Mother’s Day should be every day, but for Latino families in the United States, Mother’s Day indeed happens more than once.
In Puerto Rico, Cuba, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, Honduras, and Venezuela, Mother’s Day is celebrated on the second Sunday of May, like in the U.S. But in other countries, it is celebrated on different days.
Mexico, El Salvador and Guatemala celebrate it on May 10. Spain observes it on the first Sunday of May, the Dominican Republic on May 30, Paraguay on May 15, Bolivia on May 27, Nicaragua on May 30. And in other countries, Mother’s Day is later in the year: Argentina on Oct. 17, Costa Rica on Aug. 15, and Panama on Dec. 8.
For some Latina immigrant mothers and mother figures, this is an extra day to share inspiring stories of love and empowerment.
Here are four stories of tradition, reunion, and refuge of Latina mothers in Philadelphia to celebrate this Mother’s Day, whenever you may celebrate it.
This mom is a third-generation chef
Ligia Richter, 54, didn’t know about the seed that was planted in her when she would “play” in her family’s bakery, decorating cakes, helping make pastries, and working the cash register during the summer.
Her grandma, María Teresa Lupiac, or Mami as she was called, made queque, a cake she prepared with pineapple jam and Italian meringue in the early 1950s and began selling them at her husband’s pharmacy. When her husband died, she opened the first bakery in Honduras, called El Hogar in 1959. From then, Mami changed the pastry industry in her country because people no longer baked their own cakes for special occasions — they now had a place to buy them with the best quality.
Then, her mother Juliana Pineda Lupiac, began helping Mami in the family bakery in the 1970s. She studied every section of the bakery — from the dishwashing station to the sales and delivery — and she found a way to speed up the bakery and open more stores in Tegucigalpa.
Her mom and grandma were (and although both passed away, still are) Richter’s heroes and role models. She remembers lovingly her grandma’s Honduran churros, a mille-feuille cone filled with pastry cream; her torta chilena; a pastry similar to an alfajor with cream on top; her borracho, a cake drowned in sweet alcohol — and of course, Mami’s enchiladas.
“I remember cooking was a family tradition all year round,” Richter said. “At Christmas, everyone who knew us got super excited because we made our famous Trenza Bohemia, which was a braided bread with candied fruit. We used to fill our cars with this bread and queques and gift them to everyone we knew.”
Even when her grandma was struggling with cancer, she and Juliana saw every adversity as an opportunity to dedicate to El Hogar.
Although Richter always admired her mother and grandmother’s work at the bakery, she was never really interested in cooking or baking, just eating. But at age 20 when her parents were able to send her to the U.S., she decided to study culinary arts at the Restaurant School in Philadelphia.
Richter planned to learn the culinary basics and expand El Hogar’s savory dishes. But when she graduated in 1987, she didn’t think she had enough experience to return to Honduras, so she took an internship at the Four Seasons Hotel to expand her skills. There, she fell in love with French cuisine, and worked as a chef for more than 20 years.
“I always liked that at the Four Seasons, they always encouraged us to bring our cultures and traditions,” said Richter who has created special Honduran meals at the hotel using recipes from her mother and grandmother.
Richter worked part time after she became a mother, then took time off to raise her children.
In 2013, Richter founded Chúgar Bakery to keep her mother and grandmother’s pastry legacy. Here, she was able to incorporate her training from classic French cuisine, adding Honduran flavors, and making family recipes. She closed the bakery in 2019, and returned to the Four Seasons.
Richter says she’s proud to be back at the Four Seasons and proud to be the third-generation chef in her family, and looks forward to training the next.
This mom cooked to help her family
Mariana never expected to sell food for a living.
The mother of three, including a newborn, found herself caring for her children, her brother, who had suffered a stroke in 2018, and her mother, who was diagnosed with uterine cancer in 2019.
After the pandemic hit in March 2020, her mother decided to end chemotherapy treatments and return to their native state of Puebla, Mexico. Two months later, her mother passed away. Then, her husband, Horacio, was hospitalized with COVID-19.
”It seems like God has mistaken me for someone else,” she said, as if she has been receiving someone else’s punishment. That’s when Mariana decided to sell tamales and mole at home. She makes them with chicken or beef, every other week.
Parishioners from her church and other community members come knocking on her door for tamales. A Norristown restaurant sells her mole.
“I wasn’t expecting this kind of support,” she said. “It seems that I don’t cook that bad, right?”
Mariana said that she learned to cook the tamales and make mole with the abuelitas and older ladies that met during festivals and gatherings in Puebla when she was a child. The 37-year-old said cooking has become a space for her to find joy and to provide for her family.
In the kitchen, she said she loves the blend of colors of the japaleños, chiles, nopales, and tomatoes. She also likes the flavor of mole with arroz con pollo and enchiladas. Mariana sent her brother back to Puebla last week, where he can find open patios and more siblings to care for him. She said she feels useful as she works from home in times when her family needs her most.
“I know that every one of us will live difficult times in their lives,” she said. ”For good or for bad, this is mine and I just pray to God for strength to keep cooking through it.”
These moms brought family and culture together
The toughest years of motherhood for Zaza Briceño, 57, were when her three children had to flee Venezuela because of the humanitarian and economic crisis that has been affecting her home country for more than 20 years.
“I passed from living with my children to have them a video call away, and even sometimes the electrical and internet instability of the country did not even allow me to do that,” she said. “I had to teach them from the phone how to make the recipes I made them like my empanadas, my arepas and my calentadito [a mix of beef and rice], and now, I am teaching how to make them for my grandchildren.”
The country that once gave her endless opportunities could not offer the same to her children, who are among the 5.4 million Venezuelans who have left the country since 2015 according to the United Nations. “I eventually did not see a future for myself in my own country, and I also decided to move closer to my children and to have a better future,” said Briceño who now works in a mortgage company in Delaware and lives with her sister Margarita Swartz, 59.
Swartz moved with her family to Philadelphia in 1988 after she was carjacked in Caracas. Years later, she got divorced and was able to find a job where she could spend time at home and take care of her children. She became one of the best-known real estate agents for the Latino and Venezuelan community in Philadelphia, and that also has helped her share her roots with her children and stepchildren.
They would invite friends to their house to eat tequeños, arepas, pernil, among many other traditional specialties, and play Venezuelan music in their basement — where eventually Casa de Venezuela Philadelphia, a nonprofit that supports Venezuelan immigrants, was founded.
Briceño and Swartz were inspired by their late mother, Lía Medina de Briceño, who they say taught them everything they know. Her memory helps them to maintain their Venezuelan roots in their home away from home.
This single mom is an empowered business owner
After she divorced in the late 1990s, Sagrario Germán, relied on her cooking to provide for her family. Raising her two daughters as a single mother, she worked two restaurant shifts in northern Manhattan, one as a waitress overnight and the other as the evening cook at her mother’s comedor económico.
The native of the coastal town of Nagua, Dominican Republic, became a skilled cook while working with her mother — specializing in seafood dishes prepared with coconut milk or garlic sauce from her home province.
“Even though I never studied it [cooking], I’m extremely proud of what I’ve been able to do in the kitchen,” Germán, 46, said.
In 2008, Germán decided to move to Philadelphia with her family to open a restaurant of her own called Vivaldi in Fairhill. Since then, Germán has been providing customers with the traditional Dominican cuisine: mofongo, pernil, mero empanizado, arroz amarillo con pollo asado y habichuelas, tostones, mangú, and more. Her specialty is shrimp in garlic sauce.
Germán has run all parts of the restaurant, including its management and deliveries. Her daughters have graduated from college and she has been able to provide job opportunities for others in her family.
”It gives me so much peace of mind to think that I’ve been able to build this being the head of my household.”
Despite having to close her business last year due to the pandemic, Germán was able to return and slowly recover her clientele and workers. Now, she says can prepare for retirement.
”After we’ve worked so hard — me, my mother, and my entire family — I think it’s time to do things calmly.”