Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

She'll take winter over stifling heat

Salvadoran immigrant cherishes our holiday meals

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It's been 30 years since Sarah Esperanza first stepped into a bitter Winnipeg winter, but the memory of that frigid February evening in 1983 still chills her to the bone.

"It was very bad, very bad," recalls the Salvadoran, who found refuge in Canada with her three young children after U.S. immigration officials found her working illegally in Dallas. "I had never seen snow or experienced such cold weather."

Fortunately for Esperanza, who now owns the El Izalco grocery store on Sargent Avenue, she prefers the cooler Canadian climate to the heat and humidity of her homeland.

"It's not that I like it," she says, "but I'd rather live in the winter here than back home with such heat."

Something else the great-grandmother prefers here is the traditional holiday meal, which she begins preparing a week in advance of Christmas Day.

"I love the eating, the making turkey, the baking," she says. "It's so different here. So much food."

For Javier Mignone, who moved to Winnipeg from Buenos Aires 18 years ago, the best part of Canadian winters is the great outdoors. "I love to walk in the winter," says Mignone, who works at the University of Manitoba. "It's cold, but you get used to it."

Carlos Nielsen, who fled the political instability of Ecuador with his wife in 2011, says his favourite thing about the holidays in Winnipeg is the spirit of giving.

"I really like the way people help each other here," he says. "In my office, we got together and tried to bring things for people who had less. That doesn't happen back home."

After enjoying one of the city's warmest years on record, Nielsen says he is not looking forward to enduring his first "real winter" in Winnipeg.

"Last winter was really mild, but everybody was telling us it got harder," he says. "This year is already colder. It will be a whole new experience trying to adapt."

One way Nielsen and his wife, Carolina Villota, have already adapted to Christmas in Canada is the use of stockings. "In Ecuador, we only saw them in movies," he says.

Regardless of the country he's in or the traditions it carries, however, Nielsen says what matters most at Christmas is the company he keeps.

"The most important thing for me is to be with family and my wife," Nielsen says. "It doesn't matter if we have presents, as long as we are together."

ryan.bowman@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition December 25, 2012 A2

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