On the day before Christmas Eve, my husband and I drove nearly an hour in the rain to a butcher in Waxhaw in order to pick up a 60-pound pig I had ordered several weeks before.
We brought it home and placed it, belly-up, on top of our kitchen counter where we proceeded to inject it with mojo, a garlicky Cuban marinade made with sour oranges that we were lucky to find in our neighborhood's Compare Foods supermarket. Mr. Pig hung out in our kitchen all night, covered in bags of ice and soaking up all the flavor from the tangy, punchy marinade.
On Christmas Eve, or Noche Buena as we Cubans like to call it, we placed our swine friend in a caja china, a roasting box created in the 1950s by Chinese immigrants to Havana. We closed the box, covered it with charcoal and set it ablaze. In four hours, my mother and I were fighting over the piggy's crispy ears.
We served it with plantains, yuca, white rice and the creamiest black beans the world has ever known. Traditions, man. That's what the holidays are all about.
And this year, my family has added a new tradition to our end-of-year celebrations — it's a tradition that has taken us more than 20 years to adopt. This holiday, everyone in my household is gathering around the TV to watch football. Notice I said football, not fútbol.
We may not always understand all that's going on, but we've caught a serious case of Panther fever. Symptoms include dabbin' with the best of them.
Growing up in Cuba, I never even heard of football as a child. After immigrating to the United States and living here for several years, I began to notice how prevalent it is in American culture. My parents had no idea how it was played, so I picked up bits and pieces of the game's mechanics from school and friends. I remember my college roommate having to explain the Patriot's game-winning field goal against the Panthers back in the 2004 Super Bowl. "I thought you could only kick the ball into the goal after scoring a touchdown," I had protested.
I continued to be an occasional football watcher, using the Super Bowl as an excuse to throw or attend parties while remaining mildly aware of the Panthers' fortunes through friends' Facebook updates.
But this year, everything has changed.
Now I know about the importance of clinching home-field advantage in the playoffs and what the initials NFC and AFC stand for (I'm still not entirely sure what a safety is, however). This season's Panthers have made a die-hard, lifelong fan out me.
And I'm not the only one. American football is becoming increasingly popular among Latinos and last year's Super Bowl was the most-viewed show on record by Hispanic-Americans.
Jaime Moreno is helping the Carolina Panthers capitalize on this newfound fanbase. He makes up half of the Panther's Spanish radio broadcasting duo along with his nephew Luis Moreno Jr., whose animated narration has won the hearts of Latino and Anglo fans alike.
"We've been doing the Spanish narration for the Panthers for seven years," he said. "But something different is happening this year. The video of our narration when Cam Newton did the flip went viral and people all over the country and even abroad have started noticing us. We've tripled our number of listeners this year."
Moreno and his partner see their role as more than narrators, they are also educators. "We have listeners from Guatemala or El Salvador – places where football is not popular at all – who want to cheer for the Panthers, but don't know what's going on in the game," he said. "So, we make it a point to explain things like penalties, or alert our listeners to when the Panthers are in the red zone so that they know we're getting close to scoring."
But the thing that truly makes their broadcast unique is their lively style. A quick YouTube search for "Cam Newton Touchdown Flip Spanish Radio Call" will make you a fan whether you speak the language or not.
"When we started narrating the games in Spanish, we knew we wanted to do things a little differently and we were inspired by soccer. We wanted to bring a little flavor of soccer to this game, and what is the flavor of soccer? Celebration."
As for my part, I already know how I'll be celebrating if the Panther's make it to the Super Bowl on February 7 — with a pig in a box, of course.