TV presenter Ismael Cala never planned to leave Cuba, but when he was told that his show had been cancelled and the authorities were investigating his politics, he decided it was safer to stay in Canada.
Cala had arrived in Toronto as part of a Cuban delegation at the Metro Caravan Festival. He was there on an 11-day visitor's permit, but when the bad news reached him, he changed his plans. He took the advice of a friend and applied for refugee status, which he received after 14 months.
Back in Cuba, Cala had had 20 years of experience in TV and Radio broadcasting, receiving three national awards for his work. Even as a teenager, he was hosting radio and TV shows. A graduate in Art History from Universidad de Oriente, Cala founded and directed University Radio in 1992. That same year, he began teaching Journalism and Art History.
In 1996, he graduated from the International Centre for Tourist Entertainment and began working as an anchor for a late night news programme. He became the producer and host of a talk show, "Seasons", which was a nationwide success with its own fan club. The following year, he went on to host the cultural part of a popular game show, "Who Knows?"
In Canada, Cala's first handicap was the language barrier. He took English lessons, along with keyboarding, computer and career training courses at Skills for Change, a non-profit immigration and resettlement agency for refugees. Within a year, he had learnt sufficient English to enrol as a full-time student at Toronto's York University.
Today Cala is completing his fourth year in a double-honours degree in Communication Studies and Humanities at York. He is also freelancing for the Spanish programme of TLN television network and acts as a host for Havana Nights at the Tropicana Dinner Theatre in Toronto.