Hispanic Heritage Month Highlight: Rico’s Mexican Restaurant

HILL CITY, SD — For more than 30 years, the United States has recognized September 15 through October 15 as Hispanic Heritage Month. It’s a time to honor the culture, history and contributions of Latin American communities in this country, like a couple in Hill City.

The very first bill enacted for a time of year honoring Latin American citizens was in 1968, according to the U.S. House of Representatives. Originally submitted by Representative George Brown of California, President Lyndon B. Johnson signed it and designated the week of September 15 as “National Hispanic Heritage Week.” During the week, the Congressional Hispanic Caucus celebrated by highlighting the contributions to American life made by Latino citizens, and even drawing media attention to the legislature that would help the community.

In 1987, another representative from California came up with the idea of ​​extending the week to a month. His bill died in committee, but an Illinois senator amended it and after passing Congress, President Reagan signed it into law on August 15, 1988.

Traditionally, September 15 also holds significance for five countries of the Latin American diaspora. Guatemala, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, El Salvador and Honduras all declared their countries’ independence on this day in 1821. Mexico and Chile had declared theirs years earlier, on September 16 and 18. 1810.

To learn more about the month, the Library of Congress has partnered with several organizations like the Smithsonian Institution and the National Park Service to create a website so people know more.

For Liz and Obegario Simental, the food they serve stems from family traditions in their native Texas and Mexico.

“My whole family – my aunts, my cousin next door, they all cook barbacoa. San Antonio is good for barbacoa,” Liz explained. “My husband makes the carnitas. He’s from Zacatecas.

The tacos, burritos and tamales they make contain meat options like carne asada and chicken, but also more traditional options like carnitas (braised pork), al pastor (grilled pork) and the aforementioned barbacoa (cheeks or beef tongue).

The Simentals have called Hill City their home for over 40 years. Obegario worked in the forestry and sawmill industries and Liz in the restaurant business. Since 1999, she has been licensed to make and sell homemade dishes such as her tamales and even her salsa.

Over time, she moved into an actual building, then a larger one with multiple tables and a patio in downtown Hill City. However, when the pandemic hit the area, Obegario lost her job and Liz could no longer keep the restaurant going, leading them to open the trailer.

“I ended up staying there for fifteen years. But then when COVID hit I couldn’t keep the help up, so I was doing it on my own anyway,” she explained. “And my husband lost his job at the sawmill – he was a contractor. It was his idea – just find a place. We couldn’t find a place, so we bought a food trailer.

The name of their trailer is Rico’s Mexican Restaurant, also called “Mi Cocina Pequeña” (My Little Kitchen). When they first opened the new trailer earlier this month, they also made the decision to scale back their menu while continuing to use their family’s recipes.

And though they were hesitant to share their food and culture with the greater Black Hills region, they saw otherwise.

“So far everyone is happy. People come to the window, everyone is happy and so are we,” Obegario said. “We are cooking, as you see. arrived.

The couple follow where their caravan is going for the day on Facebook page.

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