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It’s 7pm on Monday night in Invercargill. The city has gone quiet, but the energy in the studio of Radio Southland is about to get many people moving across the city and beyond.
Carlos, or DJ ‘JC Japon’, and his two co-hosts, Carolina and Adriana, have just gone on air with their weekly Latino show “Sonidos Latinos” [“Latino Sounds”] broadcasting live, right in the heart of Invercargill. The room is full of laughter, warmth and enthusiasm, discussions in Spanish, and Latino dance moves.
The playlist tonight has been meticulously planned to entertain the diverse audience, bringing together an hour of the best Spanish music – from salsa to dance, Zumba to romantic, a tune for every taste in music. The three hosts, now close friends, share a passion to get Kiwis to learn more about their culture through Latino music and cultural discussions.
“Sonidos Latinos is a music show for people in New Zealand to understand our beautiful culture, music and songs. Latino music is very different from what Kiwis usually listen to," says Carlos.
Carlos arrived in Invercargill almost a year ago and is among the first Colombians to have settled in the city as part of New Zealand’s refugee quota. After fleeing violence in Colombia, he spent a year in Ecuador before making New Zealand his new home.
Carlos had never hosted a radio show before arriving in Invercargill. Back in Colombia, Carlos was a dance teacher. It’s his passion for music that has led him to volunteer with Radio Southland.
The local radio station was very excited to hear Invercargill was going to become a new settlement location for former refugees. When the announcement was made, the team approached New Zealand Red Cross to offer its support.
“We wanted to offer any help that we could in integrating refugees into our lovely city. It made sense for us to put an offer out there that, if there were any refugees who wanted to make a programme, they should come to us,” says Radio Southland Station Co-ordinator, Rachael Bailey.
New Zealand Red Cross’ Pathways to Employment team, which supports former refugees to find work and training opportunities, brought Carlos and Wilson, another former refugee, to Radio Southland’s studio.
“The show went to air within weeks. It was very quick because, frankly, they are just that good. The energy is fabulous,” says Rachael.
Over time, the team changed and new members, Carolina and Adriana, have joined the crew. While the show is entirely in Spanish, it reaches people beyond language barriers. Listeners from all over New Zealand tune in every Monday night to soak up some Latino sounds.
“You don’t need to speak Spanish to enjoy the show – the enthusiasm is so catchy,” says Rachael.
The show is so successful that it reaches people all the way to South America, thanks to the podcasts posted on the Facebook page of “Sonidos Latinos”.
“As it is streamed online, we get requests flooding in from Colombia, Brazil, Invercargill, all at once!” says Rachael.
“The reach has been astounding and it goes to show that, if you offer opportunities to people who come from other places in the world, you are not only widening their horizons, but you’re also widening your own, and that can only be a good thing.”
Volunteering for Radio Southland has helped Carlos to settle in to his new city. Talking on the show and sharing parts of his culture with the rest of Invercargill has increased his confidence. He has also been able to learn many new skills.
“I have made new contacts with people from different countries, made new friends through the programme. People in the street say to me ‘Oh, you’re talking on the radio! It’s a good programme! I understand nothing, but it’s good music,’” says Carlos with a big smile.
Radio Southland has been very supportive of “Sonidos Latinos” and sees a lot of value in giving opportunities to former refugees to have a show of their own.
“I’ve seen Carlos transform from an incredibly quiet person... I walk in the studio sometimes and find him dancing in the chair as the show goes on! It’s built a lot of confidence within him as to his place in this community,” says Rachael.
During the day time, the sounds surrounding Carlos are far from the entertaining Latino music he plays on Monday evenings. Heavy machinery, road works and English discussions keep Carlos on his feet. He works as a labourer with Southroads, a civil construction company in Invercargill.
New Zealand Red Cross’ Pathways to Employment team has been busy building relationships with employers in Invercargill and has helped former refugees like Carlos and Mauricio, another Southroads employee, find work.
“It’s been beneficial for Southroads to work with Red Cross,” says Southroads Drainage Construction Divisional Manager, Kayne Madden.
“At the time, we were struggling to find the right people. And it just so happened that Carlos and Mauricio were the right people. They are eager to learn, hard working and they’re a good fit for the company.”
Carlos works within the Drainage and Civil Construction department, helping the Southroads team replace infrastructure all around Invercargill.
“I like the work outside, and I like learning new things. The work is very good because I learn every day,” says Carlos.
When asked about challenges at work, Carlos says in perfect English “The language, it’s very difficult. The people speak very fast so it’s hard to understand, but my co-workers are very patient and speak slowly.” Carlos only started learning English when he arrived in New Zealand less than a year ago and he has made tremendous progress.
“The co-workers are very friendly with me. Every day, they teach me new things. They’re good people,” says Carlos.
This month, we celebrate one year since Invercargill welcomed the first former refugee family to the city. Within one year, 88 new Kiwis, including Carlos, made the city their new home.