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Pork, tamales and tres leches cakes: USFSP student’s family gathers for earthquake relief

What once was a lively village in Puebla, Mexico, is now a decimated landscape full of makeshift tarp shelters. University of South Florida St. Petersburg student Lily Cano is one of the many people who have been affected by the earthquake that shook Mexico in September, as she has family living in Puebla.

The magnitude 7.1 earthquake destroyed 95 homes in the village of Santa Maria de la Coudelaria Tepapayeca where much of Cano’s family resides. The village lost its historic church and its only school. Cano’s family lost all five of their houses in the earthquake. Unable to leave their small town, her family members are now using tarps tied to trees for shelter.

“I just remember my dad calling, saying ‘I have a text from my side of the family. They lost everything’ and then he hung up because he was crying,” Cano said.

Cano’s parents are immigrants from Mexico. They moved to New York for the opportunities afforded to Americans and started a family before settling in Florida. Cano’s mother is a housekeeper and cooks and caters on the side. Her father is a landscaper during the week and runs a video game booth at various flea markets on Sundays. When Cano was younger, she and her two younger brothers, Mark and Jerry, would be in charge of selling toys at the flea markets with her parents.

“I’ve been working since I was nine, so we’ve come a long way,” Cano said. Cano is a first-generation college student majoring in biomedical sciences.

“My parents didn’t even know I had applied to college until I was already accepted,” Cano said. “They’re incredibly supportive.”

Cano’s parents put together a fundraiser on Nov. 4 in support of her family members still living in Mexico. A close friend and employer of Cano’s mother used her connections with the owner of Gayle’s Diner near Treasure Island to secure use of its kitchen. Cano’s mother then cooked  authentic Mexican food that was sold for donations. She began preparing a week in advance, hitting up local markets for produce and going to her favorite butcher. She spent three days making pork, tamales and tres leches cakes. Cano helped by running errands, stirring pots of food and chopping onions. Raffle tickets were sold for various prizes including a Sector 9 longboard and a sewing machine. Family and friends attended, ready to eat and provide well wishes. The event was open to the public and was a huge success. The dishes were affordable and made with purpose.

Cano called the fundraiser a “party with loved ones.” The family raised almost $3,000 that night, and the money will be sent to their family in Mexico to help them get back on their feet.

Photos courtesy of Ambria Whalum/Connect.

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