What is Latin America?

“Is Puerto Rico part of Latin America?” J. Miguel asked me the other day. “How about Florida, Texas and California?” he wanted to know. “They all have large Latino populations.”

Hmmm. Is Puerto Rico part of Latin America? My initial reaction would be to say “yes,” and “no” to Florida, Texas and California.

“But what makes Puerto Rico different from the others?” J. Miguel asked.

“Because it’s not part of the United States,” I said to him. “Isn’t Latin America Spanish-speaking countries outside of the United States and Europe?”

“But Puerto Rico is a U.S. territory,” he reminded me. Continue reading

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Comfort Food from Peru

There is something about food, no matter what culture you come from, that evokes such strong emotions in people. I can think of few other things that people will happily spend hours of labor preparing, only for it to be devoured in mere minutes, sometimes without appreciation for the one who cooked the meal. And what is it about cravings? What is it about cold, rainy days like today, that drive people to seek out their favorite comforts, even if they are settling for something less than the best? It may not be like how Mom or Grandma used to make it, but at this particular time, it’s somehow good enough.

Today was one of those days for J. Miguel. He took me to a hole-in-the-wall Latino restaurant in Arlington, Virginia called El Puerto Restaurant, located in the Columbia Pike area and specializing in “authentic” Bolivian and Peruvian cuisine.

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Before I go further, I have an embarrassing confession to make: I’m not a huge fan of Latino cuisine. I like Tex-Mex just fine, but I know it’s far from traditional. I think the few true Latino foods I have come to appreciate can be limited to papusas, salteñas, fried plantains and fried yuca. And trust me, I’ve been adventurous, having even tried anticuchos (cow hearts). There is that one time I had a fabulous Cuban lunch in Miami, but other than that isolated experience, I tend to like the fusion dishes, such as what José Andrés prepares, although those come with a pretty hefty price tag attached to them. Continue reading

Sundays are for Soccer

This week beat me up. Seriously. Not even my weekend was relaxing (nor the past two weekends, to be exact). But when J. Miguel asked me if I’d wake up early today to watch him play soccer in a new local league he has joined, I knew it was important for me to show my support. For the past several weeks, Sundays have been his time to be with the guys, and I’ve never objected to that. So I kind of felt it was a big deal that he was letting me in on his secret world today.

His team is mostly comprised of Colombian-Americans. J. Miguel is one of two Peruvians on the team that I know of. I think the team’s unique composition is because the coach is Colombian-American and also the owner of a local construction company (that most likely employs many area Latinos who may or may not be part of the team).

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And I have to say, the team’s coach is a pretty colorful guy. He stands on the sidelines yelling in Spanish — except when he’s yelling at the refs — and one of the most memorable English lines that came from him today was when he threatened to sue the referees for not penalizing players from the other team who were allegedly playing recklessly.

Anyway, unfortunately J. Miguel’s team lost this week (as they have every week this season). J. Miguel is pretty realistic about it all. “The average age of our team is 30 and up,” he told me today. “Many of the teams we are playing are comprised of college kids or those in their 20s. We’re all a bunch of old guys with families and beer bellies playing against kids who can run up and down this field like it’s nothing. I remember those days. I just wish I could have that same energy as I had back then.”

Me too, J. Miguel. Me too.

So even though it meant waking up super early, I’m glad I went. In a way, it was a relaxing time for me because I didn’t have to think for a change. (For example, I spent all day Saturday at a first-time homebuyer’s class — I’m glad I went, but after a demanding week at work, it was kind of the last thing I wanted to do for an entire day.)

J. Miguel has asked me to come to his game next Sunday as well to take more pictures of the team so I guess this means Sundays are for soccer now! I don’t mind — it’s a great way for us to bond and a unique opportunity for me to embed myself into the area’s Latino-American community — a community that for the most part, has been strictly J. Miguel’s, but one that he is gradually inviting me into.

Speaking Spanish

I grew up learning Mexican Spanish in high school and college because back in the 1990s, we were led to believe that it would be Mexican immigrants or those of Mexican descent who we’d be communicating with most in the future. And while that is true in some parts of the United States, it hasn’t been the case in my post high school and college life. Continue reading