Kris Espinoza on family, Ecuador, and Thanksgiving

By Karen Weldon

She was born in New York City, grew up in Ecuador, then came to Minnesota at the age of 11. While this might sound like your typical classmate, Kris Espinoza is actually a full-time employee at Café Mac. A Grille Lead since January 2011 and an employee of Bon Appetít since 2008, Espinoza is a junior occupational therapy major at St. Catherine’s University, with a rich Ecuadorian-American background and a love for children. “I have a huge family. In Ecuador, a big, close family is very important,” Espinoza said, explaining how she comes from a family of nine children. Growing up Espinoza recalls how her father always wanted more children, even if it entailed spending every other year in the United States to earn money. “My dad wanted 15 kids. It was only because my mom and grandma said, ‘Enough!’ that there are only nine of us,” Espinoza said. While Espinoza may not have 14 other siblings, family is still central to her life. Although many of her siblings have now moved out, Espinoza still lives with a houseful: her parents, her three siblings, her elder brother’s wife and baby and her 12-year-old nephew. Nonetheless, Espinoza looks forward to the times when her entire family can be together. “Thanksgiving is the best holiday…we all get together,” Esponiza said. During the holidays, her siblings, aunts and uncles often spend time with other relatives, but each Thanksgiving Espinoza’s family rents a large hall so all of her 75 or so extended family members can get together. “There’s laughing, dancing, eating…it’s the time of the life,” Espinoza explained. As an American holiday, Thanksgiving illustrates the melding of her Ecuadorian heritage with her American lifestyle and traditions. For Espinoza’s family, Thanksgiving dinner always consists of turkey and gravy along with Ecuadorian rice and salad. In order to please both the younger generation of Espinoza’s family as well as her grandparents and older aunts and uncles, this past Thanksgiving, for the first time, Espinoza’s family ate pumpkin pie along with their traditional Ecuadorian holiday desert of figs, queso fresco, syrup and buñuelos, a small pancake patty. While younger generations will only eat pie and the oldest ones just figs, Espinoza herself embraces both cultures. “I’m in the middle … I love my mom’s traditional foods, but I can also pull my American side and enjoy American foods,” Espinoza said. For Espinoza, one negative aspect of her multicultural heritage is that it can make schoolwork challenging. Because she didn’t learn English until she moved to Minnesota at the age of eleven, she still sometimes has difficulty with it. “Sometimes I think, ‘Why can’t I be like my friends who type up a paper the night before it’s due?’ Three or four days beforehand, I start freaking out. I have to go to the learning center to fix the grammar and run on sentences,” Espinoza said. Despite these challenges, Espinoza has persevered and is looking forward to graduating next school year. What will she be using her occupational therapy degree for? “I really want to work with kids. I love kids,” Espinoza said. For a woman who so highly values family, working with children is the perfect career.