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Volunteers with the Northern Ontario Latin-Hispanic Association (NOLHA) are in the final planning stages for their upcoming gala fundraiser.
Featuring a dinner and dance, as well as live singers, salsa dance performances, and Mexican music, the event will be celebrated in conjunction with Latin-Hispanic Heritage Month, which is recognized every year in October.
NOLHA founder Sandra Mongui says she’s beyond excited to share the tastes and sounds of the organization’s Central and South American culture with residents from across town.
“We want to bring the Latin culture to the Sault and let people here experience that,” she says. “We want people to be happy, especially after the pandemic. Through the dance, it’s a very nice way to express happiness.”
Now a financial advisor, Mongui moved from Colombia to the Sault nearly 20 years ago to begin a new life.
She formed the non-profit organization in 2013 when a group of Chileans living in town approached Mongui requesting more activities and events related to their Latin-Hispanic culture.
Mongui explains that a lot has changed for those newcomers since she first came to Canada in the early 2000’s.
“There are much better support systems for newcomers now compared to when I came 20 years ago,” she says. “It’s hard to leave your comfort zone and go to an entirely new environment, but I always tell them it’s a process we need to go through.”
According to Stats Canada and the 2021 Census, the Latino community is one of the fastest growing cultures in the Sault for residents who’s second language is English.
Between 2016 and 2021, residents who speak Spanish with the mother tongue grew from 180 to 240, while Portuguese-speaking residents – mostly from Brazil – had a slight dip from 170 to 155.
Mongui says the Latin-Hispanic culture in the city has never been stronger, and the warm reception their community has received from Saultites is remarkable.
“Sault Ste. Marie is more open to learning about different cultures, so I’m very happy,” she says. “I love the Sault, and the city has changed a lot in the last ten years. It’s very beautiful.”
Funds raised from the upcoming gala will go towards a number of NOLHA programs and initiatives, including scholarships for Sault College, and mental health resources for the community.
Mongui says NOLHA is always looking for people to join the organization, regardless of their background.
“If they feel passionate about supporting a non-profit organization that promotes culture and wants to help the community, then they are welcome,” she says.
Mongui’s love for the Sault is undeniable, and she says she wouldn’t want to live anywhere else.
“I am very thankful for Sault Ste. Marie,” she says. “This city has taught me so many lessons in life as a person. I want to help here in a small way.”
Tickets for the gala are already sold-out. The event will take place on Saturday Oct. 22 from 5 p.m. to 11 p.m. at the Delta Hotel.
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