Celebrating our Latinidad

Smithsonian Latino Center (SLC)

Preserving Our Traditions

Preserving Cultural Traditions
What traditions remind you of your childhood?  Families of migrants in the United States preserve their identity and traditions by passing them on to their loved ones through generations of foodways.

Recipes, holiday celebrations, language, and traditions become a bridge to connect the collective memory of many people that arrive in a new territory in search of building a new life according to the new communities and land where they now live.

Mrs. Prada shares her recipe for Costa Rican tamales. In this part of the process she is assembling the tamal in the plantain leaf.

Discover and explore the diversity of Tamales across Latin America. Check out this video on the Costa Rican Tamal and its traditional ingredients.

"These traditions help us to understand better how to maintain our customs, languages ​​and cultural practices. Although we have moved to other places where we probably do not find other countrymen or family, but we form communities that are different friendships and new generations that come." – Dr. Xóchitl Chávez, guest Cultural Anthropologist.

Learn about the process of making Chilean "Humitas" with Family Miron Figueroa.

Many food-related traditions come from indigenous ancestors. The tamal, for instance, is the first portable food item that comes from Mesoamerica. Depending on where in Latin America you are from some ingredients may vary and change its preparation. For example, "Humitas" are traditional tamales from Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, Ecuador and Peru, but the recipe and the spices vary depending on the location.

Take a look at our special broadcast making traditional Chilean "Humitas."

Mrs. Nelson is preparing "Paches" from the eastern region of Guatemala. "Pache" means flat/without height, these tamales, as they are made of potatoes and not of maize, they are less robust than a tamale made out of corn, for that reason they are called "Paches."

Watch part 1 and part 2 of her interview as part of the SLC broadcast series.

Costa Rican tamales are traditionally prepared in sets of two because of the consistency of the leaf and the size of the tamal. They are also considered as great gifts for families and friends visiting for the holidays, so two tamales make a traditional giveaway.

Watch our special broadcast making tamales "Ticos."

"Chiles poblanos are one of my favorite kinds of chilli peppers both from my childhood and now. Their flavor is exquisite, mild and fresh. I grew up eating them stuffed with queso fresco or sliced into rajas mixing in kernels of corn and coupled into freshly made corn tortillas; all the while, my mother’s home was filled with this aroma."– From "My Heart with Chiles Poblanos" on our blog by Scholar and Writer, Xanath Caraza

Three Generations of the Sanchez Family

"La familia Sanchez is from the St. Louis Valley, in Colorado. That area has a little bit of a history, because it used to pertain to Mexico. In 1848 there was the Mexican American War where we saw this type of moving of borders. But in these areas there were actually indigenous communities as well as earlier settlers from Spanish heritage. So this particular region of the St. Louis Valley is the oldest established town in the state of Colorado in 1851. In learning about that we see how different foodways have made it into the area of Denver, Colorado." – Dr. Xóchitl Chávez, guest Cultural Anthropologist.

Learn more about the Green Chile Tamales recipe and the traditions of the Sánchez Family.

These are Mexican tamales for the Dia de la Candelaria, celebration that follows the Three Kings Festivities. It is celebrated on February 2nd with a great "tamalada."

Follow the conversation with the Pineda-Reyes Family about what it means to maintain cultural traditions in Colorado and questions of acculturation.

Family Legacies
Generations of families have built cities, businesses, communities. Small families have expanded their branches in different cities around the United States and have left their legacy to the younger generations. The Rios Family is and example of more than three generations and over 80 years of being part of the community in the city of Santa Fe, New Mexico.   

The Rios Family has built a reputation around the woodyard business and they connect their identity and meaning of home to the childhood memories around the wood, the fireplace and their family gatherings over lunch.

Watch The Rios family interview on Leña, Language and Lunch: Rios Family at the Wood yard Legacy.

"Wood represents our culture. It creates warmth for the home. We make fire. It's an integration of our culture and a way of life especially in New Mexico. People would go and gather their wood, they cut it, sell it, perhaps they trade it, it's how people keep warm. The smell of wood burning in the winter... to me that's home." –Michelle Rios, Member of the Rios family from Santa Fe, New Mexico.

Maintaining Traditions
As families grow and mix, so the traditions among them. This starts building a relationship of respect to the diversity of others. The Pineda-Reyes family share their traditions for Three Kings, such as Mexican Chocolate and the Rosca de Reyes (Three Kings Bread). 

"Acculturation doesn't mean you have to forget where you are coming from, it means you can adjust and incorporate who you are into a new way of life" –Fernando Pineda, member of the Pineda-Reyes family.

Watch our special broadcast with the Pineda-Reyes Family about what it means to maintain cultural traditions in Colorado and questions of acculturation.

"Understanding our mestizo heritage of mixing Indigenous and Spanish cultures, the history of los Reyes, originally from Spain, mixed with chocolate caliente, originally from the Americas, is very representative." Xanath Caraza, guest Scholar and Writer

New beginnings are often the motivation to migrate, and as a result, new communities and friendships start to emerge.

To keep traditions alive becomes not only a way to celebrate the history and ancestry of a culture, it also becomes a way to celebrate the new land that welcomes new peoples.

Foodways and cultural practices of Latinos in the United States
Credits: Story

Smithsonian Latino Center

Dr. Xóchtil Chávez, Cultural Anthropologist
Dr. Xanath Caraza, Writer, Poet, Scholar

Melissa Carrillo, Creative Director, SLC
Paola Ramírez, Digital Media Specialist

All rights reserved images and video courtesy of the Smithsonian Latino Center Digital Collections.

Visit the SLC Mobile Broadcast Archive to learn more about Latino cultural traditions.

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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