My name is Mariela Maya, I am the owner of Panka Peruvian Restaurant. I have three kids and three sisters, and I just recently moved to Des Moines in 2019. I feel that in today’s society it is important to share a story, one that provides a look into a person’s life and one that will result in the understanding of individual differences.
I am an immigrant. I was born in Lima, Peru in 1976 and moved to the United States in 2001 in order to achieve what many of you know as the “American Dream.” In times of economic difficulty, I looked for an opportunity of stability that I thought I would immediately find in the United States. However, that dream is romanticized, and it is not all that easy to achieve. Having grown up in a different country surrounded by a unique culture, it is difficult to suddenly immerse yourself in a community that is so unlike the one I had growing up. With the language barrier and mannerisms that are different from those in Peru, it was difficult to establish myself with confidence. I took English classes in order to feel more secure and be able to do everyday things without the fear of being unable to communicate with others around me. Of course, it is a difficult and rather unnerving thing to learn a language and then speak it with confidence because you know there will be at least one person who will point out a flaw in your speech or an accent when you speak. However, you must learn to overcome and build upon yourself. I am not the only one who has a story like this. Immigrants all over this country had to break through their insecurities and immerse themselves in a new culture in order to build their life. I see this period of my life, this transition, as one that gave me the strength and knowledge to keep pushing forward.
However, I have also learned that with transition one must not forget their roots, their origins. It is those origins that make us into the people we are today. It is those origins that make us different and allow us to recognize our differences in order to see ourselves not as outsiders in a foreign environment, but rather as adaptors to the environment. It is important to remember your roots and understand that there can be a balance in your lifestyle where you must fuse cultures to live peacefully.
Peruvian cuisine has many different cultural influences as supported by its rich historical background. Peru’s first inhabitants were believed to have migrated from Asia in 6000 BC. This is what gives Peruvian food that touches of oriental influence. In the 1400s, the Incas came to power, but their empire was short-lived when in 1528 Spanish conquistadors came to Peru. The Spanish introduced chicken, pork, and lamb to the Incas and in return were introduced to potatoes and aji. As European diseases struck the Incas there was a shortage of labor and slaves were brought over from Africa to work on the newly established plantations. Africans contributed to the food dynamic with such foods as picarones which is a deep-fried pastry made from pumpkin dough. Peru’s unique variety of climates and landscapes has also helped in making the Peruvian menu so diverse. Such geographical variety divides Peru into distinct culinary regions like the coastal, mountainous, and tropical. This blend of ethnic influences and geographical diversity has made Peruvian food to be the unique cuisine it is today while promoting and teaching unity and togetherness.
I have adapted to American culture, but my restaurant is a way of bringing my roots into the present. It is my way of bringing a little bit of home to where I am now. And what’s better than sharing my home with you? Moving here I learned about American culture and now it is my turn to share with the world my culture. In Peru, food is much more than sustenance. It is a way of bringing people together. When you would get home from school and smell whatever it is that was cooking on the stove, you were instantly reminded of your family sitting around a big dinner table sharing stories that they had experienced that day. Food is comfort and a symbol of togetherness. It is more than just a means to survive, it is a means of living. To survive and to live are two different things and food is one thing that contributes to our happy living. It holds so many stories and so many emotions. The dishes that I serve remind me of my mother who would always have a meal ready for my sisters and me when we would get home from school. They remind me of my father who would have the whole family laughing at the dinner table. They remind me of my children who would stand in the doorway of our house and yell “MOM WHAT ARE WE EATING TODAY.” Food is family. Food is home. Food is memories and love.
Food is always surrounded by family and it has always been a dream of mine to open a restaurant and share my background with others. My sisters have restaurants in Colombia and Rockford, Illinois, so they served as my inspiration and my motivators. I saw that they could do it, so I decided to take up this challenging endeavor. The restaurant business is not an easy one, but I have learned that I must surpass these obstacles to pursue my dream.
Thank you so much for supporting my business!