KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — Food is universally central in most cultures, and especially in Hispanic and Latino cultures. Families, friends and businesses invite others to gather and eat – either to celebrate holidays or regular days.

Food offers a taste of la cultura or culture for those who may be unfamiliar; sometimes the names of some foods mean something different, and it depends on its origin country or shared language. In Hispanic & Latino cultures in East Tennessee, before & during Hispanic Heritage Month, food or la comida that is shared either at events, restaurants and festivals – is often enjoyed by all who attend.

Events also guarantee that vendors get to know and become part of the East Tennessee community.

“I like it because I can interact with people and other people who don’t know about Venezuelan food. So there’s opportunity to explain where my food comes from. It’s exciting and I really like to share my typical food from Venezuela,” Dorca “Rosie” Guayurpa said. “We have arrepas, cachapas, ajacas, y tequeños… I think arrepas and cachapas… are more popular.”

Ajacas are like tamales, it’s typical for Venezuelan Christmas, so now we make it all year because it’s new for people, and people started to like it,” Guayurpa added.

In late August, hundreds gathered in Morristown for the HOLA Lakeway International Food Festival which showcased a variety of music, dancing and food from around the world.

“One of our goals as Hola Lakeway is to integrate the immigrant community to the fabric of the overall community,” Willie Santana, HOLA Lakeway co-founder, said. “That in itself is a lot of the goal, but nothing brings people together like food. So, that was one of the ideas behind the festival. We bring people around something that’s natural, to build community – and it’s gotten bigger every year.”

Some of the more popular vendors at the festival in Morristown offered food from Central and South America, where the Hispanic & Latino populations enjoy a delicious mix of Spanish, Portuguese and Indigenous food traditions that have morphed into some of the well-known food staples today.

Take the tortilla, for example – a name that describes a specific food in Spain, but a different flatbread in Mexico and Latin America.

A Mexican-style flour tortilla (Photo: Melanie Vásquez Russell/WATE)

“The tortilla is a central component in the diet of many Hispanic American countries, as it is in Spain. But the word describes two completely different things,” Dr. Greg Kaplan, UT professor of Spanish said. “The essence of the tortilla, corn, which is another product, which is another food source that they did not know, in Europe, prior to the arrival of Europeans to America… corn had been used for thousands of years to make something that the Spanish called the ‘tortilla’ because it kind of looked like a small, round bread. So, the word which had been used to describe bread ends up being applied to two things that look like small bread – that’s how we get the tortilla, which has such an importance throughout the Hispanic world – whatever shape or form it comes in.”

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While food can be defined in different ways in different languages around the world, it’s arguably one of the most comforting things that either brings people home – or brings people together.