There’s no place like home.
But for Latinos, feeling at home in the Fraser Valley is not always so easy. Despite the number of residents who come from countries like El Salvador, Mexico and Brazil, there have typically not been a lot of places to buy Latino food, clothing, or art.
That has been changing with the creation of the Mercado Latino Society.
Margie Escalante-Naslund is president of the society and part of a five-member board. She had moved to a farm at the border of Aldergrove and Abbotsford just a few months before the pandemic hit, and changed everything.
She had been going across the border every other week to visit her mother-in-law and gather food supplies.
“There is a very limited amount of food products here,” she said. “It was a routine for me.”
When the border was closed, she was forced to look closer to home. And she realized quickly that she wasn’t alone.
Escalante-Naslund put the call out on Facebook for people making and selling Latin foods and goods, and was overwhelmed with the response.
“I started to get a huge influx of messages,” she said. “So I said, ‘I’m going to open up my driveway. Why doesn’t everyone come with a table. I’ll invite friends and family members and we’ll all buy from you.’ ”
They started that with 10 vendors, and now it has grown to a large group of 60 vendors and nearly 1,000 people in their Facebook group. They don’t have one specific place to shop; rather, they travel around the Fraser Valley, setting up together and supporting each other.
It’s not just about buying and selling either. The board is made up of Latino professionals who offer help with everything from understanding and filling out immigration papers to buying a home in Canada or starting a new business. They are now also a registered not-for-profit organization.
“We want to help the community grow,” she said. “We want to get people to know us; we are a big family. I think that’s the most beautiful thing about this.”
The local Latino community is made up of a diverse group of people, from those who are new to Canada to those who were born here. Latin regions run from the southern United States to the southern tip of South America, and the majority of people on the planet speak Spanish, Escalante-Naslund said.
“And we have a huge community here,” she said, and they love sharing their various cultures with each other while lifting each other up.
There are so many different cultures that make up the Latin community, she said, and they love coming together for their markets.
They recently had a large area at the West Coast Women’s Show at Tradex and the Women’s Expo in Cloverdale.
They are often set up at the Fort Langley Lions Hall, and have one more market planned there this year, on Nov. 20.
Escalante-Naslund is hoping to one day see Abbotsford host a large Latin community party or festival to help honour this large segment of the population.
“My dream is to have a big community event where they close the streets,” she said. Latin culture is so colourful and musical, she said, and, of course, everyone loves the food.
“I’ve yet to meet someone who doesn’t love eating street corn,” she said, laughing.
But a true cultural day to celebrate Latin traditions would be more than just a chance to explore new foods. It would be a chance to show Latin people that they are valued and belong here, she said. While Latin Heritage Month has just ended, she is hoping that in the future, Abbotsford could be home to a bustling festival like they have in Vancouver.
“I know we’ve made a difference,” she said. “But I know we’ll have really made it when the city helps us with our events.”
To learn more about the Mercado Latino Society, visit mercadolatino.org on their Facebook or Instagram accounts.
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