to the point of learning abstract and we started mixing colours. I think I’m carrying on with that [style]; I like to mix it with the realistic side.

I have a really special connection with Japan, because I was there for ten months, and it’s just wonderful. I also want to become a Canadian, because it’s just beautiful. I love my country, but after living in a country like Japan with everything being organized — the buses are perfect and the streets are clean… the streets in Mexico are not clean; you’re walking and there’s garbage around, and there’s people selling stuff in the middle of the road. It’s chaotic.

Arai 5

Plus, in Japan, they have so much culture. You can go to the shrine and visit the temples, and there’s something behind it. Here, the nature is beautiful and wonderful, but if I ask you about the history… how old is Canada?

I want to stay here as a resident, and as a live-in caregiver I cannot do anything but that, and I’m not going to do that for the rest of my life. My host mom was suggesting for me to get into business administration. But that’s not my passion. I might be good at school, and that’s probably going to pay the bills. I’m leaning for web design.

How many people do you know that took piano lessons? And you don’t even mention it, like that’s not an asset that you have, it’s just, “let’s get this kid out of the house and have him doing something.” Whereas in Mexico you might put it on your resume — maybe not if you’re an engineer, but you would be proud of that. But here, people ask, “What do you do for a living?” I’m an au pair. “Ah, okay.”