This production is part of WFPL News’ year-long project The Next Louisville: Race, Ethnicity and Culture.
Food and home are inextricably linked. The flavors we grow up with are the flavors that signify familiarity, safety and even love. Those flavors are very specific to a time and place, and anyone who moves far away from where they grew up will tell you: the cravings can be powerful.
For immigrants to Louisville who came here from Central and South America, there are certain tastes and products that are hard to find, so far away. Even in our increasingly globalized world, there are still some things that can’t be moved.
We spoke with with Latino immigrants to Louisville about the food they bring with them — those tastes of home that just can’t be forgotten. We’re calling it “Comidas Lejanas” — or “Distant Meals.”
We heard stories of migration and nostalgia, of new discoveries and new hope. We ate blood sausage from Peru, went in the kitchen with a Mexican chef, and met a Honduran man with a fierce yearning for tamales.
My collaborator was Luis De León, a Mexican journalist who moved to Louisville about five years ago. Luis is an investigative reporter and was covering human trafficking and drug trafficking for a newspaper in Guatemala, when he was told that his life was in danger because of his reporting. His wife is from Louisville, so they decided to move here with their two children.
A note about these conversations: although everybody we interviewed speaks English, we decided to do the interviews in Spanish. You’ll hear their words in English, spoken by actors Haydee Canovas and Jorge Ruiz.
Here are the stories we found:
Ester Hugo and her husband, José, are both from Peru. She came to the United States nearly 36 years ago with her first husband, who was also Peruvian. They lived for eight years in New York, then moved to Kentucky, where she got a job working with horses at Churchill Downs.
She’s seen a lot of changes in Louisville over the years. For one thing, it used to be a lot harder to find Latino foods here.
Listen to her story:
Bruce Ucán is the chef and co-owner of the Mayan Cafe, a restaurant in the NuLu area of Louisville. He came to the U.S. in 1987 from the Yucatan region of Mexico, where he grew up and learned how to cook in hotel restaurants.
He married an American woman and together they opened The Mayan Gypsy in Louisville, and when the marriage ended, so did the restaurant. Shortly after, he opened the Mayan Cafe, which serves food that’s particular to Ucán’s part of Mexico, but with as many Kentucky ingredients as possible.
Listen to his story:
Making a move from one country to another means leaving behind everything that’s familiar. And the quest to recreate what you love from home can be all-encompassing. This is the story of Abner Miralda, Don Quixote of the tamales.
Listen to the story:
“Comidas Lejanas/Distant Meals” was written and produced by Tara Anderson with Luis de León. Our editor was Stephen George. Special thanks to Abner Miralda Jr., Haydee Canovas, Jorge Ruiz, and Laura Ellis.