In My Family...

My mother and I emigrated to the U.S. in Fall, 1990 from the Latvian capital city of Riga. My step father brought us both to Los Angeles. Fortunately, upon our arrival, there was already a Latvian community established here. Through frequent gathering events at our Latvian Community Center, the transition to a strange and foreign land was greatly facilitated.

Piragi have played a role in this transition by serving as intermediaries. By more established Latvians in the U.S. still perpetuating the old-country custom of making Piragi, the Piragi have served as a transitional aid. For my mother and I, Piragi have provided a link to our native customs and practices and also shown that such native customs, like ourselves, can be integrated into mainstream American society.

Although the attribute of being a great snack food remains, meaning has been added to Piragi in their migration to the U.S. Piragi now serve as reminders of our culture, relatives and homeland. According to my aunt, who still resides in Riga, this cultural significance meaning is not evident - or perhaps taken for granted in Latvia, where Piragi are fairly common place.

Ever since I can remember, the Pirags has been a part of almost every family and community celebration that I have attended. Though its greatest prominence (and perhaps the time in which it is brought to its greatest folkloric significance) is during the Jani (Summer Solstice) celebration and Christmas, Piragi are a snack food that are enjoyed year round by everyone.

When I used to live in Latvia there was no set "Piragi maker." Although Piragi weren't made constantly, it was far from an unusual occasion for me to be treated with Piragi. My mother would often make them as treats for guests, or just on the weekend as a snack for myself. Also, if I would visit my aunt or godmother, Piragi would be made - merely as concessions for guests, like chips and dip served in American families.

Since I have been in the United States, Piragi have primarily been made for special occasions. When my mother and I frequent the Latvian Community Center for various events, it is customary for Piragi to be part of a dish (if dinner is being provided) and/or for there to be bags of Piragi for sale to take home. Piragi are still made as a concession for guests in one's house. When my mother and I spent Christmas Eve with family friends, both our hosts and my mother baked Piragi for the occasion. As part of the dinner, both sets of Piragi were served. This facet of "pot-luck Piragi" can also be related to their origins as a measure of one's agricultural prowess - a certain aspect of competition is involved when two different people make Piragi and then the two varieties are sampled by friends/family and a generally unspoken verdict is passed on whose Piragi have come out to be the best.

As with a significant amount of folklore, the recipe for Piragi in my family has been passed down the generations in a matriarchal fashion. My mother remembers her mother making Piragi when she was a little girl, letting her help out in kitchen, and eventually my mother learning the process and starting to make Piragi herself.

I believe the tradition of making Piragi is important for my family and myself mainly as a piece of our culture to be preserved and just "one of those things that you do." Piragi is a great snack food, it's something that everyone can participate in making, and when it is shared, something that people can relate to.