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A Venezuelan family celebrates Christmas from Utah with traditional dish of hallacas

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

In Venezuela, there's a traditional Christmas dish called hallacas. They're similar to tamales. Millions of Venezuelans who have fled their country now have to prepare the dish far from their homeland and relatives. KUER's Ciara Hulet visited one such family in Utah.

(SOUNDBITE OF SIMON SONG, "TU AMOR PARA NAVIDAD")

CIARA HULET, BYLINE: Yesenia Castejon and her family have played this song every Christmas since they left Venezuela six years ago.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "TU AMOR PARA NAVIDAD")

SIMON: (Singing in Spanish).

HULET: It's about being away from family during the holiday. Yesenia's relatives are spread across the world, but they still make hallacas together over their phones.

YESENIA CASTEJON: (Through interpreter) We talk while doing it. Even from a distance, we see each other on the little screen. And like that, we feel a little closer.

HULET: Seventeen-year-old Valeria cuts vegetables for the filling and tells me that she doesn't know if she'll ever return to Venezuela.

VALERIA: (Speaking Spanish).

HULET: She says the future is very uncertain for migrants. Dad, Anaximenes Chirinos, says they left Venezuela because it's really unsafe and unstable.

ANAXIMENES CHIRINOS: (Through interpreter) You don't know if you should be more worried about common crime or be more afraid of law enforcement or of the state.

HULET: Cooking hallacas is reminding Yesenia of her mother back home.

CASTEJON: (Through interpreter) I try to imitate my mom's hallaca, but it never turns out the same.

HULET: She mixes corn flour and water by hand to make the dough, or masa, then spreads it onto a banana leaf.

CASTEJON: (Through interpreter) We spread the dough out nice and flat.

(Speaking Spanish).

HULET: Then they add the filling on top before wrapping it up.

CASTEJON: (Speaking Spanish).

LETIZIA: (Speaking Spanish).

HULET: Eight-year-old Letizia has cut heart shapes out of banana leaf scraps and wants them to go inside each hallaca.

CASTEJON: (Speaking Spanish).

LETIZIA: (Speaking Spanish).

(LAUGHTER)

HULET: She says putting hearts on the hallacas is now a new tradition. Back in Venezuela, they would make 150 hallacas, but tonight they only made about 25. Yesenia says eating the hallaca transports her back to her homeland.

CASTEJON: (Speaking Spanish).

HULET: For NPR News in South Jordan, Utah, I'm Ciara Hulet.

(SOUNDBITE OF SIMON SONG, "TU AMOR PARA NAVIDAD") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Ciara Hulet