Displaced Puerto Ricans Celebrate Christmas Away From Home Thousands of people who fled the island after Maria will celebrate the holidays elsewhere this year. For one family, that means adjusting their tropical traditions for the frigid New England winter.
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For Puerto Ricans Displaced By Maria, A First Christmas Away From Home

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For Puerto Ricans Displaced By Maria, A First Christmas Away From Home

For Puerto Ricans Displaced By Maria, A First Christmas Away From Home

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LAUREN FRAYER, HOST:

For thousands of Puerto Ricans displaced by Hurricane Maria, this will be a very different kind of Christmas. Rhode Island Public Radio's John Bender met one family trying to recreate their holiday traditions far away from home.

JOHN BENDER, BYLINE: Miosotis Castro, her husband, Francisco Alvarado, and their three children lost their home in the storm. Eventually, they made their way to Providence where they've been living with relatives for the last month. It's been a hard transition, but Castro's trying to focus on what they do have as they prepare for the holidays.

MIOSOTIS CASTRO: We cook (laughter). We have a Christmas tree. We have a safe home.

BENDER: They left everything behind in Puerto Rico, including a comfortable middle-class life. Since coming to Rhode Island, they've been forced to rely on the support of family, strangers and relief organizations. And now they're getting ready to celebrate Christmas far from home where there may be snow on the ground.

CASTRO: (Speaking Spanish).

BENDER: Castro says normally Puerto Ricans spend the holidays outside, including a pork roast. Castro's 12-year-old son Elias Perez pipes up recalling outdoor parties packed with family and friends.

CASTRO: (Speaking Spanish).

ELIAS PEREZ: (Speaking Spanish).

BENDER: It's neighbors, cousins and their cousins and their cousins, he says. This family will try very hard to recreate their island traditions and make sure there are presents for the kids. But it won't be the same in the frigid New England winter and without so many family members they left behind in Puerto.

CASTRO: (Speaking Spanish).

BENDER: Castro says Christmas is the time to see family you haven't seen all year. And this year, they won't be able to do that.

Despite its small size, Rhode Island has a Puerto Rican population some 40,000 strong. The community has embraced the more than 50 families who've moved here since the hurricane. They've helped them get social services, enroll children in schools and invite them to community events like this annual Christmas party.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

BENDER: At a local community center, a live band plays traditional Puerto Rican music. Giant paintings showing scenes on the island stand against the walls. Trays of rice and beans, roast pork and tamales line the table. Ivette Sollivan helped plan the event.

IVETTE SOLLIVAN: It's all about the island - the food, the desserts, the smells, when you open the food, the pasteles and the morcillos and, of course, the type of music. We get together. We hug a lot. We kiss a lot. This is Puerto Rico really.

BENDER: Miosotis Castro and her family dig into the food. Other partygoers greet them like old friends. Castro says coming here is helping them all with their homesickness.

CASTRO: My son - my young son say, Mommy, all this like Puerto Rico.

BENDER: She, her husband and their children will spend Christmas with the few family members they have locally. The holiday won't be like the ones they spent in Puerto Rico. But in this new place, they are finding a way to celebrate. For NPR News, I'm John Bender in Providence.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "FELICITACION")

LA CALANDRIA: (Singing in Spanish).

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