'We Feel Like Home': Displaced Puerto Ricans Celebrate Traditional Christmas Parranda

Dec 20, 2017
Originally published on December 17, 2017 7:22 pm

Merely Torres-Garcia has been living in a hotel room in Hartford, Conn., with her husband and two kids after losing part of her house in Puerto Rico to Hurricane Maria. She said spending the Christmas season in the northeastern cold has been hard for her family. But on Saturday night, in the noisy atrium of Hartford City Hall, it felt a little bit like Christmas on the island.

"My kids are happy. We feel like home in here right now," she said.

Torres-Garcia was at a Christmas celebration called a parranda, where members of Hartford's Puerto Rican community greeted families displaced by the storm with a musical parade and a hot meal.

A traditional Puerto Rican parranda features carolers traveling from one house to the next — sharing food, drinks and singing Christmas songs late into the night. Saturday's celebration happened inside to avoid the cold weather outdoors. But Torres-Garcia said the parranda made her proud to be Puerto Rican.

"It's part of us, what we are," Torres-Garcia said. "We are loud. And we like to dance. We like to sing, we like to do all of that stuff. And that only means — Puerto Rico."

Carmen Cotto grew up in Hartford, and had recently moved to the island before the hurricane flooded her house. She said the event started the Christmas season for families who have focused more on recovering from the hurricane. She said that many Puerto Ricans start celebrating right after Thanksgiving.

"Christmas hasn't really started for many. And this was like our kickoff for Christmas," Cotto said.

Cotto's father Angel Luis also came to live in Hartford temporarily after the storm. He said he enjoyed the night's festivities — but he wants to go home as soon as he can.

"It's different, different, different," he said. "It's nice over here, but it's no place like Puerto Rico."

Luis said he was sad during the parranda as he thought about all the people still suffering on the island. But he said at the same time, he was also happy — because this was the first time they had gotten to celebrate since the storm.

NPR's Isabel Dobrin produced this story for the Web.

Copyright 2017 WNPR News. To see more, visit WNPR News.

RAY SUAREZ, HOST:

It's the Christmas season, And in Puerto Rico, that's a really big 12-day deal. For the tens of thousands of people who've been forced to leave the island after Hurricane Maria, that means celebrating Christmas in an unfamiliar place. Ryan Caron King from member station WNPR in Hartford, Conn., has the story of how a Puerto Rican community in Hartford welcomed new arrivals with an island holiday tradition to remind them of home.

UNIDENTIFIED SINGERS: (Singing in Spanish).

RYAN CARON KING, BYLINE: Merely Torres-Garcia has been living in a hotel room with her husband and two kids after losing part of her house in Puerto Rico to Hurricane Maria. She says spending the Christmas season in the northeastern cold has been hard for her family. But last night in the noisy atrium of Hartford City Hall, it felt a little bit like Christmas on the island.

MERELY TORRES-GARCIA: My kids are happy. We feel like home in here right now.

KING: Torres-Garcia was at a Christmas celebration called the parranda, where members of Hartford's Puerto Rican community greeted families displaced by the storm with a musical parade and a hot meal.

UNIDENTIFIED SINGERS: (Singing in Spanish).

KING: A traditional Puerto Rican parranda is where carolers go from one house to the next, sharing food, drinks and song late into the night. The celebration was held inside because Hartford is cold. It even snowed Saturday night. But Torres-Garcia says the parranda in Hartford made her proud to be Puerto Rican.

TORRES-GARCIA: It's part of us, what we are. We are loud, and we like to dance, and we like to sing, and we like to do all that stuff. And that only means Puerto Rico

KING: Carmen Cotto grew up in Hartford and had recently moved to the island before the hurricane flooded her house. She says the event started the Christmas season for families who have focused more on recovering from the hurricane.

CARMEN COTTO: Christmas hasn't really started for many, and this was like our kickoff for Christmas.

KING: Cotto's father, Angel Luis, also came to live on the mainland after the storm. He says he enjoyed the night's festivities, but he wants to go home as soon as he can.

ANGEL LUIS COTTO: It's different, different different. It's nice over here, but there's no place like Puerto Rico.

KING: Cotto says he was sad during the parranda, as he thought about all the people still suffering on the island. But he says, at the same time, he was also happy because this was the first time they had gotten to celebrate since the storm.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

KING: For NPR News, I'm Ryan Caron King in Hartford.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "DE PARRANDA EN PUERTO RICO")

ODILIO GONZALEZ: (Singing in Spanish). Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.