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Springfield Family Preserves Mexican & Salvadoran Culture Through Food

For the past 20 years a local nonprofit has helped Lane County immigrants find support and build community through gardening. KLCC’s Melorie Begay caught up with one family that cooks with food they grow as a way to keep their culture alive.

Alejandro Contreras Ochoa and his family have lived in the Eugene-Springfield area for 8 years. We’re in his kitchen where he’s making dinner.

Credit Melorie Begay/KLCC News
Alejandro Contreras Ochoa presses dough to make tortilla for the sopes.

CONTRERAS OCHOA: "I'm frying the beans and these are black beans, so they're going to be the stuffing of the sope. The main ingredient is gonna be corn flour. Once we add the water and the salt, it'll be masa which that's the same flour that they use to make tortillas. Then after that it'll be the beans, and then we just dress it with lettuce, dry cheese and onions with salsa on top."

Alejandro made the salsa with ingredients he grew himself. His familiy maintains a small plot of land in one of Huerto de la Familia's gardens where they harvest fruits and vegetables.

Credit Melorie Begay/KLCC News
Alessandro Contreras Alvarado plays with a Tablita Mágica, a Mexican magic table toy.

CONTRERAS OCHOA: "We try to grow as much as we can for two reasons. The first one is that it teaches you and the kids what you're eating, the stuff that you put into your food. And the meanwhile you know you have a good time growing your own food and your kids learn that they can do that too."

Alejandro has two kids, 4 year-old Adella and 6 year-old Alessandro, who prefers his mom’s Salvadoran pupusas over his dad's Mexican sopes.

CONTRERAS ALVARADO: "One of my family's knows how to make that, pupusas. And I just ask her to make it every time because she makes it super good."

CONTRERAS OCHOA: "I think it's really important to know where their mom is from and the type of culture that they have including the food and the same with me. But, nevertheless they are American and they're going to have their own culture and that's really cool."

Credit Melorie Begay/KLCC News
Adella Contreras Alvarado eating a sope her father Alejandro prepared for her.

Alejandro says that Huerto de la Familia not only provides healthy food for his family, but it's also a place where he finds support.

CONTRERAS OCHOA: "’Cause it's not easy sometimes. Just having someone to talk to and that will listen you know and just that won't judge you or someone that has been in the situation that you are in. It's different."

For the Contreras Alvarado family, Alejandro says politically it's hard to navigate the outside world. But inside his Springfield home, and in his garden, he and his wife are able to stay connected to their roots.

Alejandro carefully sprinkles onions, cheese, and lettuce on the finished sopes and he calls his family to the table.

Melorie Begay is a multimedia journalist for KLCC News. She was the Inaugural KLCC Public Radio Foundation Journalism Fellow. She has a bachelors in Multimedia Journalism from the University of New Mexico. She previously interned at KUNM public radio in Albuquerque, NM and served as a fellow for the online news publication New Mexico In Depth.
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