This section includes several private or public cultural events that celebrate Latin American traditions and holidays. They are typically annual celebrations and they have been celebrated in East Tennessee at least for two years. They are arranged chronologically.
In Knoxville, Tennessee, there are relatively few people who were born in Peru. But no matter how long it has been since they left their native land, most of them gather each year to celebrate their national holiday of Fiestas Patrias on July 28th. This holiday commemorates the day Peru gained its independence from Spain. In Peru, the President leads the celebrations, first attending a Catholic Te Deum mass, followed by a journey by car where people throw flowers, and an address to the nation. During the entire month of July, homes, public buildings and businesses display the Peruvian flag. 1
Peruvians Dr. Rodriguez and his wife Melinda have lived in Knoxville for a number of years. They were the first ones to open their home to celebrate Peru's Fiestas Patrias. Now other families occasionally take turns as hosts. Eating, dancing, and singing are staples at this celebration, which is often marked with joy and a little nostalgia. Each year attendance varies, as people may come and go. One year more than fifty members had to meet at a public location.
Carmen Holt has hosted a number of Independence Day celebrations. She remembers the gatherings of friends and family in Peru, when she was a child. People would dance and eat and dance some more. Sometimes people didn't go home until 6 a.m. the next day.
“You can’t talk about tradition and not talk about food,” Blanca Primm shared. She came to Knoxville in 2001 as a newlywed. She remembers evening meals at her family's home in a suburb of Lima, Peru, eating together with her mother, father, and sisters, and talking about that day's events. “For me that set an example, and I try to do the same with my husband and children here in Knoxville. The kids love to talk to us about their day.” That is their family everyday tradition.
For Peru’s Fiestas Patrias celebration, participants bring an ethnic dish to share. Peruvian cuisine is exquisite, with many Peruvian chefs gaining international fame, Blanca said. Perhaps the most famous of Peruvian chefs is Gastón Acurio, who has brought worldwide renown to his Nuevo Andino gourmet dishes. Acurio's work has been featured in many travel and food magazines and programs on the Food Network cable channel. One of Blanca's favorite dishes is called anticuchos. “It's made from the heart of a cow. In Peru we say that anticuchos are so delicious because they come from cows who were in love!” Other Peruvian delicacies often consumed at the Fiestas Patrias celebration include ají de gallina (spicy creamed chicken), ceviche (lime-marinated seafood), papa a la huancaína (yellow potato salad with spicy cream sauce), green rice, and desserts such as rice pudding, lemmon pie, mazamorra morada (dessert made of purple corn.) Purple corn is native to Peru, and it is also used to make a drink called chicha morada.2
During the "28 de Julio" celebrations, Peruvians welcome other fellow countrymen who are newcomers to Knoxville. They play games to help learn more about one another, and also to test their knowledge of Peruvian history and trivia. There are prizes for the winners, typically an imported food or drink item that is hard to buy here in the US. “Speaking Spanish and singing Peruvian songs are a very important part” of the celebrations, Melinda Rodriguez said. “We are very proud to share this tradition with our children. Knowing about Peru, knowing that Peruvians love each other, understanding the language and culture will give [children] a great advantage.”
“Dancing at these events may be traditional folk dances, but also just dancing for fun,” Carmen Holt said. She and Blanca are proud their children represent Peru at the HoLa Festival's Parade of Nations each year, dressed in the colorful traditional attire. One year during the parade, Blanca danced the marinera, the national dance of Peru. Other years she helped organize other countries' participation as well. “It is important for [our children] to represent Peru,” Carmen said, "and people who play traditional Andean musical instruments are always welcome to participate."
In Peru, official celebrations involve a military parade on July 29th. But Peru is rich in religious processions as well. Blanca told the story of El Señor de los Milagros (The Lord of Miracles), which is celebrated each October. “In the 17th century, an Angolan slave painted an image on a wall in Lima, Peru, of the crucified Jesus. But Jesus was colored. Some people thought that was disrespectful." A century later, Blanca recounted, there was a great earthquake that nearly destroyed the city of Lima, as earthquakes are common in Peru. Most buildings were demolished by the quake, except for the painted wall with the image of Jesus. It was seen as a miracle. Now, each October there is a multitude that gathers in procession, where a replica of the image of the Lord of Miracles is taken through the streets of Lima.
"Many Peruvians who live abroad gather crowds and take images of the Lord of Miracles through their town,” she said.
There are cultural traditions as well each October in Peru. Special desserts are prepared or sold on certain holidays and they are not available the rest of the year. One favorite of Peruvians is a dessert called turrón de Doña Pepa, a hard-to-make anise-flavored cookie bar with quince-fruit paste, honey, and sprinkles. Holt says she had special access to the treat while growing up, since her uncle is the owner of a turrón factory that stays quite busy each October.
At the Knoxville Peruvian community's Fiestas Patrias celebration, one often can find Blanca eagerly singing patriotic songs. With her warm, harmonious voice, she leads the chorus of a song that is known and beloved by Peruvians: “My name is Peru, with a P for Patria, E is for Example, R is for Rifle, and U is for Union!” These women feel blessed for having been born in Peru!
Listen to Audio 10. Blanca Primm, Melinda Rodriguez and Carmen Holt sing traditional song, 2012. From video by Rafael Casco.
Photo 4. Peruvian group of Knoxville celebrating Fiestas Patrias in 2011. Photo courtesy of Blanca Primm.
Photo 5. Participants sharing a dinner of Peruvian delicacies at Fiestas Patrias in 2008. Photo courtesy of Blanca Primm.
Photo 6. Blanca Primm's son and Carmen Holt's daughters march dressed in traditional costume in 2010. Photo courtesy of Lizi Johnson.
Photo 7. Lizi Johnson performing a traditional dance in 2010. Photo courtesy of Lizi Johnson.
Photo 8. Peruvian food items make treasured prizes for Fiestas Patrias games. Photo by Rafael Casco.
Photo 9. Melinda Rodriguez, Carmen Holt, and Blanca Primm pose before a Cuzco school gold-leafed colonial-style painting by Peruvian artist Clorinda Bell. Photo by Rafael Casco.