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In Hartford, local Peruvian community gathers to celebrate traditions, faith – and a saint

Maricarmen Cajahuaringa
Connecticut Public
La Marinera Norteña dancers perform at a celebration of Peruvian culture at Saint Lawrence O'Toole Church in Hartford, Ct., Sunday, May 30th.

Members of the Hartford Peruvian community gathered at a local church over the weekend, enjoying typical Peruvian dances such as La Marinera Norteña and the Pallas de Cabana.

It was a chance to embrace their faith, culture, and traditional Peruvian food.

It was also a chance to celebrate the 61st anniversary of the canonization of an Afro-Peruvian saint: San Martin de Porres. In the 1600s, Porres led an altruistic life and had an interest in medicine. He helped aid sick children and was known for various miracles. In the 1960s, he was named the first Black saint of the Americas.

Fernando Puelles is a member of a local fraternity named after the saint. He worked as a firefighter in Callao, Peru. Puellos said Porres is the spiritual protector of firefighters.

He’s known about the saint since early childhood thanks to his family, who also have Afro-Peruvian roots.

"Those of us who follow the tradition and San Martin say that he was very miraculous and healed the sick,” Puelles said. “It is not about racism; the skin color is unimportant because what he did has nothing to do with his color."

Because of his Afro-Peruvian roots, de Porres was considered the saint of enslaved Africans, indigenous people, and the poor class of colonial Peru. He faced discrimination before and during his beatification in the 1830s.

In 1962, Pope John XXIII canonized de Porres.

In Hartford, members of the Peruvian community have been celebrating his canonization since the 1980s.

Local Peruvians founded the Fraternity of San Martin de Porres to showcase their Peruvian tradition and culture to the state.

"We worked hard,” said Luz Torres Candela, a former fraternity member. “We all put our grain of sand. We didn't take money out of our pockets but did activities."

Maricarmen Cajahuaringa
Connecticut Public
Celebrants carry a shrine to San Martin de Porres on the the saint's canonization anniversary Sunday, May 30th, at Saint Lawrence O'Toole Church in Hartford.

Candela said she hopes more members of the local Peruvian community join the fraternity.

"I call on people to return to the fraternity and commit themselves to follow the teachings and love of Saint Martin de Porres,” she said.

There are about 35,000 Peruvians in Connecticut, but the community keeps growing, said Elvis Tuesta, the Peruvian General Consul for Connecticut and Rhode Island. He was among the attendees at the de Porres celebration at St. Lawrence O'Toole Church in Hartford.

Tuesta said he's proud of the local community for giving importance to preserving the tradition and cultural identity for future generations.

“Our community is vigorous and committed to work,” Tuesta said. “It values and respects the law, and that is a great pleasure that our community is acknowledged.”

Maricarmen Cajahuaringa is a journalist with extensive experience in Latino communities' politics, social issues, and culture. She founded Boceto Media, a digital Spanish-language newspaper based in Connecticut. Maricarmen holds a Bachelor's in Social Work from Springfield College, and a Master's in Journalism and Media Production from Sacred Heart University. As a reporter for Connecticut Public, she is dedicated to delivering accurate and informative coverage of the Hispanic/Latino population in the region. Maricarmen is an experienced and passionate journalist who strives to bring a voice to the stories of her community.