Puerto Rican Tradition Parranda Special for Hurricane Victims in Cleveland

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Puerto Rican families across Ohio are stocking up their refrigerators just in case a group of friends shows up at the front door with musical instruments and song.   It’s part of a beloved holiday tradition that takes on a special meaning this year.

Carmen Rodriguez chops a bowl of potatoes and other root vegetables into bite-sized pieces and tosses them into a pot of boiling water.  She chides her granddaughter Mariely for doing a sloppy peeling job.

Carmen Rodriguez keeps a close watch on her soup  (David C. Barnett / ideastream)

“It clearly was not up to her standards,” Mariely explains, rolling her eyes with a smile.  “I did it wrong.”

Just as Rodriguez covers a pot of simmering rice, there’s a musical commotion on the front porch.  Mariely opens the door and a couple dozen people stream in singing and playing an assortment of acoustic guitars and various forms of percussion.  It’s a Parranda.

“Parranda is our version of caroling,” says Letitia Lopez.   She starts clapping as the singers and musicians pass by.  They’re part of a very old Christmas tradition that originated in Puerto Rico, involving music and food, shared by friends and family.  The arrival of the musical guests is supposed to be a surprise, but the homeowner usually knows it’s coming, because there’s lots of food to prepare.

“Everybody was waiting for those Parrandas,” recalls Zoraida Santiago Figeroa.  She has lived in Cleveland for over 50 years, but she remembers a Christmas party back home like it was yesterday.

Zoraida Santiago Figeroa with Hermes Ortiz Huertas (David C. Barnett / ideastream)

“My father always had a lot of things to give them, she says.  “There was lots of food, like passas, nueces, all kinds of things.  Arroz con dulce, carne frita, and chicharon.”

She adds that once people have shared some food and song at your house, you would join the group as this movable party traveled to another home. 

Two months ago, Jossyvette Sanchez made a longer, less happy journey with her three children.  They are living with her brother in Cleveland, after escaping the fury of Hurricane Maria, which devastated the island of Puerto Rico.

“There was no light, there was no water, we had flooding, they closed down the schools,” Sanchez says.

She and her kids are one of at least 200 families who have relocated to Cleveland in the wake of the devastation.  This Saturday, these newcomers will be the exclusive guests at a special Parranda, held at the Julia De Burgos Cultural Arts Center on Cleveland’s west side.  Executive director Letitia Lopez says her center is helping integrate these families into Ohio’s largest Latino community.

“Our intent with this event this year is to welcome them,” she explains. “We want to bring them a piece of home and to let them know that we are there, our doors are open and we want to help them in any way that we can.”

The Cleveland Clinic is helping underwrite this event. The Clinic’s Diana Gueits says it’s very personal for her – her paraplegic father rode out Hurricane Maria in a little cement house on an island already devastated by bankruptcy.

“This hurricane certainly brought a massive exodus, but the exodus has been happening for at least 72 months just because of the financial situation,” Gueits says.  “I think the hurricane just took it to the tenth power.”

After all that turmoil, all that loss, the hope is that spending a few hours in community, singing songs and celebrating tradition will help ease a challenging transition to a strange new place. Jossyvette Sanchez says there’s no going back for her. 

Jossyvette Sanchez and her family are adjusting to a new world (David C. Barnett / ideastream)

“I hate to leave my island, but it’s something I have to do to move forward with my kids.” 

Her family has pretty much lost everything, but, swaying to the music, she smiles.  She hasn’t lost her culture.

Luis Colon, his daughter Yildy and a new grandchild are celebrating Parranda this year. (David C. Barnett / ideastream)


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