Paleta: A Sweet Bridge Between Cultures

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Behind the counter, she gazed off at the pastel pink wall inside the Holy Paleta shop. Her gleaming eyes and slight smile suggest her mind was lost in sweet memories of this frozen treat. Paletas take Vallery Love-Wilson back to her neighborhood where she would buy them from a crack in the wall behind her childhood home.

“I would scream, “Senior!” and he would just give it to me through the crack,” Love-Wilson said. “And it was just one flavor—cookies and cream.”

She laughs at the irony of buying her paletas from her neighbor’s house to now selling them in a “fancy” storefront. Her family descends from Mexico and the Los Angeles area, so visiting paletarias, or paleta shops, is apart of her childhood. She recalled how her neighbor would sell homemade paletas in his front yard, but for her family, he’d reach over their adjoining, backyard fences—through the “crack”—and sell them “las paletas.”

Now, Love-Wilson works at a paletaria called Holy Paleta in her hometown of Bonita where they are serving up homemade popsicles with a modern twist. One look at Holy Paleta’s Instagram page and it is clear why people are flocking to this little shop on the corner of 4230 Bonita Road.

Customers are constantly posting pictures and praise for their colorful, Instagram-worthy paletas. One customer, @aljinapproved captioned her photo of a tarjin-covered mango paleta: “GUYS. I could have six of these in one sitting. Bonita’s new @holypaleta is a gift.”

Paletas are Mexican popsicles whose origins trace back to Tocumbo-Michoacán, Mexico which is why many people refer to paleta vendors as “michocanas.” According to Helederías Michocanas’ website, the first official La Michocana paleta shop was opened over 60 years ago.

Although you can buy paletas almost anywhere nowadays, people like Love-Wilson who grew up in the Mexican culture associate this frozen treat with family trips to Mexico and childhood memories. Love-Wilson said that the owner of Holy Paleta, Angelica Gonzalez, grew her shop out of the nostalgia that paletas give her.

Back when Holy Paleta first opened in July of 2018, Gonzalez told the San Diego Union-Tribune how her family trips to Michocán growing up heavily influenced her decision to open the popsicle shop.

In the SD-UT article, Gonzalez recalls people thinking she was crazy for trying to sell paletas, when you can get a whole box for $5. The Bonita shop sells each paleta for $3.50, assuming you don’t add toppings, which is pricier than the average street-paleta. In general, paletas are traditionally made from a water base and complemented with fresh fruit flavors like coconut.

All of the Holy Paleta popsicles are made with either a water or milk base and uses only fresh fruit or other whole ingredients in their ice-pops. Holy Paleta serves up traditional flavors like mango and avocado while also experimenting with other flavors like key lime pie and rocky-road; then it is up to the customer whether they want to add a chocolate dip or array of sweet toppings.

“I personally believe that anywhere where you go with your family, and you eat something good…it’s always gonna stick with you, like a memory,” Love-Wilson said.

While Love-Wilson is far from her days of buying paletas in her neighborhood, she now gets to be apart of the memories that families coming into her shop will make. In the afternoon, a steady flow of mothers and their children file into the shop to pick up an afterschool treat. The pure joy on the face of a little girl sitting on the bench out front  

“I really believe that the people who make the paletas in the back, really make the paletas with a lot of cariño, amor and caring, because they know that these are going to be given to families and when the families receive it, they’re gonna remember it.”

 

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