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Conexión: How gardening keeps this Latina in Connecticut rooted to her Peruvian heritage

Emely Ricci started gardening during the pandemic with the mindset that she would grow food her family would regularly eat.

After a year of sticking with her hobby, Ricci decided to try planting huacatay, an aromatic herb grown in the Peruvian Andes that's used in cooking. She told her parents and grandma about her idea. Ricci’s dad was a bit skeptical; he didn’t think Connecticut had the right climate for it.

Only a few seeds sprouted the first year. But the next spring, when Ricci went to clean her garden, little huacatay seedlings were growing all around.

“It has this really gorgeous fragrance to it,” said Ricci, 24, holding a bundle of freshly harvested huacatay in her garden in Shelton, Conn. “It does have a bit of a small mint undertone, but it’s definitely more pungent, but in a good way…”

“Very savory,” she added. “Musky, maybe.”

Ricci’s grandmother, Ysabel Menacho de Cancho, was the most surprised the plant actually took root. She grew up in the Peruvian Andes and hadn’t seen the plant in a long time, but recalled how a neighbor would share his huacatay harvest with everyone in her neighborhood.

“It was just a really nice memory for her to tell me about,” Ricci said. “You just kind of learn a little bit more about how life was when she was younger.”

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As for her own harvest, Ricci — a community planner by day — is now able to provide huacatay for her family’s home-cooked meals. She keeps a supply in the freezer.

Gardening huacatay has also been a way for Ricci to stay connected to her Peruvian culture and “reclaim that identity I might have put off or just kind of ignored,” as someone who grew up in a predominantly white suburban town.

“The food for me … encompasses a whole bunch of things,” Ricci said. “What's cultural, my heritage, my grandmother, my family, my parent's parents' childhood — you know, just my own search of really connecting to my Latino identity.”

This is the fifth video in Conexión: Rooted in New England's Outdoors, a video series this fall from the New England News Collaborative. 

Haz clic aquí para leer y ver esta historia en español.

Daniela Allee contributed to this story.

Raquel Zaldívar is a bilingual visual journalist at the New England News Collaborative, where she produces visual stories and collaborates with journalists throughout the New England region.