Empanadas on Empanadas! Celebrating Colombian Independence Day
Today we celebrate Colombia’s independence from Spanish colonisation with a photography series by Melissa Santos on her recent return back to Colombia.
The photo series documents the country’s rich culture, capturing her local environment, family, and food. After the film was developed, Melissa collaborated with close friend Jason Vaz, who designed complementary borders and textures that they collectively thought represented Colombia's character and rich culture.
On this day in 1810, Colombia signed the Act of the Revolution and became a sovereign state, inspiring similar independence movements across Latin America. The celebration itself recognises the rich cultural heritage of Colombia, including the important contributions of Afro-descendants, indigenous populations and women to Colombian history.
We sat down with Melissa to get a deeper insight into how she’s celebrating today and learn more behind the photographs taken on her latest trip to her motherland.
How do you typically celebrate today? Is it with friends or family?
Today’s usually spent with my dad. He’s the only one from the family to migrate over here, so it’s just making sure we were home to spend the time together to laugh, eat and shout over each other. We’re a small family unit here, so we keep it simple. I’m happy to say he and my brother are in the homeland this year to celebrate though, so today’s going to be my first independence day shared with friends by getting an abundance of arepas and arequipe.
What do people typically wear to celebrate?
I can’t lie, it’s a lot of football jerseys. It’s a big part of the culture, even our dog reps one. We also just love to make sure the flag is on us somewhere whether that’s on a tee, bag or bracelet. I’m repping all the jewellery today though, so gold obnoxious earrings I bought from my most recent trip that clink together as I walk and beaded necklaces passed down to me. Colombians naturally dress loud and colourful with attention to detail, so today’s no different.
Food has always been a cultural pillar for celebration to bring people together. What are some of the traditional Colombian dishes you would normally eat today? Is there any street food that you’d recommend?
Empanadas on empanadas with a Postobon Manzana to wash it all down is how we usually do it. For a meal though, you need to get yourself Bandeja Paisa from somewhere like Santafereño in Brixton Village. If you want something less meat heavy though, La Cumbia in Pamela on Kingsland Road has vegan empanadas, fried yucca and cheesy arepas.
What’s your most cherished Independence day celebration?
We’d go every other summer, so I was fortunate enough to spend a lot of independence days exactly where I was supposed to be. I remember one specifically as a teenager that was just spent outside the house all day that was filled with music and everyone spilling into the streets to dance and pass around a bottle of Aguardiente. There’s a lot to be celebrated and Colombians know how to party.
With the large Colombian diaspora, celebrations happen all around the world. Is there anything going on in London which you can recommend?
I really recommend supporting all the local businesses this week more than usual. These are people who have worked hard to build something here, so get yourself authentic goodies from Latin Village in Seven Sisters, Paula’s Bakery in Brixton, La Caleñita in Elephant & Castle. Basically anywhere around E&C. If you know Corsica Studios, that’s exactly the spot you need to be if you wanna grab a cerveza to Cumbia with the community. Candelita is also throwing an Independence Day Special on Saturday at The Post Bar too which has an unreal lineup of live music and DJ sets.
What was the reason for the trip?
I hadn’t been in 6 years, the longest I’ve ever gone which was purely down to expensive flights and pandemic. The more time passed, it felt like Colombia was getting further away. I think when you come from a mixed household, it can sometimes feel hard to place your identity, although no one is expecting you to; it’s a silly complex. So I had enough and booked the trip to coincide with the end of my contract with my job at the time. It was 3 weeks to reconnect as an adult with what my dad left behind for us to have more opportunities than he did. I got to spend time watching telenovelas with my abuelita and running errands with my aunt whilst completely chilling out in a hammock older than me.
The photographs captured in 35mm, document your family, food, environment, and the city colours. Can you share a little behind the photographs and the intent behind capturing them?
I just wanted to capture the trip in the moment as it went along. Not much thought went behind any of the pics really, just snap and go. I wanted the photos to be an accurate capture of what was going on in front of me. Even ones that were a bit shit I still love. I’ve also always been heavily inspired by the photos my mum took in the 90s of her first trips there and seeing Colombia through her lens. I posted her pics on Insta the last independence day, so it feels kinda full circle to share my own 35mm photos from my first solo trip for this year’s. I collaborated with my friend Jay for the design to bring an element of the pre-Colombian era of mad goldwork and pottery that consists of geometric shapes and patterns, which is such a rich part of Colombia’s art history.
Is there anyone you met on the trip that left a strong lasting impression?
Defo Luis who I met in La Cumbre (the portrait with the green border) just outside of Cali. It’s a super beautiful location that has a simple way of life. Running through the town they have Brujitas, which are wooden platforms with benches that sit on an abandoned train track which are pushed on foot by people like Luis. He took us on a tour and we learnt all about the area and agriculture. We made sure we paid him well and he was pretty taken by my point and shoot as he hadn’t seen a camera like that in years. He was very keen to pose and flex and for me and insisted on taking photos of me in return and went nuts getting all the angles. So I had half a roll of film that’s dedicated to Luis and his photography tekkers which really makes me smile. I think his kindness, work ethic and charm is a good representation of the people of Colombia.