COLUMBIA — Lois Parker said she was excited to finally find a great tamale 70 years after she left her Houston home.
"It is wonderful," Parker, 89, said. "After living in Columbia for 50 years, I finally found it." Her family would have three or four dozen tamales with beer back in the old days, she recalled.
Parker, along with her friend Margaret Tyler, enjoyed lunch Thursday at an open house and fundraiser for Centro Latino at 609 N. Garth Ave. The event was also a celebration of the summer solstice, which was Wednesday, and the Inti Raymi, "Festival of the Sun" in Inca culture.
Tyler said she also enjoyed the meal, particularly the pozole soup. "I never tasted anything like this before," Tyler said.
Asides from tamales and pozole, there were beans, rice and pico de gallo, which is made from chopped tomato, onion and chiles.
Eduardo Crespi, director of Centro Latino and the chef for the daylong event, said all the food was vegan to promote healthy eating.
"It's part of the promotion for our diabetes prevention program," Crespi said. "People should pay attention to what they are eating."
At noon, Frank Calixto, a doctoral student in geology at MU, played Peruvian and Colombian songs, one of each, with a red and yellow piano accordion. Calixto said that a month ago, he received the accordion from his grandfather who bought it about 50 years ago and taught him to play it.
Calixto said it was his first time to celebrate Inti Raymi since he left Peru and came to the U.S. three years ago.
"I used to do it every year in Peru," Calixto said. "Now I can continue the tradition here."
Mayra Canales, who is studying social work at MU, was a volunteer server at the event. She said that because of the short preparation time for the open house, they didn't have a chance to present more about the festival.
"It would be nicer if more people can understand the meaning of the festival," Canales said. "We can probably show something about Inca culture next year."
About 60 people showed up for lunch, and the food was sold out by about 1:30 p.m. They went there for the organic food, to celebrate the festival and for something more.
Eric Larimore, an English teacher for Spanish young adults, said he came to Columbia from California, Mo., specifically for the lunch.
"I just want to show my support," Larimore said. "They help not only the Latino community but the whole community in general."
Boone County Circuit Judge Christine Carpenter also showed up. "I know what kind of things they are doing, literacy, healthier diet," she said. "They are doing great things."
Crespi said he didn't expect so many people, but he was glad to see them. "It's great to let people be aware of what we are doing," he said.
The fundraising means a lot to the organization, Crespi said. "We need to fund our program monthly — that's how we survive."
At about 2:30 p.m., Crespi went back to the kitchen and started squeezing lime juice and adding salty chile powder to the chopped tomato and onion, preparing for dinner.
"There's going to be more people tonight," Crespi said.
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