NOTE TO EDITORS: The following opinion editorial was submitted by Jim Estrada, of Estrada Communications Group
Austin, TX–(HISPANIC PR WIRE)–December 17, 2007–Each year, the holiday season that begins with Thanksgiving Day and runs through New Year’s Day is a time for celebrating our blessings, demonstrating love and compassion, and hoping for peace on earth.
The end of the year is also a time for reflection. This past year, immigration has captured center stage in the minds of many across our nation. There are those who cite the growing negative influence Latinos are having on “their” society, “their” economy and “their” culture. This prompted me to remind my fellow Americans of Latino contributions to our nation’s growth and cultural development.
It occurred to me we have imported many things from Latin America throughout the history of our young nation. One of them has come to symbolize the holiday season we are celebrating: the cuetlaxochitl. It is a native plant of Mexico and Central America. To many, it is seen only in its dispensable potted state, but in its natural environment it normally grows up to 10 feet tall.
This icon of the holiday season was once part of the botanical gardens that existed throughout the pre-Colombian Aztec empire. In that era, flowers and plants were cultivated for their beauty, as well as medicinal purposes. The Mexicas (whose culture was adopted by most of the tribes of the Aztec civilization) used the cuetlaxochitl to cure fevers and to dye clothing and artifacts. Most Mexicans know the cuetlaxochitl as flor de la nochebuena (flower of the Holy Night), since it leaves turn into a flame-red color during the Christmas season only.
In the United States, this Mexican native has a different history and name. The U.S. its history began with Joel Robert Poinsett, who was Ambassador to Mexico in the 1820s. He reportedly visited a church while in Mexico where the parishioners had adorned the Nativity scene with local, exotic red plants that gave it a very elegant and uncommon appearance. Ambassador Poinsett transported cuttings of the plant across the border to his South Carolina hothouses and introduced the nochebuena to the USA. Today, it has become the nation’s Christmas flower.
The nochebuena is still associated with Christmas throughout Mexico, Central America and Latino neighborhoods throughout the United States. Who could have imagined that a shrubby, rather obscure tropical plant with reddish leaves (that really aren’t flowers) would someday become the second-most-popular flowering plant in the entire country?
Poinsettias (as they are known in the United States), along with chocolate, corn, avocados, peanuts, tomatoes, chile peppers, tortillas and other transplanted resources from South of the border, have been readily adopted to enrich the quality of life in the USA. What could possibly be next?
Jim Estrada is a former television news reporter (KGTV-10 in San Diego, CA) and current marketing communications consultant (Estrada Communications Group, Austin, TX). The nationally recognized expert on the U.S. Hispanic Consumer Market is also author of the soon-to-be published book, “The ñ Factor: A New Paradigm in the Cultural Evolution of America.”