Angel Duerra had never eaten Thanksgiving dinner before.
The native of Puerto Ordaz, Venezuela, is visiting friends in Hernando who he has not seen in four years, and is excited to experience the American holiday and try a turkey dinner with all of the fixings.
“I had read some about it,” Duerra said. “But not having been a part of this celebration before, I wanted to know what it is all about.”
Duerra said Venezuela does not have a Thanksgiving holiday like they do in the United States. The people of his county do, however, get together with their families for a special meal at Christmas, New Year’s Day, and Easter.
Their holiday meals in Venezuela though, do not include turkey - or any of the side dishes common in American homes like cranberry sauce, squash, mashed potatoes and gravy, dressing, rolls, and pies for dessert.
Instead, Duerra said they eat hallaca, which is a mixture of beef, pork, chicken, capers, raisins, and olives in a cornmeal dough and wrapped in plantain leaves.
“It’s something like a tamale, more or less,” Duerra said. “It’s a mix of meats and pork with condiments. Preparation is long, about two days.”
Duerra and his wife, Luisa, had turkey on Saturday as part of a Thanksgiving Day celebration with other Hispanic families who attend church at Iglesia Gracia Internacional in the former CrossPointe Church in Hernando.
The congregation met to share what they are thankful for this year, and heard a sermon in Spanish by Pastor Jaime Loayza celebrating the message of Thanksgiving and God’s many blessings.
Duerra said although Thanksgiving is a new experience for him, he likes the tradition of families coming together and giving thanks to God.
“It’s a very good tradition,” Duerra said. “I like the family environment. We have to say thanks every day to all things God has given us. This is a special day and you share it with all your friends and family. It is a moment to be closer. I am going to enjoy the moment and the spirit here and seeing my friends.”
Duerra, an electrical engineer, said things are very difficult in Venezuela right now. The country, which was once considered the richest in Latin America, is experiencing hyperinflation, violence, and food, gasoline, and medicine shortages.
Duerra said he is seriously considering immigrating to the United States.
“Venezuela has a lot of problems right now,” Duerra said. “It is very difficult to live there.”
Duerra spent a week in Miami before arriving in Memphis and said he is enjoying his visit to Hernando and DeSoto County and seeing how his friends now live.
“They are very different now than they were four years ago,” Duerra said. “They are showing me how they live here. I really like it.”