Hispanic traditions keep families together.

The Hispanic community in Jefferson City carries their culture with pride and beauty. You can catch a glimpse of this beauty during salsa lessons with Linda McRaven every Tuesday at the Capital Ritz, or you can immerse in the Spanish language through the Learning in Retirement courses offered at Lincoln University. 

While widely known for its tasty food, the Hispanic culture also holds strong values in family.

Hispanics and Latin Americans tend to have large, close-knit families. It’s common for three generations to live in the same household or nearby one another. Families from Mexico, Cuba, Honduras, Nicaragua, Puerto Rico, Chile, Spain, and many more countries reside in Jefferson City. Being thousands of miles away from their native countries, Hispanic families keep a sense of culture by sharing their stories and traditions with younger generations through cultural celebrations.   

In May, many of us enjoy celebrating Cinco de Mayo, also known as El Día de la Batalla de Puebla, which means The Day of the Battle of Puebla. This battle between the French army and Mexican army was fought on May 5, 1862, in the town of Puebla, in which the Mexican army had succeeded in an unexpected win. There is a common misconception that this celebrates the Independence Day of Mexico. However, Hispanic families in the area make sure to clarify Cinco de Mayo is not Mexico’s Independence Day, but rather a day to sing, laugh, eat, and drink in the  celebration of a historic victory. This tradition was eventually carried to the states and grew to a very popular day in virtually every community.

Many Hispanic families will also celebrate Dia de Los Muertos, or Day of the Dead, in October. Hispanic families will also be gathering from October 31 to November 2. The Mexican culture celebrates these days in prayer and remembrance of friends and family members who have passed away. You can often see calaveras skulls that are made for children or given as offerings as a sign of respect to a family that has lost someone, as they share the belief that the souls of the dead will return to visit their families at their homes, businesses, and cemeteries. Altars may also be set up within homes to remember the dead, and traditional dishes are prepared as they mourn, share memories, and connect with fellow friends and relatives. The event reminds families of the value of life, even after it’s gone, and it becomes a very joyful festivity for the community each year.

Another cultural celebration bringing Hispanic families together are quinceañeras. Quinceañera, the Spanish word for 15 years, is a religious tradition which celebrates womanhood, family, and community as a girl becomes an adult member of society. Family members, including the girl’s godparents and grandparents, can spend years preparing for the ceremony and celebration, as both reflect a family’s hard work and their success. All quinces girls are accompanied by their families and their courts of honor made up of sisters, cousins, or best friends as they participate in communion. During the celebration, the quince and her court will also perform a choreographed waltz or dance for her guests. For every girl on the court, there is also a young man to go through the ceremony at her side. The quince also has the opportunity to honor her family, friends, and neighbors with a speech followed by 15 candles lit by those who are most dear to her.

Grandma (abuelita) helping granddaughter cook over the stove.

For most Hispanic celebrations, margaritas and authentic Mexican foods are prepared by all family members, who learn from the one person who knows it all, their abuelita (grandma), who makes sure the recipes don’t change from prior generations. The most popular dishes served are chilaquiles, pozole, tacos, tostadas, chiles rellenos, ceviche, enchiladas, tamales, and of course guacamole. At nearly every Hispanic event, you’ll be sure to see some of these delicious dishes. To see the fun, love, and memories that Hispanic families share can be a wonderful sight.

According to the Jefferson City Area Chamber of Commerce 2017 demographics and statistics report, Hispanics make up approximately 2.7% of Jefferson City’s population. Many Hispanic families that move to Jefferson City come here to be with family, find work, and live in a family-friendly community where the cost of living is lower than the bigger cities they’ve lived in before. And most of these families have been welcomed to the community by the members of El Puente. 

El Puente has been in Jefferson City for more than 20 years, having established their organization in 1999.

“We serve to defend the dignity of people and families. Anyone is welcome, and if they need help, we will do our best to help,” El Puente executive director Cristha Castro says.

Castro is a fairly new member of El Puente having only joined in January. Typically, they hold a Cinco de Mayo trivia night with money raised going toward fees associated with running a nonprofit organization to help the Hispanic community continue to grow.  

“Whether it’s to translate, consult on legal matters, or help with doctor appointments or transportation needs, the sisters and I will do our best.” Castro says.


Jose Ramos

José Ramos moved from Chicago to Jefferson City in 1989. Since then, José met his wife, Sasha, and has had four children: Skyler, 15; Cesrik, 7; Kirsec, 3; and Myla, 1. In addition to working as a producer with Farmers Insurance — Christopher Scott Agency, he’s a board member for the Jefferson City Area Chamber of Commerce, service chair of the Young Professionals group, a volunteer for Relay for Life, and a volunteer and translator for the Hispanos en la Comunidad.


Ceviche Recipe

Ingredients:

  • 1 pound raw shrimp
  • 15 limes, squeezed
  • 5 large tomatoes, diced
  • 1 medium white onion, diced
  • 1 large cucumber, peeled and diced
  • 20 strands of cilantro
  • 1 large orange, squeezed
  • 3 green serrano peppers, diced (optional)

Preparation:
Rinse shrimp well and chop into pieces. Squeeze all the limes over the shrimp, making sure all the pieces are submerged in the juice. Cover and let sit over heat for about 10 to 15 minutes to let shrimp cook in the lime juice, then add remaining ingredients. Serve with tostadas or chips and garnish with avocado slices. You can also add hot sauce for more spice. 


Bonus Recipe:

Tamales de puerco y salsa roja (Pork tamales in red salsa)

INGREDIENTS: (Makes about 50 Tamales)

  • 3 1⁄2 lbs pork shoulder or 3 1⁄2 lbs pork butt, trimmed of fat and cut up
  • 10 cups water
  • 1 medium onion, quartered
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 3 1⁄2 teaspoons salt
  • 4 cups red chili sauce (see Red Chili Sauce (To Be Used With Traditional Tamales) for red chili sauce)
  • 3⁄4 cup shortening
  • 6 cups masa harina
  • 1 1⁄2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 50 dried corn husks (about 8 inches long)

DIRECTIONS:
In a Tamale steamer pot, or Dutch oven, bring pork, water, onion, garlic and 1 1/2 salt to boil. Simmer covered, about 2 1/2 hours or until meat is very tender.
Remove meat from broth and allow both meat and broth to cool. (Chilling the broth will allow you to easily remove the fat if you desire to do so).
Shred the meat using 2 forks, discarding fat. Strain the broth and reserve 6 cups.
In a large saucepan, heat the red chili sauce and add meat; simmer, covered for 10 minutes.
To make masa beat shortening on medium speed in a large bowl for 1 minute.
In a separate bowl, stir together masa harina, baking powder and 2 teaspoons salt.
Then add masa harina mixture and broth to shortening, beating well after each addition. (Add just enough broth to make a thick, creamy paste).
In the meantime, soak corn husks in hot water for at least 20 minutes; rinse to remove any corn silk and drain well.
To assemble each tamale, spread 2 tablespoons of the masa mixture on the center of the corn husk (each husk should be 8 inches long and 6 inches wide at the top. If husks are small, overlap 2 small ones to form one. If it is large, tear a strip from the side).
Place about 1 tablespoon meat and sauce mixture in the middle of the masa.
Fold in the sides of the husk and fold up the bottom
Lean the tamales in the basket, open side up.
Add water to the Tamale Steamer or Dutch oven just below the basket.
Bring water to boil and reduce heat.Cover and steam about an hour, adding water when needed.