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How Sweet it is

06/27/2013 10:36AM ● Published by Enjoy Magazine

To walk through the doors of La Flor de Michoacan Paleteria y Neveria in Chico is to step into a part of Mexico where ice cream and frozen fruit bars are a steadfast tradition and recipes are handed down through the generations. The bright pink walls and freezer cases from Mexico transport customers of Mexican descent back to their homeland and offer others a unique opportunity to experience a sweeter side of Mexican cuisine.

“I grew up inside an ice-cream shop in Mexico,” says owner Antonio Arreguin Bermudez. “In my hometown almost everyone knows how to make ice cream.” By age 10 he was making ice cream for the shop, but he knew greater opportunities could be found in the United States. He set off at age 14 by himself for the San Joaquin Valley.

He found work as a farm laborer, but realized he needed more opportunities to secure a brighter future. “I started looking for an education,” he says. He enrolled at Reedley High School after starting English classes there in the evenings.

“Basically, high school was my home,” he says. “I had breakfast there, I had lunch there. I studied there. I showered there. It was the first time I’d had a hot shower.”

A high school counselor reached out to him and started talking about college. He enrolled in the Summer Bridge program at Fresno State University and notes, “It was my first time stepping onto a college campus in my life.” He supported himself working as a janitor in the campus cafeteria 20-30 hours a week.

Ten years after arriving in the United States, he held a diploma from Fresno State and was on his way to a master’s in Hispanic literature. From Fresno, he moved on to the University of Arizona at Tucson to earn a PhD, also in Hispanic literature.

Today, Antonio holds full professorship at Chico State University, where he teaches Spanish and Spanish literature and supports students preparing to become high school Spanish teachers. He has published a novel, “Burnt Honey,” and a book of 21 short stories. He focuses his research on border issues and notes that they comprise more than just the physical border between the United States and Mexico. “Psychological borders— those are the most difficult to overcome,” he says. “I’m very interested in finding out about those other borders.”

Antonio, his wife Anabel, daughter and eldest son operate the shop when they aren’t teaching or studying. Together they create and serve such dreamy tropical flavors as mango, pineapple, avocado, watermelon, pomegranate with lime, cactus fruit and tequila. There are 48 flavors of bars and 32 flavors of ice cream. American standards such as vanilla and chocolate are found next to more traditional Mexican flavors like bunuelo (fried tortilla with brown sugar) and pumpkin pie.

Everything is made on site using equipment imported from Mexico. The recipes and equipment prohibit air from entering the product, so it holds a more dense, gelato-like texture. “It’s a different way for making ice cream bars,” notes Antonio. “It’s more like the old times.” The shop also serves chicharrones (fried pork skins), elote (roasted corn), nachos and aguasfrescas (refreshing drinks made from a combination of fruits, cereals, seeds or flowers and blended with sugar and water).

Opening the shop on April 6, 2012, was the realization of a dream Antonio held from childhood but “didn’t even think about, it was too far away” when he arrived here.

He wants to create a cultural and family legacy for his children. “I want them to go to school,” he says. “I think education is really, really important. But I also want to teach them the ethics of working hard.”

Indeed, his daughter has just graduated from Chico State and is on her way to Texas State University at San Marcos to pursue a graduate degree. In preparation, she’s been taking an ice-cream cart to regional festivals on weekends to earn money for her living expenses.

“This country has given me, a lot,” says Antonio. “I have my education,” though noting with a laugh, “It was not free. I’m still paying for it.”

“I want to give something back, something unique, something that was passed down.” Of the shop, he says, “For me, it’s another way to say thank you. I’m here as an immigrant giving something back, something positive.” •

La Flor de Michoacan Paleteria y Neveria 1008 West Sacramento Ave., Suite C, Chico • (530) 893-9999

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