Folklife Festival 2015: Peru

I think my favorite event in Washington, D.C. is the annual Folklife Festival which is held the last week of June and the first week of July. This year the featured country is Peru.

The festival is being held adjacent to the National Museum of the American Indian, and extends into the museum itself. Inside you can visit a new English-Spanish bilingual exhibit called The Great Inka Road (third floor), and buy Peruvian folkart, (in the atrium just inside the entrance.)

The most interesting fact I learned from the Inka exhibit, which will be in place until June 2018, is that the Andean people knew the bark of the quina tree (also known as “quinine”) cured malaria for thousands of years. Use of quinine in Europe occurred in the 1600’s after Catholic missionaries learned about it from the Andean people.

Peruvian flowers, folkart

The folk art available included traditional items, like these colorful tin flowers made in Ayacucho, Peru.

But the equally colorful more modern typography art called “chicha” was available as well. I love the quote on this signed print by artist Elliot Túpac. It says “La suerte cuesta trabajo” (luck requires work.)

Art by Elliot Tupac

Outside was an awesome mural in the same style which combines ancestral colors in modern street-style urban designs. I can’t say for sure whether that was the same artist working on it, as another artist by the name of Pedro “MONKY” Rojas, chicha pioneer and mentor to Túpac, was being prominently featured nearby.

Peruvian urban art

There was so much going on, I didn’t really know what to check out first, and as soon as I’d spot something interesting, something else would distract me. There were many different types of artisans weaving, working with clay, carving wood, and this guy who was lashing together reeds to make rafts called “caballitos de totora” which have been used by fishing families in Huanchaco for five thousand years.

Peruvian reed boats

I loved the embroidery on this woman’s blouse.

Peruvian woman weaving

I learned about different types of corn, (I was told the purple corn is used only for chicha morada and chicken feed because it never gets soft), I watched a cooking demonstration for lomo saltado, and I saw what quinoa plants look like.

There were also plenty of things I missed, like the Marinera dance with Peruvian Paso horses, (there was a huge crowd, so I went in the opposite direction to take advantage of everyone else being away from other exhibits), but here’s one of the performers and his horse afterward.

Peruvian horseman

Of course, all this walking around made us hungry, especially since the smell of Peruvian food was in the air.

Chicha morada and papa rellena

We had brought along a picnic lunch so we wouldn’t spend money, but I couldn’t resist a small snack. This is a papa rellena, which is a potato croquette filled with ground beef, hard-boiled egg, raisins, and spices. The green sauce is aji verde, and the drink is, of course, the ever popular chicha morada.

The most interesting part of our day occurred when I wandered over to a tent to investigate men who were dressed in very unique-looking costumes. One of the men turned around while I was staring at the embroidered design on his back and so I said to him in Spanish, “Su traje es bien bonito.” (Your suit/costume is really nice.) The man thanked me in Spanish and so I asked him if it was worn year-round or for a particular event. He explained that he was part of a Contradanza troupe and the costume is worn in a small town during the celebration called the “Fiesta de la Virgen del Carmen de Paucartambo.”

I finished my conversation with the gentleman, thanking him for his time, and then turned around to look for Carlos. I found him and the boys standing a few yards away watching a man weave together rope. I realized that this must be one of the Quechua men who is working on recreating the rope bridge, (“Q’eswachaka”) which, when finished, will be suspended across the National Mall. When the festival is over, a section of the bridge will be put on display in the National Museum of the American Indian. This bridge is built and re-built by four Andean communities each year in Peru, a tradition that dates back six hundred years, and being tradition, as you’d imagine, there are many rituals and beliefs surrounding the creation of it.

Well, the man who was working on it, stood up and addressed the crowd in Spanish. “Necesitamos ayuda. ¿Quién puede ayudarnos?” he asked, (We need help. Who can help us?)

I wasn’t sure exactly what he needed help with. Judging from the faces of others who had gathered to watch, nobody else knew either, or perhaps they just didn’t speak Spanish, and maybe for that reason, no one volunteered.

I pushed past my shyness and raised my hand.

I stood only feet away, and yet the man somehow didn’t see me as he repeated his question – “We need help, who will help us?” – Still, no one else volunteered. I waved my hand a little higher. The man explained in more detail that they needed to stretch out the rope that had been woven together by pulling on it from opposite ends. Pull on a rope? I can do that. This time I spoke up with confidence.

“Yo. Yo puedo ayudar,” I said aloud, prepared to hand my purse over to Carlos.

The man shook his head and finally looked me briefly in the eyes, “Sólo hombres.”

Men only.

I felt my cheeks go hot, a mix of humiliation and indignation stirred inside me. I grew up playing tackle football with the neighborhood boys, climbing trees, swimming laps all summer long. I used to fight grown men in martial arts class. Maybe this man just didn’t know I was capable. Maybe he thought I’d get hurt. I’m no stranger to machismo, so I didn’t shrink away quietly. Instead I pulled up my shirt sleeve and flexed my bicep.

“Pero soy fuerte!” I called out loudly – But I’m strong!

Yet the man ignored me as finally a few volunteers of the male persuasion started to come forward.

Carlos rubbed my shoulder, “Did he hurt your feelings?”

“Just go ahead, you help, you guys help,” I said to Carlos and the boys.

Peruvian rope bridge

Two men from the Contradanza troupe smiled at me kindly while trying to comfort me. “It’s not personal,” they said, “It’s just tradition. It would be bad luck for a woman to participate.” I nodded my head, watched the two groups of laughing, grunting men play tug-of-war. I tried to act like I totally understood, but to be honest, it caused me to feel and think a lot of things – Things I won’t delve into here because the festival is meant to celebrate the beautiful and diverse culture of Peru and it just wouldn’t be in the spirit of the event to chase that rabbit today, but I did want to mention it because culture clashes and the questions that arise from them are so very interesting, aren’t they?

So to conclude, if you want to visit the 2015 Folklife Festival, (which I recommend!), you still have July 1st through the 5th. The festival hours are 11 am to 5:30 pm, with special events such as concerts taking place most evenings beginning at 7 pm. Details available at the website. Unable to attend in person? The website has plenty of great information, photos, and videos.

Central American Artifacts in D.C.

Did you know that the National Museum of the American Indian in Washington, D.C. has a large bilingual (English/Spanish) exhibit called “Cerámica de los Ancestros: Central America’s Past Revealed“? It’s there until February 15, 2015 and features more than 160 objects from Belize, Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, and Panama – so check it out while you can if you live in the area. If not, here are a few highlights!



Lempa River jar in the form of an armadillo, AD 900-1200, Near Palacios, Oratorio de Concepción, Cuscatlán, El Salvador

Lempa River jar in the form of an armadillo, AD 900-1200, Near Palacios, Oratorio de Concepción, Cuscatlán, El Salvador

Classic period Maya figure, AD 600-900, Usulután, El Salvador

Classic period Maya figure, AD 600-900, Usulután, El Salvador

Classic period Maya bowl, AD 250-600, San Agustín, Acasaguastlán, El Progreso, Guatemala

Classic period Maya bowl, AD 250-600, San Agustín, Acasaguastlán, El Progreso, Guatemala

Stamps from Costa Rica and Guatemala

Stamps from Costa Rica and Guatemala

Pre-Classic period Maya female figure, 200 BC-AD 1, San Jacinto, San Salvador, El Salvador

Pre-Classic period Maya female figure, 200 BC-AD 1, San Jacinto, San Salvador, El Salvador

Carlos said, "Hey, this one looks like me!" even though I told him that usually statues with hands on the hips are females.

Carlos said, “Hey, this one looks like me!” even though I told him that usually statues with hands on the hips are females.

Want more?

The National Museum of the American Indian website has more information related to the exhibit including photos, video, and even a really awesome printable coloring book for the niños!

Gelatina de Mosaico (Mosaic Gelatin)


A family potluck this past weekend with my side of the family seemed like the perfect opportunity to finally make my first attempt at “gelatina de mosaico” – A colorful gelatin dessert popular in Mexico and some other Latin American countries. When I told Carlos what I wanted to make, he asked, “Are you sure it isn’t going to be too weird for them?”

He didn’t believe me when I told him, although many gringos may not be familiar with “gelatina de mosaico” specifically, most older generation Americans are not strangers to creative Jell-O dishes, (and some may actually know this exact dish by the name “stained glass bars” or “mosaic dessert bars.”)

I pulled out this old Jell-O cookbook I have in the cabinet. When we moved to this house about 10 years ago, I found it in the kitchen cabinet and decided to keep it; In it are all manner of Jell-O dishes – many of which are much stranger than “gelatina de mosaico.”


Do the math: 1897 + 65 means this cookbook was printed in 1962.

Do the math: 1897 + 65 means this cookbook was printed in 1962.

Can I interest you in some shrimp Jell-O? How about some Jell-O with vegetables?

Can I interest you in some shrimp Jell-O? How about some Jell-O with vegetables?

Radishes? Cauliflower? Seems like nothing is off-limits in this Jell-O cookbook.

Radishes? Cauliflower? Seems like nothing is off-limits in this Jell-O cookbook.

South of the Border Salad. Hmmm. Should I try this one?

South of the Border Salad. Hmmm. Should I try this one?

These are called "Crown Jewel" desserts and are very similar to gelatina de mosaico.

These are called “Crown Jewel” desserts and are very similar to gelatina de mosaico.

Anyway, I ended up making the gelatina de mosaico and it turned out great. Everyone loved it, (and I saw a few people getting seconds!) … The original recipe is on the Jell-O website HERE, but here it is with my adapted step-by-step directions which include some tips to ensure it turns out right!

Gelatina de Mosaico

What you need:

5 1/2 cups boiling water
1 box JELL-O Strawberry Flavor Gelatin
1 box JELL-O Lime Flavor Gelatin
1 box JELL-O Orange Flavor Gelatin
1 box JELL-O Grape Flavor Gelatin
2 envelopes KNOX Unflavored Gelatin
1/2 cup cold water
1 can (14 oz.) sweetened condensed milk
Cooking spray


A note before you begin: As fun as this dessert is when finished, I don’t recommend allowing children to help make it because there is a lot of pouring of boiling water. Also, you will want to make this the night before you want to eat it as it takes several hours to become solid.

1. Clean your fridge! Seriously, don’t skip this step. Make space because you’re going to need it to chill 4 different containers of Jell-O.

2. Put a large pot of water on to boil. (You don’t have to measure out the 5 1/2 cups right now. Just make sure you have more than that in the pot.)

3. While waiting for the water to boil, get your supplies ready. You need 4 large glass cereal bowls. (Whatever type of bowl you use, make sure it can handle boiling hot water.) Empty each packet of flavored Jell-O into a bowl – one flavor per bowl. Strawberry in one bowl. Orange in one bowl. Lime in one bowl. Grape in one bowl. (You don’t need the unflavored gelatin yet. Don’t open it now.)

4. You need 4 rectangular shaped medium-sized containers. (I used disposable cookie sheets but these were a bit larger than needed. I will use something smaller next time.) Spray each rectangular container with cooking spray and set them near the bowls.

5. Once the water is boiling, ladle one cup of the water into a large glass measuring cup. (Leave the rest of the pot boiling while you work.)

6. Carefully pour one cup of boiling water into the bowl containing the strawberry Jell-O powder. Mix about 30 seconds until dissolved. Pour into one of the rectangular containers and put in the refrigerator to chill.

7. Repeat step 6 with the lime, grape and orange flavors. When finished, you will have 4 rectangular containers of Jell-O chilling in the fridge.

8. Turn the heat off for the boiling water, but don’t dump the water out. You’ll need to turn it back on later.

9. Wash up the dishes and then wait at least one hour for the Jell-O to become solid.

10. Put the pot of water back on to boil.

11. Spray a glass or metal baking dish (about 9×13) with cooking spray.

12. Chop the colored Jell-O into pieces. You can make uniform squares or just chop it up randomly – however you want. Put the chopped up Jell-O pieces into the greased baking dish. Set in the fridge.

Note: If you have trouble getting the colored Jell-O out of the rectangular containers so you can chop it, try running a sharp knife around the edges before turning it upside down over a clean surface.

13. In a medium-sized bowl, sprinkle the contents of 2 unflavored gelatin packets over 1/2 cup cold water. Allow to sit for 1 minute.

14. Ladle 1 and 1/2 cups boiling water into the large glass measuring cup. Pour the 1 and 1/2 cups boiling water into the medium-sized bowl of unflavored gelatin. Stir. Add the sweetened condensed milk. Mix well and allow to cool.

Note: If you are too impatient and don’t let it cool enough, your red-colored Jell-O will stain the white Jell-O slightly pink in the next step, which is what happened to mine. It’s still pretty, but most people aim to keep the sweetened condensed milk Jell-O mixture white.

15. Remove the pan of chopped up colored Jell-O from the refrigerator. Pour the sweetened condensed milk Jell-O mixture over the colored Jell-O. You can gently mix this a little bit to distribute the colors to your liking.

16. Put the pan back in the fridge to chill. This will take a couple hours – I left mine in overnight.

17. Once your mosaic gelatin is solid, run a knife along the sides to loosen it up, and then turn it upside down over a clean surface. Cut into bar shapes and place on a serving dish or back in the glass baking dish. Serve or keep refrigerated until ready to serve.


Lluvia de Peces

Image source: Trevor Huxham

Image source: Trevor Huxham

Today is Spanish Friday so this post is in Spanish. If you participated in Spanish Friday on your own blog, leave your link in comments. Scroll down for English translation!

Hay un fenómeno conocido como la “Lluvia de Peces”, que ocurre una vez o dos veces al año en el pequeño pueblo de Yoro, Honduras. Cientos de pequeños peces aún vivos se caen del cielo durante grandes tormentas usualmente en mayo o junio.

En la década de 1970, un equipo de National Geographic fue testigo del evento, pero algunos siguen siendo escépticos. ¿Crees tú en la “Lluvia de Peces”?

Aquí hay un video de 2012 de un hombre hondureño muestrando los peces. (¡Nunca me di cuenta de que los hondureños hablan tan parecida a los salvadoreños!)


There’s a phenomenon known as the “Lluvia de Peces” (Rain of Fish) which happens once or twice a year in the small town of Yoro, Honduras. Hundreds of small, still-living fish fall from the sky during big storms usually in May or June.

In the 1970s, a National Geographic team witnessed the event but some remain skeptical. Do you believe in the “Lluvia de Peces”?

Here’s a 2012 video from a Honduran man that shows the fish. (I never realized Hondurans speak so similar to Salvadorans!)

An Interview with Alfredo Genovese, Fileteador


I love art in general, but the diverse art of Latin America is my favorite to explore. It was during one of these internet explorations that I stumbled upon the traditional Argentinian art called “fileteado” and one of its most respected modern day masters, artist Alfredo Genovese.


If the style looks familiar to you, it’s possible that you recognize it as the type of art historically found on the sides of wagons, particularly those used by circuses. The art seems to have originated in Italy and was brought to Argentina by immigrants where it has become its own unique style known as the “Fileteado Porteño” of Buenos Aires.

When Alfredo Genovese studied art, he was surprised to find that Fileteado was not part of the school’s curriculum, and so he went to study under masters of the art, traveling around the world, before returning to Buenos Aires where he makes a living as an artist and a teacher of Fileteado.


I emailed Mr. Genovese to ask if I could feature him and some of his art here, and to my surprise, he even agreed to an interview (below!)

Interview with Alfredo Genovese, Fileteador

Latinaish: For those who aren’t from Argentina and don’t know what “Fileteado” is, can you explain?

Alfredo Genovese: Fileteado is a popular decorative art form originating from the horse cart factories of Buenos Aires in the early 20th Century. It is a hand-painted, brightly coloured style, which has a real life of its own. Vibrant contrasting colours, with highlights and lowlights, often incorporating symbols such as the acanthus leaf, dragons, flowers, birds, cornucopias, ribbons and scrolls etc. Recently inspiring the work of graphic designers and Tattoo artists also.

Latinaish: What attracted you to working as a fileteador, more so than other types of art?

Alfredo Genovese: My interest in Fileteado began when I was an art student at the school of Bellas Artes, and was disappointed to see that this traditional Argentinian art form was not taught in schools. I began to study the basics with an old master Fileteado painter called Leon Untriob. Any information regarding this old art form was very limited at the time, so I decided to investigate as much as possible about the technique and later began teaching Fileteado workshops and have also published 3 books about it.

Latinaish: You’ve traveled all over the world! What are some of the biggest lessons you learned from other cultures that you’ve applied to your life and/or art?

Alfredo Genovese: I learned a lot about the value of elaborate and meticulous art work from different cultures all over the world. How to be methodical and patient like all those artisans who create their work daily.

Latinaish: What has been your favorite project so far? Why?

Alfredo Genovese: Three years ago I painted a live Bull. It was a challenge and the first time I had painted an animal weighing more than 1000kg.

Latinaish: What would your advice be to a young person who is thinking about studying to become a fileteador? Is there anything you wish you knew when you were a student first starting out?

Alfredo Genovese: I think its important for an artist to find their own style, different to what is commonly seen. To keep investigating and practice a lot. To be patient and self critical to achieve work of good content and quality. Actually Fileteado is not only a pictorial skill, but also a way of representing conceptual ideas.

I want to thank Mr. Genovese for his time and for sharing his art with us. You can learn more at his website, which is in both English and Spanish. On his website you will find more examples of his art, history and information about Fileteado, dates for workshops, and books about Fileteado which are available for purchase, (PDF summaries of the books can also be downloaded.) Love Fileteado? Follow Alfredo Genovese on Twitter, Pinterest, and Facebook.

(Images are copyright Alfredo Genovese and have been used with permission.)

Caminar (review & giveaway)


Book description:

Title: Caminar
Author: Skila Brown
Release Date: March 25, 2014
ISBN: 978-0-7636-6516-6

Set in 1981 Guatemala, a lyrical debut novel tells the powerful tale of a boy who must decide what it means to be a man during a time of war.

Carlos knows that when the soldiers arrive with warnings about the Communist rebels, it is time to be a man and defend the village, keep everyone safe. But Mama tells him not yet — he’s still her quiet moonfaced boy. The soldiers laugh at the villagers, and before they move on, a neighbor is found dangling from a tree, a sign on his neck: Communist. Mama tells Carlos to run and hide, then try to find her… Numb and alone, he must join a band of guerillas as they trek to the top of the mountain where Carlos’s abuela lives. Will he be in time, and brave enough, to warn them about the soldiers? What will he do then? A novel in verse inspired by actual events during Guatemala’s civil war, Caminar is the moving story of a boy who loses nearly everything before discovering who he really is.

My review: When I agreed to receive a copy for review of Caminar by Skila Brown, I didn’t realize the story is told in poems, although it’s clearly stated in the description. It’s a quick read, partly because the book is made up of poems and partly because there’s excellent suspense that propels you through the story, making you want to read “one more” poem to see what happens. The book’s target audience is middle grade and the book is fiction based on real historical events. I like that it’s told in first person, so kids can really identify with Carlos and feel a little bit of what it must have felt like to live through such an experience, and I like the little bit of Spanish throughout.

My 12 year old asked what I was reading and asked me to read some to him but after awhile he stopped me and said, “No offense, but I prefer funny poems.” (He was raised on Shel Silverstein.) That being said, I enjoyed it and think it would work best in a classroom setting, read as a class with discussion and related assignments, but if you have a child who likes poetry (the non-funny kind), and is interested in Guatemala and can handle serious subject matter, then they might enjoy this book as much as I did.


The Giveaway

Prize description: Three lucky random winners will each be receiving an advanced copy of Caminar by Skila Brown.

How to Enter: To enter the giveaway, leave a comment below sharing who you’d like to win this book for – If for yourself, why do you want to read it? (Please read official rules below before entering.)

Official Rules: No purchase necessary. You must be 18 years of age or older to enter. You must be able to provide a U.S. address for prize shipment. Your name and address will only be shared with the company/person in charge of prize fulfillment. Please no P.O. Boxes. One entry per household. Make sure that you enter a valid email address in the email address field so you can be contacted if you win. Winners will be selected at random. Winner has 48 hours to respond. If no response is received after 48 hours, a new winner will be selected at random. Giveaway entries are being accepted between February 17, 2014 through February 23, 2014. Entries received after February 23, 2014 at 11:59 pm EST, will not be considered. The number of eligible entries received determines the odds of winning. If you win, by accepting the prize, you are agreeing that assumes no liability for damages of any kind. By entering your name below you are agreeing to these Official Rules. Void where prohibited by law.

Buena suerte / Good luck!

Disclosure: A book was received for review purposes. As always, all opinions are my own.



Today we’re getting ready for the annual “galletada” with my mother, sisters and all the kids (my sons, my nephew and my niece.) We always make decorated sugar cookies but sometimes we each bring already prepared cookies of other varieties to share. This morning I decided to make biscochitos.

Biscochitos (often misspelled “bizcochitos”) are a holiday tradition passed generation to generation for many families in New Mexico where my older sister lived for a few years. One of the souvenirs she sent me back while living there were these anise seed cookies with a unique licorice-like flavor I really liked, so I looked up recipes and made them myself many times over the years even though Carlos isn’t that fond of them. (He says that anise is used as a home remedy in El Salvador so they taste medicinal to him.)

Anyway, if you want to give them a try, my recipe is below. Unlike traditional biscochitos, I use butter, even though New Mexicans will insist that to be authentic, you must use lard. My older sister is vegetarian which is why I usually use butter, but please feel free to sub lard for butter in the recipe. It will give it a slightly different texture, (which many much prefer!)


Biscochitos (New Mexican Anise Seed Cookies

You need:

1 cup unsalted butter, softened (you can use lard)
1 cup sugar
2 eggs
1 1/2 teaspoons anise seed
2 tablespoons vanilla extract (you can use rum)
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt

For topping:

1/2 cup sugar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon


1. Cream together the butter and 1 cup sugar in a large bowl. Next beat in the egg, anise seed and vanilla extract.

2. In a separate medium-sized bowl, combine the flour, baking powder and salt. Mix the dry mixture into the wet mixture little by little until combined. Do not over mix.

3. Chill the dough in the refrigerator for about 30 minutes. Once chilled, roll out on a floured surface. The thinner you make them, the crunchier they’ll be, so if you’d like them to be a little softer, roll them out thicker. Use a drinking glass dusted with flour or a cookie cutter to cut the dough into circles or desired shape. Carefully move the cookies to a foil-lined greased cookie sheet.

4. In a small bowl, mix the remaining ½ cup sugar with 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon. Set aside.

5. Bake the cookies at 350 F until they’re starting to brown at the edges. Sprinkle the cookies with the cinnamon sugar mixture while still hot. Allow to cool and serve.

Makes about 3 dozen cookies.