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Peruvian Style Thanksgiving Welcomes New Arrivals
Sunday, November 27, 2022


It wasn’t your traditional Thanksgiving dinner.

Karina Gomero had never made a traditional American-style Thanksgiving spread with turkey and dressing and mashed potatoes and gravy. And the guests—all newcomers to the Wood River Valley from Peru—had never partaken in an American Thanksgiving dinner before.

But the thanks were there and the giving was there. And the smiles were contagious as dozens of men, women and children from Peru filled their tummies with a Peruvian-style turkey, potatoes and corn, topping it off with piping hot cups of Peruvian-style hot chocolate.

“I do a very special dinner today. I’m super excited because I’m making food for my people,” said Karina Gomero.

The idea was hatched when Jhony Gomero, who owns Jhony’s Peruvian Cuisine restaurant in Hailey, decided to cook up a feast for some of the 350 Peruvians estimated to have moved to the Wood River Valley in the past couple months.

“I don’t have family here. I have friends but not family. I feel grateful, business is good, so I will host 40 people,” Jhony proclaimed. Then he thought better of it. “No, make that 80!”

Karina Gomero, his wife, went to work eight hours ahead of the feast marinating seven 20-pound turkeys in a brine of Peruvian spices. Just before the guests arrived, a couple of Jhony’s employees and volunteers went to work pulling meat off the turkeys.

“When I came from Peru, we were helped incredibly, tremendously,” said Celeste Quispe Meza, a 14-year-old freshman at Wood River High School. “We have a ton of families in need right now, and it’s super important to help others,”

Meza was 5 when her mother brought her to the United States from Peru. Her father was already in the country, working as an engineer.

“My Mom was looking for a better life for me. The government in Peru wasn’t really the best. My aunt tells the story of how her father was assassinated by the government for being a politician. And my family on my Mom’s side had a tough time surviving. Grandmother set up shop at the market selling food, but even then it was tough,” said Meza.

Many of the Peruvians who came to the Wood River Valley this fall had friends and relatives here. The valley has between 500 and 1,000 Peruvians, according to some Peruvians.

The newcomers came here to escape poverty and crime. Many speak a native Quechaun language with broken Spanish.

“Peru is very crowded. Crime and evil is very high,” said Herbert Romero, who advocates for Mexicans, Peruvians and other Latin Americans. “Many of these people walked from Mexico to the United States.”

Several things have made it easier for Peruvians to come right now, Romero said. Border restrictions have eased, making it easier for them to enter the United States. They’re only having to pay about $3,000 per person rather than $15,000 to have someone bring them here.

Companies here now have more flexibility to hire workers. And Wood River Valley cities have passed a Safe Communities Resolution, making it possible for those presumed to be undocumented to live and work without fear of deportation.

Sun Valley has a Peruvian history dating back to when Peruvian sheepherders began taking the place of Basque sheepherders as Basques began seeking other types of jobs.

“There are families here that have stayed because they’ve had sponsors that have vouched for them. Now, they’re homeowners, business men in the valley—they’ve contributed a lot to the community,” said Romero.

Many of the newcomers are staying with friends and families. Romero met one woman who was staying in the storage shed owned by a family in a mobile home.

“I said, ‘I’ll get you a hotel.’ She said, ‘I’m okay.’ What we might consider unlivable situation is for them okay,” he said.

Romero noted that many of the valley’s Mexicans and other Latinos were eating pollo, or chicken, on Thanksgiving, along with posole soup since the concept of an American Thanksgiving was foreign to them.

“When we came, my Mom embraced turkey right away so I remember it from the time I was 5,” said Romero, whose family moved to the United States from El Salvador. “But turkey takes hours to prepare—a lot don’t have that kind of time because they’re working.”

Karina Gomero said the special sauce she used on her turkey was one used only with turkey. Peruvians typically have turkey for a special meal on Christmas, she said.

“And my gravy is not American gravy,” she added.

Kim MacPherson and Stephen Poklemba pitched in to help serve the dinners. As they did, they tried to figure out whether the secret sauce might be similar to that used in Jhony’s signature chicken dish.

“It’s very flavorful, savory,” said one diner.

Diners happily accepted the plates, giving them a thumbs up as they listened to 30 Mujeres Villancicos Christmas songs playing on the flat screen TV above.

“I wish there were more opportunities like this,” said Poklemba. “When I was a teacher we’d take our students to help at the Souper Supper. It’s great to be able to model community service for the kids.”

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