Ivan Gracia Rivera knows a lot about embracing life, cultivating generosity of spirit and treasuring friends.
Gracia Rivera grew up in Apizaco, Mexico, southeast of Mexico City. In Mexico, children receive both of their parents’ last names, he explains. The ‘Gracia’ in Gracia Rivera means grace, his dad’s last name, while Rivera is his mom’s last name.
He considers Canada a beautiful country.
“It gives everybody the opportunity to work and to find their dreams. It’s not easy, but it gives you a chance. If you have the skills, if you have the guts to do it, it will let you do it. It’s a country of opportunities. The Canadians are really friendly people. And supportive also.”
Cultural differences in Canada have meant toning down his expressions of warmth a notch.
Where he grew up, “when you say hi to friends, you give a kiss on the cheek,” he says. If they don’t want to kiss you, the person has some hard feelings towards you.
“To just shake the hand, you don’t trust this person.”
He’s learned that shaking hands in this country is the norm.
“It’s one of the things I understand and I respect.”
The first culture shock he experienced was going into someone’s home. There he noticed they had food for a week, with food chosen for each day, enough for the people living there.
“In Mexico, you put a little more water into the bean soup and have four more people,” he says. If a friend comes to talk, you make time, not an appointment for a week Tuesday.
Ivan first came to Salmon Arm in 2009 with his spouse, Jamie. Although he had studied communications at the University of Mexico and had been a journalist for five years, he became disillusioned with the career.
“At the end of the day, if the information is not what your boss wants, they change it,” he says, adding he didn’t like the way politicians in Mexico treated journalists, as if they were nothing, despite their university education. They would try to manipulate them with gifts or food.
Ivan eventually moved on to tourism in Cancun, where he found a job as server on a cruise ship. He loved the experience, particularly because it’s there he met Jamie.
“We were close to a thousand crew members; in the middle of the ocean we met and we started to hang out.”
Jamie is from Canada and is fluent in Spanish, having learned it in school and on cruise ships in Spain and the Mediterranean. She’s helped him improve his English.
From 2007 to 2009 the couple travelled in Canada, with some time in Salmon Arm where Ivan worked at the Cantina Vallarta. When Jamie became pregnant, they moved to Winnipeg to be close to her family.
The family support was wonderful but the weather, for Ivan, was not. He initially worked at a Mexican restaurant there and later in construction – sometimes in -50 degree temperatures.
“It was too cold for me. We were there for three winters. We moved back to Mexico for six months to warm up a little.”
They now have three children.
Last year the family moved back to the Shuswap, where Ivan worked on an irrigation system for a blueberry farm. About 10 months later the owner of the Cantina Vallarta restaurant said he was leaving and wanted to know if Ivan wanted to purchase the business. Ivan didn’t have the money.
But, “I talked to my boss and he supported me 100 per cent.”
His boss took him to Community Futures, where he was asked for a business plan. Ivan was eventually given the green light and, in March, he bought the restaurant.
“He and his whole family, they support me in this way,” he says of his boss, speaking glowingly of the loyalty and caring.
Now, instead of the 100 per cent Ivan usually puts into a job, “here I put 150 per cent.”
His guiding principles include being happy with what he’s doing and treasuring friendships. He also has a strong faith in God. It’s hard to see Canadians unhappy when they have so much.
“Here you have a car, you’re not happy with the car, you want a better car… In Mexico, it’s more like you appreciate what you have. You make it last as long as you can.”
He said that although Mexico is a Third World country, “we enjoy what we’re having right now. In Canada people worry more about the future than the present. They work hard, don’t take me wrong…”
With his passion for life, Ivan has put a small stage in the restaurant, where people are invited to come play music. His brother has come from Mexico to help create traditional food.
“It allows me to come out and talk to people, to share a little bit of culture. The way we prepare food, we do it from scratch, we do it from back home like my mom taught us.”
He hopes people will feel welcome to come to his restaurant, enjoy the food, the feeling of Mexico, and perhaps play an instrument. If it’s your birthday, Ivan will serenade you.
“I come back to the same point – to be alive, to be warm, to enjoy. When I meet people who play an instrument, they’ve taken the time to learn it… If you have a talent, come and play and show others your talent.
“We like to do those things for other people. It feels nice.”