In honor of Hispanic Heritage Month, meet four neighbors from different countries in South and Central America who share memories and traditions of their homelands
Every year from September 15 to October 15, American citizens with ties tracing back to Spain, Central and South America, and Spanish-speaking nations in the Caribbean celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month in the United States.
The official month-long festival is a moment in time to recognize the countless contributions, accomplishments, diverse cultures, and rich histories of the American Latino community. The celebrations start in the middle of the month because September 15 is a historically significant day marking the anniversary of independence of five Latin American countries: Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Nicaragua. Mexico, Chile, and Belize follow shortly after, on September 16, 18, and 21, respectively.
Observing Hispanic Heritage Month is one way the United States pays tribute to generations of Hispanic Americans and raises awareness about the importance of the Hispanic community. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, in 2018 the Hispanic population constituted nearly one-fifth of the nation’s total population, making people of Hispanic origin America’s largest ethnic minority.
Typically, Hispanic Heritage Month is celebrated on a nationwide scale through festivals, art shows, gatherings, and much more. However, the ongoing pandemic has either canceled or shifted those events online. It’s an unusual year for what would normally be a festive and colorful time in the Hispanic community. To help celebrate in our own way, Lake Mary Life interviewed four locals from different countries in South and Central America to reflect on their memories of home and the traditions they love, miss, and continue to honor.
Lake Mary resident Beatriz Andrekovich was born and raised in Mexico City. She attended college in the United States and returned to Mexico to work for several years before marrying an American and coming back to the U.S. Together, they have four beautiful children who are being raised to celebrate and appreciate their multicultural background.
“Thankfully, we go to Mexico almost every year to see all of my family,” says Beatriz. “Mexico is made up of many states – more than 30 – and that is what makes it such a diverse and beautiful country. Every city and town has its own traditions. I definitely miss many things like the food and the people, and there is a richness about the culture that just exists inside of me.”
Beatriz is well-known in the Central Florida community for sharing her love of her Mexican heritage and celebrating the arts and culture of all countries, especially those of the Latin American communities. She is involved with many organizations including Tertulia4Gatos, a local group that promotes exposure to Hispanic cultures and events.
“I think of arts and culture as a gentle way to meet others and get to know them,” says Beatriz, “whether it’s through food, dance, song, painting, or other forms of education.”
One of her fondest memories as a child is the Mexican tradition of celebrating the Christmas holidays with Rosca de Reyes (The King’s Bread), a ringed cake with a figurine of baby Jesus baked into the batter and topped with fruit in the colors of the Mexican flag. Beatriz continues to share the tradition with her own family today. The cake is served on January 6 when Catholics commemorate the Three Wise Men arriving to visit Jesus after his birth.
“Friends and family gather to take a piece of the sweet bread and a cup of hot chocolate,” explains Beatriz. “The person who finds the baby Jesus in their piece of bread then gets to host a second party on February 2 and make tamales [steamed corn dough filled with meats] for all the guests!”
• The mariachi orchestra emerged in the late 1700s or early 1800s in West-Central Mexico.
• Día de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead, takes place in late October/early November and is a festival to honor departed relatives.
• Mexico is home to more than 30 UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
Lake Mary businessman Pablo Prahl grew up in Guatemala City and lived there with his young family before moving to the United States 10 years ago.
“I sold everything in Guatemala, including my marketing business,” says Pablo. “When we came to the U.S., we really immersed ourselves. We did everything in English and worked hard. It was a good challenge, and that’s the beauty of this country – if you work hard, it is worth everything.”
Now the owner of Proforma A&G Marketing Group in Lake Mary and an active member in the community, Pablo maintains a strong connection with his family and friends in Guatemala and visits often.
“Social life back home is very slow-paced, not so scheduled,” explains Pablo. “I love it. And the food – I miss the food like there is no tomorrow!”
Guatemalan food and drink are influenced by the country’s Mayan and Spanish cultures. Meat stews (caldos) and soups (sopas) are popular dishes as well as chicken pepian (chicken in spicy sauce with pumpkin seeds and sesame). Pablo says the food has similarities to its neighboring country to the northwest, Mexico.
As a young boy, Pablo grew up playing fútbol, or soccer as we call it in the ‘States.
“In Guatemala, soccer is the number 1, number 2, and number 3 sport,” jokes Pablo. “Everyone plays, and there are little stores all over where you can buy cheap plastic soccer balls. We would buy one after the other!”
Though Spanish is the official language in Guatemala, there are dozens of indigenous Mayan communities that each boast their own language and traditions. One must-see festival is the Holy Week procession in the city of Antigua, where streets are decorated with elaborately designed and colorful carpets made of sawdust (tapetes de aserrín). Another incredible sight to be seen is the liftoff of giant kites (barriletes gigantes), some spanning more than 50 feet. The spectacle takes place on November 1 each year, on All Saints’ Day.
“I love my country and will always be attached and never forget my roots,” says Pablo. “But, it is a beautiful blessing to be here in America.”
• Guatemala means “land of many trees.”
• Coffee is Guatemala’s biggest export business.
• Guatemala’s Lake Atitlan is the deepest lake in Central America at 340 meters. The country is also known for its volcanoes.
Mary resident Patricia Camacho grew up in Bogota, Colombia, before moving to the United States with her family 13 years ago – right at the beginning of the Great Recession.
“I had to reinvent myself, and I went into real estate,” explains Patricia, who has an MBA, a master’s degree in economics, and at the time was working for the government in Colombia. “This happens to a lot of people migrating to the U.S., but you work hard, and you make it.”
Patricia also made an effort to get involved in the local community and share her love of arts and culture. She’s active with Seminole County Public Schools, the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, and, like Beatriz, the local cultural group Tertulia4Gatos, among others. She is also pursuing a master’s degree in Spanish and literature.
“I am extremely proud of my country, and I miss the people, my family and friends, the food, and the culture,” says Patricia. “There’s a special vibration being home and connecting with the values and traditions.”
Those traditions include pot gatherings (el paseo de olla) where family and friends gather, usually beside a river or in a park, to share traditional Colombian dishes and enjoy each other’s company. Patricia has more than a few favorite dishes like changua, a milk and egg soup often served for breakfast with fruit. There’s also ajiaco, a fresh chicken, corn, and potato soup, and bocadillo con queso, a thick guava paste with salty cheese. The more widely known Colombian dishes are arepas, empanadas, and tres leches. Patricia keeps the food traditions alive at home, cooking often for her family.
“One of the beautiful things about Colombia is that there are so many cultures within cultures,” says Patricia. “It’s a diverse place that evolves and adapts, and we love a celebration.”
Colombians enjoy up to 18 long weekends every year, many of which coincide with legendary Colombian festivals such as the colorful Barranquilla Carnival, the Bambuco Pageant and Folkloric Festival, and Medellín’s Summertime Flower Fair. Holidays like Easter and Christmas feature over-the-top celebrations, too.
“I am so grateful to be here and to have grown roots in my community, but I’m also grateful for my beautiful upbringing in Colombia,” says Patricia. “Everyone should visit!”
• Colombia is named after Christopher Columbus, though he never set foot in the territory.
• Cumbia is Colombia’s national dance and is derived from a blend of European, African, and indigenous cultures.
• Colombian mines are the world’s leading source of emeralds.
Longwood residents and professional dancers Jenny and Ernesto Caballero came to the United States from Bolivia 20 years ago to pursue their dancing careers before opening their own dance studio in 2011. The couple is devoted to showcasing various forms of dance and sharing their culture with the community.
When most people think of Bolivian culture, they think of the indigenous people that live in the high Andes Mountains. However, the country is much more ethnically and geographically diverse, says Jenny, who comes from Potosí, an area known for its high altitude. Ernesto is from Santa Cruz, which has a more tropical climate.
“Depending on where you’re from in Bolivia, you can have a different accent and different customs,” says Jenny. “For example, if you’re from the south, the customs are related to the close proximity to Argentina.”
Across the country, family and fun are always at the center of Bolivian life. A typical weekend involves visiting family, going to church, and enjoying a big brunch afterward. The Caballeros have countless memories of home and do all they can to make sure their daughter, Montserrat, does, too.
“We want our daughter to feel the energy of what makes Bolivia special,” says Jenny. “Thankfully, we’ve been able to visit and especially spend time with her grandparents.”
Ernesto grew up visiting his own grandparents in the countryside, picking fresh mangos and avocados and playing freely. Jenny loved Christmastime the most, when her grandmother would gather 20 of her cousins and reward them with cookies and hot cocoa if they danced for baby Jesus.
“We have great memories and miss home, but one thing I really miss is the food!” says Jenny.
Local specialties include pique a lo macho (grilled beef and sausage), lechón (suckling pig), and one of Jenny’s favorites from her hometown, kalapurka, a traditional soup heated with volcano rock.
A must-see festival in Bolivia is Carnaval de Oruro.
“It’s amazing,” says Ernesto. “You see thousands of people dancing the same dances for miles and miles, as far as the eye can see. There are different costumes for each dance, and you can see everything from traditional indigenous dance to modern, stylized dance. It’s a unique experience.”
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• Bolivia is home to Lake Titicaca, often called the highest navigable lake in the world at 12,500 feet.
• Salar de Uyuni is the world’s largest salt flat and one of Bolivia’s most popular tourist destinations.
• Bolivia has more than 30 official languages and nearly 80% of the population are Roman Catholics.