Christina Morales knew the chisme would be good whenever she caught a whiff of her grandma’s steaming black beans and fried sweet plantains fresh off the stove.
She treasured those Friday night dinners, where her grandparents would turn on the television to catch up on Latin American news, gossip flowing between commercial breaks. She heard about how they emigrated from Havana, about cousins who had fled prisons and left dreams behind.
“I had really come to a place I’ve never been to,” she said. “It’s home for my family and food is what I have to make those connections.”
Through those stories, food served as a connector. Every story was a way to further understanding her Cuban heritage. Over cups of sweet Cuban espresso, Morales learned how her family ended up in Hialeah, Fla.
Years later, Morales is using her own platform to understand how food connects to people’s lives. She has been working as a food reporter for The New York Times for the last year, shortly after graduating from The Times fellowship program, in which she worked as a national breaking news reporter for a rapid-fire breaking news desk in May 2021.
A favorite story from her fellowship days was about the growing trend among mariachi band members working funerals, sometimes even for their own band members, during the COVID-19 pandemic instead of birthday parties, weddings and quinceañeras.
Morales decided she wanted to be a reporter when she was 8 years old. She studied journalism at the University of Florida, where she also served as editor-in-chief of The Alligator, and interned across the nation — at The Oregonian, the Miami Herald and The Sarasota Herald-Tribune.
All throughout, she said, the thing she has turned to for sustenance, comfort and a little taste of home has remained the same: cafecito.
Heidi Perez-Moreno is a senior at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, where she is pursuing a degree in journalism. She reports in English and Spanish, and is completing an internship as a Metro reporter for the L.A. Times en Español. She wants to pursue a career in narrative journalism. Reach her at heidi.perez0123 [at] gmail [dot] com and on Twitter @heyperezmoreno.