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A Thanksgiving celebration with a twist of Hispanic flavors

Assorted savory and sweet tamales from Arnaldo Richards' Picos, which begins its annual holiday tamale sales from its tamale stand on Kirby on Nov. 15. (Photo by Nick de la Torre/Houston Chronicle via Getty Images)
Nick de la Torre
Thanksgiving is not celebrated in Latin America but many Hispanics in Connecticut mark the holiday with unique twists.

The scent of cinnamon, pumpkin spice, and hot cocoa fills the air, signaling the arrival of the holiday season. But these culinary traditions are infused with different aromas by Hispanic communities across the U.S.

Enrique Negreros of El Sarape Mexican restaurant.
Maricarmen Cajahuaringa
Connecticut Public
Enrique Negreros is the owner of Sarape Mexican restaurant in Hartford

Thanksgiving is the opening of the holiday season, and although it is not celebrated in Latin America, many Hispanics in Connecticut have embraced it as part of their holidays, giving it their unique twist.

“Many people have been coming, for example, from Peru, Nicaragua, Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador, and we talked about the holidays,” said Enrique Negreros, a Puebla native and Connecticut resident for almost two decades.

“And they ask what Thanksgiving is because we don't celebrate in Latin America. I tell them that it is a day to have a good time,” Enrique said.

Negreros and his family enjoy the holidays, especially Christmas with traditional Puebla dishes and engaging in meaningful conversations.

“In my family, we cook mole poblano, Oaxacan dishes, molcajete,” Negreros said. “And for Thanksgiving, we cook turkey marinated with Mexican flavors representing our culture.”

As the owner of El Sarape Restaurant in Hartford, Enrique sees an increase in special orders during the holidays, such as Mexican rice, cakes, and marinated turkey, but it's the tamales that remain a top favorite.

“We make chicken, pork, and rajas tamales. We eat that mainly for Christmas,” he said. “But during the Thanksgiving season, Americans order tamales as a gift. For real! They buy us so many tamales that we sometimes sell hundreds of them.”

In the last decade the Hispanic/Latino community in Connecticut has grown by 30%, that’s per theUS Census, with Puerto Ricans being the largest in this community followed by Mexicans.

Maria Ramirez from Cidra, Puerto Rico, makes pasteles (a Puerto Rican tamale) and coquito during the holidays.
Maricarmen Cajahuaringa
Connecticut Public
Maria Ramirez from Cidra, Puerto Rico, makes pasteles (a Puerto Rican tamale) and coquito during the holidays.

Maria Ramirez, originally from Cidra, Puerto Rico, is known for her delectable holiday delicacies within the Hispanic community. She affirms that food and Christmas are inseparable, uniting loved ones and friends. The Puerto Rican holiday cuisine includes the exquisite coquito and pasteles.

“We make it with green bananas, pumpkin, and yautia. If you go to Puerto Rico, you see that for Christmas, but since we are not used to seeing that food here, we include it in Thanksgiving.”

While Thanksgiving is not celebrated on the island, many Puerto Ricans living on the mainland have incorporated it into their holiday customs. Maria said that as more Hispanics migrate to the U.S., it will result in a fusion of flavors while also embracing American traditions.

“Not only Puerto Ricans but all people, please bring your culture because your culture has a culinary art that must be included here as well,” Ramirez said.

Enrique and Maria's Hispanic traditions showcase the beautiful fusion of cultures that make the holiday season even more special.

“Get together, enjoy the good time, eat well, drink in moderation,” Ramirez said. “And if you have grudges, leave them aside.”

“I wish you a happy Thanksgiving, and a Merry Christmas,” Negreros said. “Fulfill your dreams just as we are also fulfilling them, with the grace of God.”

Maricarmen Cajahuaringa is a journalist with extensive experience in Latino communities' politics, social issues, and culture. She founded Boceto Media, a digital Spanish-language newspaper based in Connecticut. Maricarmen holds a Bachelor's in Social Work from Springfield College, and a Master's in Journalism and Media Production from Sacred Heart University. As a reporter for Connecticut Public, she is dedicated to delivering accurate and informative coverage of the Hispanic/Latino population in the region. Maricarmen is an experienced and passionate journalist who strives to bring a voice to the stories of her community.
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