By Alisa Boswell
CMI staff writer
What started out 10 years ago as a means for Joe Garcia to share his family’s love has now become exactly what he envisioned it to be.
“One day, I was just taken aback by how big and loving and giving my family is and I just wanted to find a way to share that with others,” said Garcia, owner of the El Rancho Mexican restaurant, along with his parents.
The annual dinner held at the Portales restaurant each year is a home-away-from-home for families on Christmas day, especially this year with so many new faces joining in the holiday festivities at the local Mexican restaurant.
Whether facing tough times or just needing a place where a big family can fit, El Rancho was the hot spot for Portales families Wednesday, with the restaurant being filled within the first hour of the luncheon.
Jacqueline Cruz ate enchiladas with her three children, Luis, 10, and twins Esperanza and Irene, 8.
Luis teased his mother that she would be “going down” after lunch when they would once again play the Monopoly game that was a Christmas present earlier that morning.
“We played this morning and mom won, of course,” Cruz said with a smile.
Cruz said due to her family experiencing a “rough couple of months” from divorce proceedings, she did not shop or plan for a Christmas dinner then a friend told her about El Rancho.
“Since I didn’t know what they would be serving, the traditional turkey or what, the kids didn’t want to come at first,” she said. “But now that we’re here, they love it.”
More first-timers at the dinner were Teri Blakeley and her four foster children.
Blakeley said she let the children choose traditions they had in previous years with their families for Christmas this year.
All four girls had a tradition of making and eating menudo, so that’s what they did. But there was just one problem. Miss Teri, as she is called by the children, doesn’t like menudo. So the family compromised. The four girls ate their menudo on Christmas Eve then joined their foster mother at El Rancho on Christmas Day.
“I tried it, I did,” Blakeley said of the menudo. “But it’s just not my thing.”
“This is a win-win situation,” she added about El Rancho.
Working men Jimmy Shiner and Jaylin Brown joined the festivities also.
The two men did not go to see family due to only having one day off, so a friend invited them out to El Rancho.
Shiner said the restaurant’s atmosphere and the company of friends was a good substitute for a family Christmas.
“It’s just nice to be with friends and family,” he said.
“We invite anyone to come,” Garcia said of the dinner. “And when you look around, you see people of all types from everywhere. That’s what amazes me is how it comes together every year.”