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York Daily Record
Our Neighbors: The Velez Family
By JOSEPH MALDONADO, Daily Record correspondent
December 15, 2003
After living in New York and Puerto Rico, the Velez family settles in Weigelstown
The first snows of the year have fallen and there were no happier people than Weigelstown Elementary School students Danny, Joel and Diana Velez.
Having spent most of their lives growing up in Puerto Rico, the children said they had never seen snow, at least none they could remember. So when it fell the first weekend of December, the kids wasted no time in putting it to good use.
Early that Saturday morning, their mother, Miriam, 36, said they were out of bed early, jumping up and down as if Santa had just arrived.
Their father, Luis, 32, was not quite as excited as his children.
"It's pretty when it's falling down," he said in his Spanish- accented English. "But I don't like the mess afterwards."
Luis said his children wasted very little time in declaring a snowball war.
"Let's just say I lost," he said.
A while later, the family declared a truce and worked together to build a snowwoman.
"I made it look like more feminine for Diana," Miriam said. "The boys thought it was too girly, but, oh well."
Luis and Miriam have seen plenty of snow. Miriam's family moved from Puerto Rico to New York in 1972. Luis did the same in 1988.
Both say the move to the states was in the hope of a better life with more opportunities.
"Puerto Rico is a beautiful island," Miriam said. "I miss the beaches and the ocean, but the opportunities here are better."
The couple met while attending church in 1990 and were married a few years later in May 1992. Both said they love New York, but the cost of living there was difficult to manage, especially after Luis hurt his back.
It was Sept. 11, 1998, and the retail store Luis worked for was preparing for the holiday sales rush. Luis said he herniated a disc in his back moving inventory in the store's warehouse and was unable to continue working.
"The cost of a one-bedroom apartment in the Bronx is about $700," Miriam said. "And that price includes rats and roaches."
After receiving a settlement for his injury, Luis and Miriam moved back to Puerto Rico, where they had been living for the past five years.
Miriam was a homemaker while Luis gave his back time to heal.
But Miriam said life there, too, was financially difficult.
"There are too many people and not enough jobs," she said.
The couple also said the educational system in Puerto Rico is not as good as it is in the United States.
Luis said that at the school his children attended, teachers would go to lunch leaving it without any adult supervision.
"A lot of children run wild in the schools in Puerto Rico," Miriam said. "There is no discipline at all."
Earlier in the year, the family decided to move back to America. Luis has a brother, Miguel Velez, who works for Suscom in York. After talking with him, the couple decided to make Weigelstown their home.
In June, they bought a house, and they have come to love the area.
"We have nice neighbors, and the schools have been good for our children," Luis said.
And while Luis and Miriam did have to leave some family behind in Puerto Rico, many more still live in New York. Many of them made the four-hour trip to their home for Thanksgiving.
Along with the traditional turkey, Miriam served some Spanish side dishes including pastellas, which are meat pastries traditionally cooked in banana leaf or special paper; tostones, which are flattened fried plantains; and arroz con gandules, otherwise known as pigeon peas and rice.
Miriam loves to cook and the couple is considering opening a Puerto Rican cuisine restaurant.
"It's frustrating not being able to find all of the food or ingredients of the Spanish foods we enjoy," Miriam said. "Many things we have to have sent to us."
But aside from the culinary difficulties, the Velez family has no complaints about living in York.
"It's a quiet place to raise our children," Luis said. "And when they finish high school, they will have more choices and opportunities."
Diana wants to be a singer like her idols Britney Spears and Jennifer Lopez. Danny and Joel want to someday play baseball for the Yankees.
Luis said because of the snow, Danny and Joel have already spent quality time working on their fastballs.
I didn't need to be standing in Miriam Velez's kitchen to know that she was cooking. The distinctive smell of Goya's Spanish seasonings filled the entire first floor of her Weigelstown home giving me a wonderful, natural high.
In the tradition of her Puerto Rican background, she was making pastellas, tostones, and arroz con gandules, also known as pigeon peas and rice. The smell of it all sent me back to my childhood as many in my family were also extraordinary Spanish cooks.
Miriam's husband, Luis, set the table with the cheerful help of the couple's 5-year-old daughter, Diana. In the living room, their sons, Danny, 9, and Joel, 8, smiled in eager anticipation of supper.
As the family sat down to eat at their long dinner table, I couldn't help but feel like Norman Rockwell was standing over my shoulder. He was a painter of simple American moments. And I think he would have enjoyed these American moments with this wonderful Puerto Rican family. ABOUT SERIES
This series profiles people living in communities from A through Z throughout York County.
Today we visit with the Velez family of Weigelstown.
Caption: DAILY RECORD / PAUL KUEHNEL A bowel of arroz con gandules - or pigeon peas and rice - rests on the table before Danny Velez, 9, and Joel Velez, 8. Their mother, Miriam, loves to cook and is considering opening a Puerto Rican cuisine restaurant.DAILY RECORD / PAUL KUEHNEL Luis Velez gets some assistance from his 5-year-old daughter, Diana, while preparing the dinner table at their home in Weigelstown. The Velez family moved to York County from Puerto Rico this year. Luis and his wife, Miriam, said the educational system in Puerto Rico is not as good as it is in the United States. 'I miss the beaches and the ocean, but the opportunities here are better,' Miriam said.