Welcome to Mis Recuerdos (translates to, “my memories” or “my souvenirs“), a series inspired by the daily stories and anecdotes that we hold close to our hearts because they remind us of our culture and past travel experiences. When I launched Recuerdos it was that burning desire I had to create a space where we can all immerse ourselves in the culture of travel by making it part of our daily lives. In honor of slow travel, we want to continue fostering genuine connections with local people and invite you to discover cultural traditions through people that inspire us.
Today we are launching the series with Violetta who created Arepas Mija in honor of the deep love and personal connection to her Colombian roots. In our conversation, we discussed where her love for arepas comes from, her favorite spots in Colombia, and what the future holds for Arepas Mija.
Where are you connecting with us from?
I’m living in Brooklyn, NY!
What’s your story?
I was born and raised in Jackson Heights, a multicultural neighborhood in Queens, NYC. My parents are both from Bogota and immigrated to NYC right before I was born. Although I was raised in NYC, I feel a strong connection to my Colombian heritage because I was basically raised as if I was living in Colombia. My parents made a strong effort to cultivate a sense of Colombian identity in me, meaning they only speak to me in Spanish, we practice Colombian traditions, and I grew up eating Colombian cuisine which is where my love for Colombian food started. Jackson Heights also has a large Colombian community so there are tons of Colombian restaurants, bakeries, and cultural events that surrounded me during my upbringing. It’s special and I’m so proud to be first-generation in the US.
What inspired you to start making arepas and start selling them?
Arepas, empanadas, and tamales have been a staple in my life since I can remember. My grandmother was an incredible cook who made food and sold it in our neighborhood as a street vendor in Queens. My grandmother would take care of me when I was growing up while my parents worked so my earliest memories were her preparing these meals for our community. In many ways food is one of my strongest connections to my Colombian heritage and now that I’m an adult and realize how much I love making arepas to the point that it has inspired me to share that love and deliciousness with others.
What emotions does the tradition of making arepas evoke in you?
There are so many emotions but I think the main three are: pride, love, and connection.
How do arepas serve as a recuerdo from your childhood and your Colombian roots?
Arepas are especially unique, because the main ingredient is corn, and corn dates back as a food staple in Colombia for over 3,000 years. That corn, as a single ingredient, has outlasted a variety of generations, cultures, and communities is fascinating to me. Also, it was women who were in charge of preparation. So when I think of what arepas represent for me, it’s a deep connection to my ancestry and to all of the lineage of women who came before me.
What’s next for Arepas Mija?
I think continuing to grow our customer base and potentially looking into participating in local food festivals this Fall in NYC. I also love the idea of offering delivery to expand beyond my local community! The positive feedback I’ve received from customers has been so motivating.
The Travel Intel
Can you describe a moment while traveling to Colombia that brings you a sense of nostalgia and happiness?
My aunt and uncle live in Cali which is considered the salsa capital of the world. The weather is always warm and the people are lively. Spending meaningful time with my family in Cali, eating street food, going on long walks, and exercising around the hills, are fond memories that I love to think about.
Favorite city or town in Colombia?
All the cities are SO different so it feels unfair to compare and choose a favorite but I’ll have to go with Bogota.
How can we immerse ourselves in Colombian culture from home?
I think music is a great place to start! Some of my favorites (a mix of old and new) are Toto la Momposina, Joe Arroyo, Kali Uchis, Salt Cathedral, Juanes, ChocQuibTown, Grupo Niche.
Also, any Gabriel Garcia Marquez novel is a way to dive into the magical realism of Colombian culture.
Where can we follow your Arepa journey?
Follow me on IG! @arepasmija