María José Yax-Fraser

Anthropologist. Chair of the Immigrant Migrant Women’s Association of Halifax (IMWAH)

I feel privileged to have the opportunity to be a mother, a community leader and social artivist, and to pursue academic studies. I am completing my doctoral degree in social and cultural anthropology with the study I am conducting on the experiences of immigrant and migrant mothers to understand what a welcoming community looks like for them as women and as mothers. This has opened the door for me to combine two of my interests; scholarly and community research and adult education.

What are you most proud of professionally? And who or why?

The passion I carry with me to be actively and deeply engaged in positive change in my community and in L’nuweykati (Mi’kma’ki, also known as Halifax), where I live; and to maintain my connection to the struggles for social justice in Guatemala, the country where I was born.

Most of my work as a community leader has been with new immigrants and migrants to Halifax.

I began this work as a spiritual leader. Later I had the opportunity to work as a health interpreter and participate in a committee responsible for establishing a health interpreting organization now known as the Nova Scotia Interpreting Services. I also sat on a committee of diverse community partners responsible for the creation of what is now known as the IWK Diversity & Inclusion Advisory Council. More recently, in 2012, along 10 other women, I co-founded the Immigrant Migrant Women’s Association of Halifax to celebrate the contributions and address the needs and interests of immigrant and migrant women.

What is your vision for Atlantic Canada in 10 years? What’s our biggest opportunity now?

I see every province in Atlantic Canada not as bounded together or static. Each province is constantly being transformed by various economic, political, social and cultural factors. Yes, it is true that these provinces have shared similar historical experiences. So, focusing on the shared broad commonalities, beginning with the history of colonization and the fact that these provinces are focusing on attracting and retaining immigrants to address out-migration, population decline and aging, and the economic deterioration that come as a result of this demographic outlook, I believe there is a great opportunity to acknowledge that we all are treaty people and each of us have a role to play in bringing about reconciliation to Turtle Island. We also have the opportunity to put into practice the discourses that boast Canadians as being warm and welcoming and as people that help each other. There is a great opportunity right now to create welcoming communities that embrace the cultural diversity and the skills and talents that immigrants and migrants from around the world bring. I would like to see Nova Scotia as a vibrant multicultural province where social, cultural and economic equality and equity make people’s lives peaceful, enjoyable and fulfilling.  

What was your greatest stage of growth? What made it a shift for you?

It is hard to privilege one stage of growth over others that have been fundamental in defining where I am today. But I will ask you to allow me to mention at least three. The third is the moment I became a mother. Pregnancy, birthing and childrearing are significant aspects of life transition for many women, and together, for me, these represent a significant stage of growth. The second is when I left Guatemala to come to Canada. Leaving my family, my nest, in time, freed me to practice my own spiritual expressions and continue defining my political views. Leaving a country experiencing genocide and civil war to come to a developed country opened my eyes to see the material realities of the other side of imperialism; it granted me greater freedom to decolonize my way of thinking; and it freed me to reclaim my indigenous identification. The first, when I was 11 years old, is the moment I became aware of the persistent structural social inequality in Guatemala and its roots in a colonial system fueled by racism and discrimination against the Mayan people.   

What’s your favorite or most read book or podcast? Now or at each of your stages of growth?

I hope is okay to name some of my favorite authors as oppose to specific book names:

  • Isabel Allende

  • Eduardo Galeano

  • Gloria Anzaldua

  • Maya Angelou

  • Margaret Atwood

Podcasts from:

  • Unreserved

  • The Current

  • Ideas

  • As It Happens

  • Canada Reads

  • Shift

TED Talks: There are a couple of Ted Talks that have inspired me recently:

  • Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie: The Danger of a Single Story

  • Jorge Drexler: Poetry, Music, and Identity (with English subtitles)

Who inspire you directly or indirectly? How have they inspired you?

Among many:

My children inspire me, daily, to strive for honesty, respect and innocence. They have been my inspiration to stay involved in social activism and to pursue academic studies with a focus on mothering.

My husband’s work ethic, his sense of social justice, his passion to create a better world for those battling drug dependency inspire me to focus my energies in what I am passionate about.

Friends like Darryl Leroux and Jackie MacVicar and their solidarity work with indigenous peoples inspire me.

The resiliency and determination of the immigrant and migrant women I have worked with inspire me to keep one foot in the community and the other in academia.

Immigrant and migrants mothers who are agents of social change.

Lee Cohen and his legal work to give refugee claimants an opportunity to dream inspires me.

Thelma Aldana, Attorney General of Guatemala, and her work to combat corruption and criminality inspires me to believe that another world is possible for the people in Guatemala.

Judge Yassmin Barrios of Guatemala and her integrity and independence in her ruling on grave human rights abuses by the Guatemalan military, and her diligence in giving voice to indigenous victims of the genocide inspires me to believe that people in power can create change.

Buffy Saint Mary’s revolutionary music inspires me.

Sara Curruchichi’s voice of indigenous resistance inspires me.


Tamar Dina and the work she does in the community through the arts, inspires me.

What is your deepest learning from this past year? How did/will you apply it?

The importance to focus on priorities; the importance of honesty and respect; the importance of mindfulness and self-love.

I make an effort to begin my day with five minutes of exercise and five minutes of prayer and meditation.

What would you have done differently?

Thinking of what I have done differently tempts me to hold on to what cannot be changed. I rather think of what I have learned to help me move forward. I am focusing on self-love and self-acceptance; on being present with those I love dearly; and on nurturing and building relationships with people I admire, and on building relationships with likeminded people.

What were your priorities and how did they help you overcome some of the struggles you’ve faced? What motivated you to make the choices you’ve made?

My family’s well-being; the creation of welcoming communities to support the immigrant and migrant women I volunteer with; my volunteer work with a couple of social justice organizations; and my academic studies have been my priorities over the past year (and few past years).

Focusing on hope, on the immense potential we have as human beings to make the world a better place for those around us, and on the importance of practicing empathy in my daily engagement with others helps me overcome the struggles I face.

What are the principles you live by?

Some of the principles I live by are: respect, trust, honesty, simplicity, forgiveness, passion, leading by example, focusing on growth, determination, empathy, and faith.


Mother, Advocate, social justice, mothering, artivism, immigration, migration, social change.

Maria Jose