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Little slice of Mexico in Kelowna helps migrant workers feel at home

San’s Latin Market opened 10 years ago to help migrant workers from Mexico find the foods they love
Sandra Zahuna, the owner of San’s Latin Market, wanted to create a space where people felt welcome and accepted. (Jacqueline Gelineau/Capital News)

A little shop in Kelowna offers a taste of home for migrant workers from Mexico who are spending the season on Okanagan fruit farms.

San’s Latin Market may seem inconspicuous, as a small shop tucked into the strip mall on Enterprise Way, but inside it is bursting with colour, Spanish music, smiling people and boxes of tortillas stacked to the ceiling.

Sandra Zahuna , the owner of the Latin Market, opened the shop in 2013, after realizing that there was nowhere in Kelowna for Mexicans, like herself, to buy food that tastes like home.

She moved from Mexico to Canada in 2003 and began working on a fruit farm where she helped migrant workers with everything from banking, to medical needs, to finding food that helped them feel comfortable while far from home. Since Zahuna already spoke English and is incredibly resourceful, she was able to help people access the services that they needed but faced a challenge when workers asked her to help them get proper tortillas and chilies.

Initially, Zahuna would ship up tortillas and chilies from a distributor in the United States for the 10 workers that she was responsible for. However, word spread and soon people from neighbouring farms were asking her to get things for them too.

“Everyone was asking me can you get me tortillas and peppers?” Eventually, Zahuna realized that to meet the needs of the migrant workers, she needed to open a store, and San’s Latin Market was born.

“I wanted to start a place where they feel welcome and they can speak their own language.”

Her goal was to create a place where she could help people feel like they are not alone and welcome.

When a Capital News reporter came to the store for the interview the shop was packed.

Zahuna said that they are busy all summer but business really picks up during cherry harvest season.

Outside of the shop vans from fruit farms filled the parking lot.

One of the vehicles brought workers from a farm near Kelowna that currently is staffed by approximately 400 Mexicans, 100 Jamaicans and 350 Guatemalans, said Zahuna. Inside, the store was full of folks speaking Spanish and joking around while shopping. Many people were lined for the money transfer service that the market also offers. The service is important for people who are not fluent in English, explained Zahuna. It allows people to do their baking and send money back home to their families in Mexico all while speaking their native language. Before leaving, most of the patrons picked up some groceries including at least one package of tortillas.

Zahuna explained that the small white corn tortillas are her most popular product since they are versatile, tasty, cost effective and not available elsewhere.

While sitting down for an interview amidst boxes of tortillas and peppers from a recent order, it became obvious that Zahuna is a popular and well-loved woman. Almost every shopper stopped to say hi and crack jokes with the shop owner.

Zahuna said that she has known some of the workers for more than a decade, reconnecting each year when they come up to Canada to work for a contract that ranges between two and eight months.

She said that on the farm, the workers become like a family, cooking, sharing meals and celebrations together.

The shop acts as a meeting place for migrant workers and helps people to feel more at home while far from their families.

For all of your Latin food, candy, pinata and gift needs, stop by San’s Latin Market.

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Jacqueline Gelineau

About the Author: Jacqueline Gelineau

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