Exploring Vancouver’s Latin American culture

Between food, film, and more, there are countless ways to engage with Latin American heritage

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A photo of the VLACC (address: 1885 Venables St, Vancouver,)
PHOTO: Amirul Anirban / The Peak

By: Michelle Young, Copy Editor

Though Latin Americans make up roughly 3% of Canada’s population, we are here. Latin Americans have come to Canada since at least the 1950s, with an influx of Chileans migrating to Vancouver following the Chilean coup in the ‘70s. This birthed the bilingual Vancouver-based publication Aquelarre: A Magazine for Latin American Women, which can be found in online archives or libraries. The magazine ran from the late ‘80s to mid ‘90s and featured feminist and anti-colonial essays, reviews, and poems. They published 23 issues

From 2021 to 2023, the Spanish-speaking Latin American population nearly doubled in Canada. In BC alone, the Latin American population increased almost 50% from 2016 to 2021. As we’ve grown, so has access to our various languages and cultures. Established in the early 2000s was the Vancouver Latin American Film Festival, while the Vancouver Latin American Cultural Centre (VLACC) was founded in the 2010s. 

They are both dedicated to celebrating Latin American heritage and feature programs that reflect Latin America’s diversity. In an interview with The Peak, Lili Vieira de Carvalho, the director of VLACC, spoke about engaging with Latin American culture by attending cultural events, exploring its cuisine, and using art as a form of immersion. Last year, the Vancouver Writers Fest held Latin Expressions in Three Conversations in partnership with VLACC, a panel on Latin American writers and the lives of women. Similar to the Writer’s Fest, the Vancouver Latin American Film Festival gears up in the fall and will feature a panel for Afro-Indigenous voices. Every year, they also showcase a collection of shorts that centres on queer Latin American identity. These are only a few of the local examples that show Latin American heritage is rich here, however our culinary culture also thrives. 

There are dedicated Latin American grocery stores in Vancouver, such as Mi Tierra Latina and Fresh is Best on Broadway. The latter is where I ask my mom to buy me my Cocosette fill (a Venezuelan coconut wafer), but you can also find classics like Abuelita Hot Chocolate and harina pan (corn flour). Mi Tierra Latina has additional locations in Burnaby and Coquitlam, and both grocery stores share aspects on Latin American culture online: Fresh is Best on Broadway features a blog and Mi Tierra Latina shares snippets of local Latin Americans on their Instagram and have ingredient lists for dishes on their website. 

 “Our local diaspora reflects this diversity, with individuals hailing from various countries and regions, each bringing their unique experiences and perspectives” — Lili Vieira de Carvalho, VLACC director

Carvalho said she’s “had many memorable experiences with the Latin American community in Vancouver, from joyful celebrations during music performances (audiences climbing on the stage at the end of a Puerto Rican concert) to thought-provoking discussions on issues affecting our communities,” adding, “one particular experience that stands out is the sense of solidarity and camaraderie among the members of the VLACC choir, Canto Vivo. This group of singers coming from many countries in Latin America and elsewhere really support each other.”

While Latin Americans are considered a panethnic group due to overlapping and shared cultural similarities, Latin Americans are very diverse. Carvalho explained, “Latin America encompasses a great variety of ethnicities and cultural traditions. Our local diaspora reflects this diversity, with individuals hailing from various countries and regions, each bringing their unique experiences and perspectives.” Something to keep in mind in the context of Latin American history is that “what we consider today as Latin America has been shaped by hundreds of years of European imperialist rule, battles for independence from colonial powers, civil and world wars, and both voluntary and involuntary migration,” as reported by the Getty arts organization.

Exploring cultural events can introduce folks to the wide range of Latin American diversity, in addition to providing Latin Americans with a resource to explore their own cultures, or neighbouring countries. Though there are uniting factors, each respective country has their own history and cultural differences. While bossa nova is quintessentially Brazilian, its gentle rhythms contrast Mexico’s brassy ranchera. Though I consider myself adequately fluent in Spanish, this is very specific to the Venezuelan accent, slang, and humour. While watching Argentinian comedy, The Magic Gloves, I had to turn on the subtitles. Though not the only two languages spoken in Latin America, the Vancouver Public Library features resources in Spanish and Portuguese. “It’s essential to recognize this diversity rather than resorting to stereotypes or generalizations,” Carvalho said. 

I want to thank The Peak for the opportunity to share insights into the cultures of our Latin American diaspora and the vital role it plays in making the cultural landscape of British Columbia richer and livelier. VLACC is on a mission to share a deeper understanding of Latin American arts and challenge stereotypes. We are ready to manage a new facility dedicated to Latin American arts and cultures right here in Vancouver. This dream gets closer every day.”

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