Monthly Cultural Corner - November 2023

November 1, 2023

Cultural Spotlight: Nydia Barakat

Hola amigos/familia,

My name is Nydia Barakat, and I am the Fund Development Director.  I have been working at Penny Lane since 2007 (16 years).  It feels like just yesterday that I walked through the doors.  

I was born on the Island of Enchantment (Borinquen – Puerto Rico).  I am very proud of my ancestors, Tainos, Spanish and African.   Puerto Rico – Island of Enchantment is a U.S. territory of beautiful sandy beaches, lush rain forests and some of the happiest people in the world. Even in hard times, we stay optimistic and welcome our friends and families with love and happy faces.  Spanish is our first language, but English is what is taught in school from first grade through college.  

My family consists of my husband of 39 years, a son and a daughter and their spouses as well as my 4 beautiful grandchildren.  Family has always been important to me.  Spending time with my kids and my grandkids is everything to me.  My parents were married until they passed away and they were the best example of family togetherness.  I believe that when families stick together, they can make the impossible possible. I believe that love and understanding will help you grow and make you a better person. I used to spend the whole summer at either my grandma’s or my tias’ (aunts’) house because my parents were working and consequently, I grew up with all my cousins.  We had a lot of fun together going to the beach, going to the rainforest, riding bikes around the neighborhood, or just hanging out together.  Today we are all very close even though we reside all over the U.S or Puerto Rico.  We try to stay connected as much as we can.  Neighbors and friends also become part of your family and childhood friends are like sisters and brothers to me.  A testament to this statement is the relationship that Judith Sandino and I have for over 50 some years.  We have shared so many life experiences and have so many shared memories.

I like to cook Puerto Rican food such as “arroz con habichuelas y salchichas” (rice, beans, and pork sausage), chuletas (pork chops), bistec encebollado (steak and onions), tostones (fried plantains), etc. We also cook and love middle eastern food such as Kebab (roasted meat), babaganoush (eggplant dip), etc. A funny thing is that sometimes when I cook my Puerto Rican or middle eastern food, I put some Latin music like Celia Cruz or Mark Anthony or even middle eastern music and I dance in the kitchen as I am cooking, sometimes asking my husband to join me.  Dancing makes me happy; it is in my blood.  It makes me feel free.  It is like a form of meditation, positive vibes, and good energy.  

My favorite time of the year is Christmas.  In my home, Christmas starts the day after Thanksgiving.  I put up my Christmas tree that day and put presents under the tree.  I even put fake presents so that the tree looks full and pretty!  This time reminds me of my parents and how we always used to decorate the tree together. My dad would play his guitar and we would sing happy Christmas songs.  Christmas is very special in Puerto Rico especially because it is the season where we have parrandas. Parrandas are the Puerto Rican version of caroling. This social event consists of a group of friends surprising family and friends by visiting their homes late at night and awakening them with very festive Christmas songs.  Then through the night, the groups will move from house to house, singing, eating, drinking, and spreading the holiday cheer until daybreak.  Since we do not have parrandas here in the states, I do my own version of parranda by inviting my neighbors when I can and we sing, play the maracas, guiro and other instruments and dance.  In Puerto Rico we celebrate Christmas Eve (Santa Claus) and the Three Kings Day (January 6th).  We love gifts and gifting!  This season also means to me a season of giving thanks, spiritual reflection and spreading hope, kindness and joy.  

I like that we have so many people from so many cultures at Penny Lane.  I have learned so much about different ethnic and cultural backgrounds. It feels good to connect with people from other cultures and ethnic backgrounds and create relationships that will last a lifetime.  

As a side story, in 1985, I went to meet my husband’s family in the Middle East. Before I went on my trip, I bought an English/Arabic dictionary and a conversation course/cassette to teach me few words.  Since I was going to meet his family by myself, I wanted to do my best to communicate.  When I arrived in the middle east, 25 people were waiting for me at the airport (mind you I only knew one person and I didn’t speak the language). After introductions, we left to go to my mother in law’s house in a minibus and his family started to play Arabic music and danced in the bus. I joined them and they were so welcoming. They celebrated my culture as much as I celebrated theirs. Language was never an issue, we communicated however we could.  I had a blast and will forever cherish that trip.

As I mentioned before, I am proud of my mixed cultural heritage.  We are a melting pot. We are hospitable and welcoming.  “Bienvenidos a mi casa y mi vida”

-Nydia Barakat, Penny Lane Centers

Check out some photos of me and my family below!