Traditions

September 15, 2021

Officers of MBU's Latines Unides club (from left to right): Jhalyne Blackwell '23, Public Relations Officer; Jackeline Pereza '24, Secretary/Treasurer; Keysi Gonzalez '22, President; Madison Norton-Flores '24, Vice President.

We kickoff the festivities for Mary Baldwin’s Latine Heritage Month with students, faculty, and staff members sharing tales of Latine traditions and how they’ve impacted their lives. 

*Responses have been edited for clarity and conciseness.

Officers of MBU's Latines Unides club (from left to right): Jhalyne Blackwell '23, Public Relations Officer; Jackeline Pereza '24, Secretary/Treasurer; Keysi Gonzalez '22, President; Madison Norton-Flores '24, Vice President.

Andreina Arroyo ’09, MEd ’18, Latines Unides Alumna, Associate University Registrar

On New Year’s Eve, everyone in my family would gather at my grandparents’ apartment in Caracas, Venezuela, for a traditional dinner. We ate dishes like homemade hallacas, baked turkey, Jamón serrano (a special, dry-cured Spanish ham made from heritage pigs), salads with heart of palms and olives — and of course there was my grandfather’s homemade sangria. 

We would sit for hours, eating, talking, and laughing. It was a night that everyone looked forward to, not so much because it marked the end of one year and the beginning of a new one, but because we were all there together, as a family. 

I remember my aunt and grandmother in the kitchen warming up the hallacas and baking the turkey. My dad would be carving Jamón serrano from the leg; my grandfather mixing sangria. I would be on the balcony with my uncle and cousins, lighting sparklers and taking in the 16th-floor view of the city. 

When the meal was over, we’d clean the table and prepare for our traditional 12 o’clock toast. When the bell at the Caracas Cathedral began to strike midnight, we’d all yell “Happy New Year!” Then we’d all eat a dozen grapes, making a wish for each one. Then everyone in the building would open their doors and families would go from apartment to apartment, wishing one another happy New Year. That would continue until bedtime — which didn’t come some years until five in the morning!  

Clockwise from top left: The Arroyo's celebrated traditional New Year's toasts by eating twelve grapes and making wishes. Andreina Arroyo ’09, MEd ’18 and her two sons. Fireworks over the Venezuelan city of Caracas.

Reflections

Some of my most valuable childhood memories took place on New Years, and I hold them very close to my heart. On one hand, the celebrations showed me a deep sense of community. On the other, they taught me at a very young age how important my family was to me — that they loved me and I could always turn to them in times of need.

Now that I’m married and have children of my own, we host our own New Year’s dinner, replete with the dozen grapes and wishes. While we live thousands of miles from most of my extended family, in my heart, celebrating the tradition makes me feel closer to them.

Dr. Adam Fajardo, Assistant Professor of English

My father is from San Juan, Puerto Rico. He moved to Virginia to attend Virginia Tech, and then completed graduate school at Yale University before finally settling in southeastern Pennsylvania. 

Living in Pennsylvania, we weren’t able to visit Puerto Rico very often. When I was little, one of the ways we stayed connected to Puerto Rico was by celebrating both Christmas and Día de Reyes (Three Kings Day). The latter is observed 12 days after Christmas, and commemorates the three kings who traveled by camel to visit Jesus after his birth. The Puerto Rican tradition is to leave out a pair of shoes to be filled with gifts, as well as water and straw for the camels. So, we’d leave cookies and carrots for Santa and his reindeer; then, twelve days later, set out shoes and straw.

Mary Baldwin English Professor Adam Fajardo and his son.

Reflections

Celebrating Three Kings Day was one of the traditions we kept that helped me feel a sense of connection to Puerto Rico, even though I rarely was able to go there. Now that I have a young son, we’ve begun observing the holiday with both him and my father, in hopes it will give him a way to feel connected to his Puerto Rican heritage.

“Then everyone in the building would open their doors and families would go from apartment to apartment, wishing one another happy New Year. That would continue until bedtime — which didn’t come some years until five in the morning!  ”
Andreina Arroyo ’09, MEd ’18

Heidi Bustos, Title IX Coordinator, PEG Residence Hall Director

My family moved to Mexico when I was 10 years old. Before that, I knew very little about the customs and traditions that were part of my Mexican culture. Returning to my family’s hometown of Los Sauces, Guerrero, made me realize I was missing out on cultural experiences that weren’t a part of our lives in the United States. 

My favorites were: El Grito de la Independencia and El Desfile del Dia de la Independencia. The holidays are celebrated back-to-back on September 15–16, and memorialize the independence movements of Mexico. 

On the first evening, families would meet at the zócalo (downtown plaza), with everyone bringing different traditional dishes and drinks to share. These included tamales, pozole, taquitos dorados, quesadillas, enchiladas, aguas frescas, and more. 

The town organized a program of special entertainment to take place during the meal. There would be folklore dances, singing, and then bands playing music for everyone to dance to. 

At midnight, the mayor would take the stage to reenact the “Grito de Dolores,” or “Cry of Dolores” — which celebrates a speech made by an early 19th century village priest that started an armed rebellion against Spanish colonial rulers and became the battle cry of the Mexican independence movement. The Grito concludes with the mayor shouting “Viva Mexico!” three times, and everyone chanting and cheering as fireworks burst into the air. 

The next day, everyone gets up early for the “Desfile,” or Independence Parade. Students from pre-kindergarten on up to the university level join the procession, which includes traditional dances, cultural garments, “Viva Mexico” call and responses, and marchers costumed as historical leaders of the independence movement. Families cheer and wave Mexican flags as they pass. When the parade is over, a second feast is held in the zócalo while students put on special programming.

Clockwise from left: Mural by Juan O'Gorman depicting the "Grito de Dolores" (detail of Retablo de la Independencia (1960–61) in the National History Museum, Chapultepec Castle, Mexico City); Heidi Bustos, MBU Title IX Coordinator, PEG Residence Hall Director; Mexican Independence Day celebrations.

Reflections

I had the privilege of participating in these festivities from 5th through 9th grade and loved everything about the national pride they introduced me to. Mexico’s history is so beautiful and complex, and I greatly appreciated how everyone came together to celebrate it in such a unique way. 

As a Mexican-American, I believe it’s so important to know the history of my ancestors. Experiencing authentic cultural traditions helped me embrace and feel proud of my Mexican heritage. Those beautiful traditions are now a part of me.

Jackeline Peraza ’24, Latines Unides Secretary/Treasurer

My family has gathered every Sunday for as long as I can remember. Regardless of the season, weather, work schedules — or anything else — we all met at my abuelita’s house to share a meal and spend time together. It was our tradition. 

Sometimes the main entree would be something intricate that took three days to prepare; other times we’d eat a hodgepodge of leftovers. The food wasn’t as important as the fact that everyone was there, together.  

As with many other Latine families, family was a fundamental part of our household culture. We were taught that our family would always be there for us, regardless of the circumstances. Family should celebrate you when you reach a big milestone, but also comfort and advise you when you’re struggling. 

In that respect, our tradition was exemplary. For instance, Sundays were the only time I’d see male family members step outside the toxic machismo culture and be vulnerable. They’d share their worries and stresses, and seek advice, without fear of being seen as weak or disrespectful [to the women]. Then, next thing you know, we’d all be laughing and joking about the most random things in the world. 

From left: Jackeline Peraza ’24 (right) her mother (left) enjoying chicken tortilla soup on Mother's Day. Abuela Maria’s famous sopa de gallina (hen soup): The broth is cooked from the hen with vegetables like potatoes, zucchini, and carrots; the hen is then marinated, roasted, and served on the side with tortillas, lime, and hot sauce. Members of the Peraza family preparing to enjoy a birthday dinner.

Reflections

Now that I’m away at college, I’ve realized not only what an amazing gift those Sundays were, but how much they taught me. 

I learned things like resiliency through hearing stories of how family members came to the U.S., and the struggles they faced once they were here. Also, to be unapologetically proud of my culture, regardless of what others may say or think. 

But above all else, I learned that while I was strong enough to face anything alone, I didn’t have to do that, because my family would always be there for me. Whenever I was struggling in school or with a personal situation, everyone would band together to support me and try to help me find a solution. When I said I wanted to seek a higher education, they encouraged me to pursue my dreams, regardless of any barriers I might face. 

Those Sundays made me feel so joyful and safe. I made so many special memories — memories I will carry with me throughout my life. One day, I hope to continue our tradition when I have a family of my own.

Keysi Brito Gonzalez ’22, President, Latines Unides

Each year my family and I observe the classic Las Posadas celebrations and prayers that lead up to Christmas day.

For those that don’t know, the Christian festival is unique to Mexico and starts on December 16 with the first of nine daily celebrations called “posadas.” In Spanish, the word means inn or shelter, and the festivities commemorate Mary and Joseph’s search for shelter during their journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem. 

My favorite of these happened when I was about 5 and we lived in Woodstock. While we didn’t have many relatives in the states, my parents had made a lot of close friends that we considered family. Not only were many of them going to be attending, they were going to stay with us throughout the celebrations. My mom spent at least a week making preparations!

At the time, I was the only child from any of the couples, so I got a lot of attention — and quite a few presents. The gifts made me feel particularly special, since the focus for our celebrations was usually on sharing traditional food and drink, and spending time together as a family. Gifts weren’t usually part of the equation.  

Clockwise from upper left: Las Posadas Celebrations in Houston, Texas. Keysi Brito Gonzalez ’22, President, Latines Unides. Children leading the procession during a Las Posadas celebration at St. Peter Claver Church in Tyler, Texas, December 20, 2016.

Reflections

My family’s Las Posadas celebrations taught me that, it doesn’t matter how far away from your home and loved ones you are, you can feel closer and more connected to them through your traditions. For that reason, I think the [Christmas season] will always hold a special place in my heart.

Looking back, I love to remember when I was little and my mom, dad, and their friends spent that time together. Everyone would leave for work, then come back to our house to celebrate afterward. There was just so much love and joy. It was amazing to be a part of that.

If I decide to have kids of my own, I plan to observe Las Posadas with them too. My hope is that we live close enough to my parents that they’ll be able to attend and make it a big, special family celebration.

“I learned things like resiliency through hearing stories of how family members came to the U.S., and the struggles they faced once they were here. Also, to be unapologetically proud of my culture, regardless of what others may say or think. ”
Jackeline Peraza ’24