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Culture: A little taste of Mexico in the Bay

By Ruth Keber

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Arturo Fonseca with wife Lizbeth Vera and their baby girl, Sofia. PHOTO/RUTH KEBER
Arturo Fonseca with wife Lizbeth Vera and their baby girl, Sofia. PHOTO/RUTH KEBER

Flowers, colours, rain, ponchos and sombreros, people singing and celebrating ... people celebrating birth, celebrating weddings and celebrating the dead is what one man's home country means to him.

Mexican Arturo Fonseca and his wife, Lizbeth Vera, moved to New Zealand six years ago.

The couple, both high profile lawyers in Mexico City, had had enough of their busy lifestyles where they could barely live life or see each other.

Homes of Hope social worker Arturo Fonseca said they needed a fresh start and New Zealand was the place they have found it.

Mr Fonseca initially undertook a research programme at Waikato University, on sustainable farming and how to protect fresh water resources. But he has since found his true passion in life - as a child advocate.

"I did some stories in Spain on human rights but I wanted to devote my time to children, I started volunteering for Victim Support in Hamilton, to test myself to see if I had what was required to be a social worker, then underwent a social work degree.

Ms Vera has also changed her direction to early childhood teaching.

"We found our vocation in life. New Zealand is a small country so small contributions one makes are huge. Everything you do here has a big impact."

Mr Fonseca said they don't miss the demands of work in Mexico.

"In Mexico, you don't work nine to five, you can start at 8am and go until 10 or 11pm, and if you don't they will just fire you and hire someone else. We wanted to have time for us."

However, they do miss the colours, flavours, smells and diversity of home.

"It's a place of contrast, of warm and open people. Latin Americans are known to be very open, we enjoy life second to second but the contrast is that it can be very dangerous as well."

In Mexico food is celebrated and loved by the whole culture, he said.

"In Mexico you can be eating different things every day. The contrast of flavours are so powerful, beginning with the way we eat chilli and spices."

Avocado, salsa, tortillas, mexican beans and lemon were the basis for almost every meal.

However, sometimes bringing Mexican flavours to their new home was hard.

"In Mexico you can buy a kilo of tortillas for $1 and here you buy a packet of 12 tortilla for $6.

"But if we share something with our friends, it is going to be food. If you want to pamper family, nice and diverse Mexican food."

Only having been home once each on their new journey, the couple said they also missed celebrations like Day of the Dead.

"We celebrate when our relatives and friends were alive. We cook the dishes the person used to love, we put up an altar and we put their photos, sugar and chocolate skulls, a bottle of tequila or whatever that person used to drink."

The day celebrates loved ones' lives in a happy event, compared to the Western take on funerals.

"For example when my wife's grandmother passed away, we took mariachis to the cemetery, with guitars and trumpets. We celebrate their lives."

Mr Fonseca said although he is Mexican his grandfather was Lebanese.

"My great grandparents were both from Beirut in Lebanon and they met in Mexico.

"At that time Mexico was safe, it was clean and was a place of opportunities. So a lot of migrants from around the world arrived in Mexico."

- BAY OF PLENTY TIMES

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