The hidden communities of Northern Ireland: Mayte, a mighty woman

By Bethany Hamill

Mayte in the Queen’s Sports Centre after one of her dance classes

MAYTE Zumba is a Mexican woman who lived a successful life in her hometown. With a masters in Applied Statistics and a job as a maths teacher, she had all she needed for her in Mexico. So, how exactly did she end up living in Belfast? This article will tell the story of this incredible woman and where her life has taken her. 

After being born and raised in Mexico, Mayte was forced to move from her home country to Northern Ireland in 2007 when her husband had to move to Belfast for reasons regarding work. Mayte found this transition incredibly difficult as she did not speak any English at all. She went to night school to learn English but had difficulty understanding the language. She felt unrepresented     as she could not find a strong Mexican community in Belfast. As well as this, she struggled with the language barrier – she wanted to speak in a friendly way, but struggled to do so as she could never find the right words. To Mayte, learning English was more important and more vital than getting a job. 

“I feel a big responsibility as I am the voice of my country and the flag of my country. People subconsciously rate a country based on their experience with the people from that country”

 Alongside the difficulty of learning an entire new language, she also had a hard time finding a community that she felt like she belonged to. During her interview, Mayte stated that just because you share the same cultural identity or background as someone, it does not automatically mean that they are your friends as they could share different values and hold different views. Her first two years in Northern Ireland were incredibly tough as she could not find a place where she belonged. Between the language barriers and being unable to find friends, she was stuck in a place that did not feel like home at all. She felt a lot of pressure in the beginning as she felt that she held a big responsibility whilst living here. Mayte felt that she was representative of her country and that whilst living here, she was the voice of her country. She worried that people would subconsciously rate Mexico based on their experiences with her, so she felt she had to be careful how she acted. While she observed that she faced more classism than racism, the pressure of being the face of her country weighed down on her.  However, all this changed when her baby was born in 2010.

As previously mentioned, Mayte is incredibly intelligent and thrived in Mexico as a maths teacher doing what she loved. As well as this, she also had a strong love for dance. After Mayte had begun to settle in Northern Ireland and had her baby, she knew she would have to try and find employment. This is where she had to make a choice. Did she follow her love of maths and try to continue her career as a maths teacher, or did she let life take her down a new route and try and make a living with her dancing. After careful consideration, Mayte knew her heart belonged to dance and therefore, decided to see what she could do with this. She went to college and carried out a 4 year course to get the qualifications she needed in order to be a professional dancer and to be considered for jobs.

However, this was not her fairy tale ending. Despite having the qualifications and a natural rhythm, Mayte struggled immensely with finding a job as no one wanted to hire her. At this point, Mayte decided that if no one would give her an opportunity, she would create her own opportunities. Inspired by her baby, she started doing baby ballet classes which her daughter could also be involved in. Essentially, what these dance classes entailed was mothers or fathers bringing their young child along to the class and then Mayte would teach them ballet. These classes were specifically designed with the children’s cognitive abilities and development in mind. This was a success and Mayte knew that she had found something that worked for her – she had finally found her flow. 

Mayte was her own boss and wanted to take her ideas that one step further, by creating a dance class for those her own age. She wanted to create a group where she belonged, this was important to her. She began looking for places and companies that would help support her and turn her dream into reality. After going round many places in Belfast to ask if she could take classes, finally, Queen’s University was willing to work with her. Through the support of Queen’s well-being programme, the International Dance Group (IDG) was created by Mayte in 2018. Now that she had a place to support people, she could focus on her main aim of bringing people together and connecting people through the art of dance. After such a difficult start to her journey in Northern Ireland, Mayte had finally found a place where she belonged. She had a safe space where she could connect with many people in a short period of time who shared the same interests as her. 

When it first began, more people than Mayte expected came along. She felt a bit of pressure at the beginning as she wanted to give people a unique experience and to feel connected to others. As time went on, people began to relax and become more comfortable with one another. Now the dance group is at a place where everyone within the group are friends and make plans with one another outside of the group, such as study groups. This was important to Mayte as she did not want people to have the same experience as she did. 

Through the power of one woman with a dream and the courage to make it happen, there is now a little community of dance in South Belfast, which gives hope and friendship to those who are just the same as her. Finally, Mayte has a place she can call home and a life in Belfast which she is happy with.