By Kieran Heffernan
Hector Carranco was in a meeting about next year’s national championships for canoe-kayak when someone pointed out that one of the planning teams they had created consisted of five men and no women.
He thought to himself, “We needed to work on the (gender) diversity part of the committee, because we didn’t feel comfortable being only men.”
Another planner with the Rideau Canoe Club – which Carranco is the executive director of and which is the host club of the 2021 Canoe Kayak Sprint National Championships – pointed out that maybe they should be concerned about racial diversity as well.
Carranco responded: “Well, we have covered it. Because you have me, you have my nephew who is a coach, right? We both are Hispanic. We both were born in Mexico.”
According to Carranco, his background has never been a barrier during his time at Rideau, so much so that other members of the canoe club sometimes forget he is Hispanic. The most “discrimination” he’s experienced is what he considers harmless stereotypes.
“People want to hang out with us because we are Mexican,” he said. “And that means to them, to a certain extent, that we are kind of exotic, that we like dancing.”
“I’m not saying that we don’t,” he quickly clarified about his love of dance.
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Paddling, on the other hand, is something that Carranco says has helped him and his family feel more ingrained in Canadian society.
Carranco immigrated to Canada in 1996 with his wife and their two daughters. They had a friend in Ottawa who had rowed for Colombia’s national team and had competed at an international event at Mooney’s Bay during the ‘80s, so Carranco had heard of the Rideau Canoe Club.
The friend invited the Carranco family to the club in 2003, and since then all four have gotten very involved. Carranco himself had been an RCC board member since 2005 before becoming its executive director. His daughters have each been national champions out of the club, and his wife still paddles there twice a week.
“Our friends are mainly from the canoe club because that’s where we have lived for the last 15 years. So that’s how we integrated to the Canadian community,” Carranco said.
He’s tried to create a relationship between the Canadian and Mexican rowing communities beyond his family as well. As a councillor for the Institute of Mexicans Abroad, an organization created by the Mexican government, Carranco suggested that Mexican athletes living abroad should be eligible to be selected for Mexican national championships. Carranco’s daughters, nephews, as well as some other ex-pat Mexicans from Rideau competed in Mexico’s national canoe kayak championships.
Rideau has now become known for its large number of Hispanic paddlers.
“In 2006, Ecuador calls Canoe Kayak Canada and said, ‘I want to send two athletes to Canada for training. Where should I send them?’ And they said send them to Rideau because they speak Spanish,” Carranco said.
Carranco hosted the athletes at his own home, and continued to do so along with other Spanish-speaking families at the club as more international athletes came to train at Rideau. In 2008, the whole Argentinian team travelled there. Argentinian, Colombian, Guatemalan, and Chilean athletes also came to Rideau prior to the 2013 Junior World Championships in Welland, Ontario.
“In 2019, a couple of Argentinian girls came to compete at the Canada Cup, because now we know each other and they come to the Rideau Canoe Club to compete,” he added.
Ultimately, Carranco said he’s felt just like any other Canadian during his time with Rideau.
“That’s what we have enjoyed,” he said. “We as a family enjoyed the integration to the Canadian society through the canoe club.