I wanted to explore the world. It was the ideal age to leave, to
break some of the ties with parents, to seek one's destiny. . . . They believe
in that very much at home. When children say "I want to go see," they
let them explore. But they also told me, "You know what you are leaving,
but you don't know the place to which you're going. If you make a mistake, you
can always come back." That helped me a great deal. It is what I repeat to
my children today. That was in 1971.
My life as an adolescent ended here. I made my life as a woman
here. My life as a mother is here. My home is Quebec. One day I asked my son,
"Where is your home?" He replied, "You always say that where you
tie up the goat is where she grazes. My home is here."
Remarks recorded during an interview.
Élisabeth Houndegla was born in Cotonou, Benin. Her desire to leave
her country began in secondary school. "I was dreaming of seeing
I said to my mother, I would like to leave one day. Do you want to go to your
aunt's home in France? No. I want to go to Quebec, in Canada. She was
completely taken aback. Where did you hear of this country? Well ... in history
and geography class!" During a celebration, a family member told
that one of her aunt's friends was leaving for Canada. Élisabeth wanted
to follow this woman's example, and her mother give permission. At the age of
14, Élisabeth discovered Montreal.
Staying at first with her aunt's friend, she then found an
family". "The fact of living in a Québécois family
helped me very much to understand the society, the people. Sometimes I forget
that I am Black." Élisabeth decided to study dressmaking.
headmistress of her school seemed sceptical of her chances for success, but it
didn't take long for Élisabeth to prove herself. "The
headmistress said, 'First of all, she is too young and she doesn't have the
necessary background studies. We'll take her for three or six months. If she
doesn't measure up, we'll tell her to leave.' And this is how I got my
professional diploma in haute couture!" After receiving her
she returned to Benin, but very quickly began to miss Quebec. "It's
odd for an African woman to come back home to Canada!" she says. On
returning to Montreal, she opened an atelier in Outremont, where, for 23 years,
she created evening gowns and wedding dresses. At the age of 40, considering
her work too time-consuming - "in haute couture, you work almost
the clock; it was the pressure, it was too much!" -
decided to pass on her passion to others. At Halte la Ressource, an
organization that trains immigrant women in sewing, she gives a new dimension
to her professional life. "Before, I was only dealing with 'high
society' women. Here I confront the reality of Montreal. Real life, the
problems that women encounter. They are disempowered, without work. We try to
offer them a socio-professional integration into society." What
interests her the most today is "the depth of soul in people, and not
money-money-money. . . . A salary is needed to pay the bills, but what I do
here has no price. When we help a mother, it is not only her we help but all
those around her: the children, the husband ... It's work that is worth its
weight in gold, work that has meaning."