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Tuesday, June 28, 2022


Cougars celebrate holidays with family traditions

This holiday break, Cougars were jetting from desert sands to country plains, from Calhoun Road to Houston clubs and parties, from their homes to a call to go on tour.

Erika Aguirre in red hair

Recent graduate Erika Aguirre took a 10-day trip to Mexico to spend time celebrating holiday traditions with family. | Image courtesy of Erika Aguirre

Recent graduate Erika Aguirre took a spontaneous 10-day road trip to her hometown.

The road to Ciudad Juárez, Mexico, wraps around the side of a mountain. Aguirre has sworn on several occasions she will not endure the drive again, though she has been back at least 10 times.

Creeping up the side of the mountain without a boundary to prevent cars from tumbling down, Aguirre said she gets sick. Her ears pop, and she feels nauseated. The same goes for the drive down the mountain.

But it’s all worth it.

“Of course, I want to go. I can’t wait to go again, but I’m not driving there,” she said. “It was really refreshing to see everybody—all my cousins, all my aunts— and how much their lives had changed for the better and also the city.”

In recent years, Ciudad Juárez has been plagued with crime and cartel corruption. Aguirre said the desert city has made a transformation. The upper and middle classes live in gated communities; construction dominates the city. The plaza is now a place for family entertainment and booming businesses on wheels, when just three years ago, she remembers that people wouldn’t freely go there.

Although the city is changing, some traditions, such as eating menudo and tamales for New Year’s, have not changed.

“(At midnight), our thing is to drink wine and eat 12 grapes. When I was younger, we would bury money into the ground. … All that is really just for prosperity,” Aguirre said.

Family traditions took other Cougars to the countryside.

Electric power engineering junior Blandon Blanton went to Athens, a forestry country town in east Texas for a family Christmas party where his cousin hosted an ugly sweater contest.

“My cousin had a really cool one. She looked like a Christmas tree,” Blanton said. “It even lit up. I think she had a battery pack or something on it.”

He said his family meets for almost every holiday. They’ll meet in different cities, including Dallas, Athens and Mobile, Ala., depending on the family member who is hosting. For Blanton, a holiday equals some traveling time, and he looks forward to it every year.

“I always have a good time with the folks,” he said. “It’s mostly just good times and catching up with the family.”

While some students went out of town, others have retired from traveling.

Biochemistry senior Brenda Zaldivar stayed in town to work, but in previous years, she has ventured to San Antonio and Austin to visit family.

Last year, they went to San Antonio, where her brother received a ticket for jaywalking at the River Walk. While the crowd walked alongside it, he walked across.

“I thought that was pretty funny,” Zaldivar said. “I told him there was a cop, but it was too late. Then, every time after that, I reminded him of it for fun.”

This year, her family held their celebrations on Christmas Eve, and they ate her family’s traditional dishes, tamales and Salvadorian sandwiches. On Christmas Day, however, she had something like an Indian Christmas when a friend invited her over.

Saddiq DJ

Having started by rapping on air for Coog Radio, finance junior Siddiq Smith spent his holidays mixing songs for DJ gigs. | Image courtesy of Siddiq Smith

“It was different, because I usually just sleep the whole day on Christmas or go to stores that are open,” Zaldivar said. “I got to spend it this time with friends and got a different view of what other families do during these festivities.”

She feasted on Indian dishes like a spicy Indian tomato soup, chicken, a salad made of bell peppers, squash, mushrooms, and spaghetti with pineapple sauce and shrimp.

Finance junior Siddiq Smith also spent his winter holidays in Houston, but at a turn table, mixing for his DJ jobs. He appeared on KTRU, Rice’s radio station. He said it all started by rapping on air for Coog Radio.

“I’ve been on the radio since like May 2013,” Smith said. “I did an interview, and they played some songs of mine, so I asked around about any other stations I could go to, and my friend said KTRU.”

At his most recent show on Jan. 4, he was approached about going on tour with Laythrow, a rapper.

“They brought me in, and I did some stuff over the air. Then I told them that me and (my brother) DJ also. A month later, they brought me and him in to mix, and we killed it, so they kept bringing us in to play, and then they have us play at shows,” Smith said.

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