Colombians in Wallingford celebrate Independence Day

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WALLINGFORD — Tuesday might be an ordinary day for many, but for Colombians it’s a day to highlight culture and traditions as they celebrate the country’s Independence Day.

Colombian Independence Day is celebrated on July 20 every year. Revolutionary leaders declared independence from the Spanish empire on July 20, 1810 — sparked in part by an incident in which a Spanish merchant refused to loan a flower vase to a Colombian-born resident. It would take nearly a decade longer before Colombia achieved independence.

Celebrating locally

Leon Restrepo and Nelly Orellana own La Cocina de Nelly Colombian & Ecuadorian Restaurant in Wallingford, which opened in May of 2020 at 253 S. Colony Road.

Orellana was Restrepo’s landlord for some time, which is how they met and learned about each other’s experience in the food industry.

La Cocina de Nelly, which also offers catering, has a menu that reflects the Ecuadorian and Colombian cultures. Buffet and a la carte style options are always available.

Part of why they opened the business in Wallingford is due to the growing Ecuadorian and Colombian population in the area.

Restrepo said that more than 50 percent of their customers are Ecuadorian.

While the restaurant won’t have an Independence Day celebration, it will have special menu items available in honor of the holiday. The owners said this year a party wasn't planned at the restaurant because of the pandemic, but in future years, they are hoping to have live music to celebrate the special day.

Restrepo, a Colombian, has lived in the United States for 25 years. He said local Colombians celebrate Independence Day with get-togethers at homes and restaurants. 

He said the local celebrations include food such as sancocho, a type of thick soup that includes a variety of root vegetables and meat. Drinks, dancing, and traditional Colombian clothing items are also part of the feast.

Distinct character

In Colombia, the day is celebrated in bigger ways. Restrepo said some streets are shut down for parades, concerts, private parties and more. The display of the flag is popular on that day.

Restrepo said one of the things that characterize Colombian people is their personality.

“We are very outgoing and offer warmth to people when we meet them; make them feel at home as if we already knew each other,” he said.  

Orellana, who is Ecuadorian, said Colombian people are “very nice and attentive.” 

She said that Colombians, from young to old, seem to have the same inclination to sing, dance and have a good time.

Food, music, dance

Restrepo said one of the most traditional foods in Colombia is “la bandeja paisa,” which is a platter of pork rind, sausage, eggs, meat, rice, beans and avocado.

Maria Campos-Harlow, executive director of United Way of Meriden and Wallingford, moved from Colombia to the United States 20 years ago. 

Her Independence Day celebration includes getting together with Colombian friends and cooking traditional foods.

Harlow said in her previous role with the Spanish Community of Wallingford (SCOW), she celebrated with them at work with food, folk dancing and outfits among other traditions.

In recent years, she continued to celebrate with her friends from SCOW but by going to a Colombian restaurant.

She said that for the past few years she has not gathered with friends but has displayed the Colombian flag at home on July 20. Part of her tradition is also to listen to Colombian music and make social media posts in honor of her country.

Harlow described Colombians as happy, hard working, positive, resilient, warm and welcoming people.


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