Latinos in the Okanagan mean business, but they do like to party | iNFOnews | Thompson-Okanagan's News Source

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Latinos in the Okanagan mean business, but they do like to party

Eliecer Marchante (left), Roberto Alarcon (centre) and Samuel Galvez are promoting the Latino culture in the Okanagan.
February 07, 2019 - 2:00 PM

KELOWNA - The Okanagan’s Latino community may have come from a harsher life than most Canadians but they love it here and want to share their Laraza, or culture, with Canadians.

The cornerstone of that culture is a joyful outlook on life.

“When you have gone through so much struggle, what are you going to do?” asked Samuel Galvez. “You have to decide, are you going to be crying all the time or do you want to just overlap that and start having fun with your life?”

Galvez came to Kelowna from his native Chile seven years ago and owns El Torro Tailoring. He’s also a dance instructor.

While Chile is the most prosperous of the South American Latino countries, with a standard of living close to Canada’s, it was under a military dictatorship up to about 30 years ago and those scars still run deep in his country, Galvez said.

“If you blame everyone, or blame governments, it won’t solve the problems,” added Eliecer Marchante. “There’s nothing you can do about it. So, what’s the point to be always doing the same thing? In the end, the problem will still be there. Basically, you’re putting too much stress on you. So, the best way is to try to find ways to help.”

Marchante emigrated from Cuba 14 years ago, landing in a frigid Saskatchewan for a short while before moving to the Okanagan.

Cuba’s standard of living is more typical of many Latino countries so Marchante needed help from relatives living in the U.S. to afford his airfare. Now he’s in the marketing department of a local car dealership.

Roberto Alarcon, who came from Columbia, runs the Latinos Kelowna Facebook page, with almost 1,200 members.

They say there are about 1,000 Latinos in the Okanagan, coming from all Spanish speaking countries in the Americas.

Together they are part of the Latin Business Network with about 20 members in the Okanagan but they are trying to bring more members in as the Latino business community is far larger. It includes the more visible businesses like Mexican restaurants but there are realtors, mechanics, photographers and more.

“Most people come here to work and to prosper,” Galvez said. “Many have their own businesses. We see so many opportunities here."

But it’s dance that brings more people together.

Galvez and Marchante are also the men behind Caliente Latin Party that’s expanding to Penticton and Vernon.

The Caliente Latin Party was a monthly dance attracting up to 240 people when it was held at Habitat in Kelowna before it closed in November. Now they’ve found venues in Penticton (on Sunday, Feb. 10 in the Barking Parrot Bar) and Vernon (Army Navy & Airforce Veterans hall Feb. 16) and a smaller Kelowna venue (Okanagan Mission Community Hall, Feb. 23).

They call it a party rather than a dance because it’s different than Canadian dances, they say, where couples often go out to dance with each other. Instead, Latinos like to “party.”

Each evening begins with dance lessons, teaching the proper Latino style. While dancing is a central focus, socializing and learning each other’s culture is the real reason to attend.

“When we say a party, it’s because you’re partying with everybody, not just your partner,” Galvez said.

Marchante is also turning the upcoming events into fundraisers to help victims of the recent tornado in Cuba by donating $1 from each ticket, then Caliente will match whatever is raised.

“It’s not 100 per cent the help they (Cubans) need but, if I do a little bit and someone else does a little bit more, so everybody can help them completely,” he said.

The dances started in May and there are Latin summer cruises, along with the business group.

Plans are in the works for a Latin Expofest late this summer in an effort to show Canadians the wide variety of Latino businesses and to show off their culture.

“We want to show Canadian people that we are here and we mean business,” Galvez said.

To contact a reporter for this story, email Rob Munro or call 250-808-0143 or email the editor. You can also submit photos, videos or news tips to the newsroom and be entered to win a monthly prize draw.

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