Todo Sabe Mejor con un Pellizco de Amor/Everything Tastes Better with a Pinch of Love Part 2

PART 2

SICK

“Enfermo que come y mea, su Tita que se lo crea,” she would say when I was sick, and she’d make me caldito de pollo, Mexican chicken soup.   This was her version of medicine for almost any illness, but I suspect it was el pellizco de amor that lured the illnesses away. That, and some vaporub on my feet. She would rub vaporub on my feet as if she was rubbing a magic lantern, which would make them feel tingly and cold, and then she would slip socks over them.

Every time I became sick, she’d start concocting her delicious chicken soup. I could here her sing the song she always sang to me when I was a baby, “Negra, Negra concentida. Negra de mi vida. Quien te quiere a ti?” Then I would respond, “Tú, Tita. Tú me quieres a mi.” You, Tita. You love me. She always served my soup with a chicken drumstick, my favorite. And she was serious about making sure I ate every last bit of it. “Otro poquito,” she would say. A little bit more, until I finished it all.

At night before I’d got to bed, she would make her delicious té de canela, cinnamon tea.  “Para que se te caliente tu pechito,” she would say.  So your chest can warm up.  A stick of cinnamon, a little carnation evaporated milk, and the sweetness of brown sugar – it’s all I needed to fall asleep.

The sacrament of food

Artist: Peter Bolland

Tita Carmen was many things. She was a grandmother, a mother, a daughter, a lover, a fighter, a nurturer, and the main ingredient in our family. She was also an eater. As much as she loved to cook food for others, she also loved to eat. If you had food left over, she would gladly eat it! If you offered her food, she would take it in a heartbeat! Food was her way of connecting with family, friends, and life.

Mamá tells me that once when I was a baby, she caught Tita feeding me caldito de pescado, fish broth, through a straw, and when Mamá protested because I was too little to eat that kind of food. Tita simply told her, “A buen hambre, no hay mal pan.” For a good hunger there is no bad bread. Tita was not afraid of food. To her, it was a symbol of love and nurture.

Three things that she could never do without were, jalapeños, tortillas, and frijoles. She had to have at least one of those in every meal. Sometimes she ate the funniest things like spaghetti with tortillas. Or if we ordered take-out, she’d eat orange chicken and beans. And I think if she was craving it, she would have eaten cake and jalapeños.

That was Tita, adventurous and daring. Like the time she survived her first earthquake. She was in Mexico City and the earth shook like a giant maraca, a magnitude of 8.1! She said the buildings crumbled like, biscochitos, Mexican wedding cookies. Or the second time she was camping on the beach in San Felipe, the epicenter of a 7.2 magnitude earthquake where the sand shook like flour going through a sifter. But none of these scary incidents stopped Tita from living and exploring. In everything she did, she taught us to love life and food.

Artist: Minerva Torres Guzman

Artist: Minerva Torres Guzman

Maybe this is why it was so difficult to see Tita Carmen lose her appetite. I knew she was sick when she no longer wanted to eat.   Mamá or la familia would cook some of her favorite dishes to open up her appetite, but even swallowing became difficult for her. The dichos she once said to entice us to eat were not enough. “Tripa vacía, corazón sin alegría.” An empty gut is a heart without happiness,” we would joke with her to put her in lighter spirits, hoping she would eat a little more.

As she became more ill, she ate less and less. She would only eat sopita de fideo, banana, and atole. Her sister would sing to her, “Vamos a tomar atole, todos los que van pasando, que el atole está muy bueno y la atolera se está agriando.” When Tita had enough energy, she would sing along, the way she would sing it to me when she made it for breakfast and served it with pan dulce. She could only eat a few spoonfuls at a time, but she tried her best for us, her family.

I remember feeding her sopita de fideo and banana. Tita had always been the one to take care of us, and now we were taking care of her. I fed my Tita the way she fed me when I was a baby, gently scraping the banana with a spoon because she could no longer eat it in chunks. Even when she could no longer eat, she would ask us if we had eaten. No matter how sick she became, she never stopped loving us, never stopped caring for us.

cooking

Artis: Bones Nelson

Tita always said, “Las penas, con pan son buenas.” As long as there was food, and family to share it with, we would be able to overcome our sorrows and problems. That is the legacy she left us. On the days that missing her just feels too overwhelming, Mamá and I reconnect with her, her spirit, by cooking the food she cooked for us with so much love.

 

Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life. It turns what we have into enough, and more. It turns denial into acceptance, chaos to order, confusion to clarity. It can turn a meal into a feast, a house into a home, a stranger into a friend.  Gratitude make sense of our past, brings peace for today, and creates a vision for tomorrow.  -Melody Beattie

 

Today (and always), I am remembering that my survival is a result of the strength, sacrifices, and pure, divine grit of my ancestors. Their survival ensured my presence here, today. They dreamt me into existence because they believed in my capacity to continue the work of healing, liberating, and transforming. I owe them and honor them. They are the roots from which I am nourished, from which I grow, from which I become. May I, and those that come after me, never forget.

There are many ways to connect to our ancestors and our roots. One of my favorite ways is to cook the foods that the women in my family have cooked for generations. Wearing my Tita’s favorite mandil, every Dia de los Muertos, I work my way through the kitchen and feel her presence as I cook the mole in her honor, celebrating the way she taught me to cook it. This goes in my ofrenda as I prepare to welcome my ancestors back.

Though I always call upon my ancestors and know they are guiding me, this time of year allows me to see death as a beautiful process, a spiritual one, rather than eerie and gory. I get to cook the favorite dishes of my loved ones who have transcended, and welcome them to dinner, and speak their name through tears and laughter, and meditation. This is a time that is intentionally dedicated to commemorate my loved ones, but beyond these days, I continue to set intentions to connect with them through out the year. In a sense this is an opportunity to set new intentions and new ways to find deeper, meaningful connections to my past and my heritage, in order to flourish beautifully in the future.  It is a time of gratitude and appreciation.

little girl

 

Todo Sabe Mejor con un Pellizco de Amor/Everything Tastes Better with a Pinch of Love

PART 1

My grandmother helped me raise my daughter – she was her other mother.  The wonderful and beautiful woman that my daughter has become is in great part to the influence my grandmother had in her life.  The following is a narrative I wrote from my daughter’s perspective.

IMG_1689

I was raised by two moms. Mamá and Tita Carmen, my great-grandma. She helped raise Mamá, and when I was born, she helped to raise me.

When I was born, as Mamá held me in her arms, she asked my Tita, “Es mia? Es mi niña?” Is she mine? Is she my little girl? My Tita responded, “Si, es tuya.” Yes, she is yours. But as long as I can remember, my Tita would grab my arm or my leg and say, “Este cachito es mio.” This little piece is mine, and pretend she was eating a piece of me.

When Mamá was at work or attending college, my Tita took care of me. She would teach me about all kinds of different foods from México. I watched in wonder how she used ordinary ingredients to create extraordinary flavors. I didn’t know it then, but she was teaching me about my culture and about the importance of using food to pass on traditions and bring family together.

Tortillera Dia De Los Muertos - By Pristine Cartera Turkus

Tortillera Dia De Los Muertos Print By Pristine Cartera Turkus

Tita loved making gorditas, a thick tortilla stuffed with black beans. It is a typical food from the state of Veracruz, Mexico where she was raised. She taught me how to make the ball of maza by rolling it in my hands, making a dimple in the center and stuffing it with beans, and finally flattening out the ball with my hands until it looked like a round golden sun. As she showed me how to pat and flatten the maza with my hands, she would sing, “Tortillita de manteca pa’ mamá que está contenta. Tortillita de maíz pa’ papá que está feliz,” Mexico’s equivalent to Patty-Cake. We would then fry them, and they would become puffed tortillas, like golden bubbles. I would become so excited when I saw them inflate like balloons, I would scream, “Se infló, sen infló!” I would pop the top of the bubble and my Tita would top my gordita with salsa, not so spicy for me, and queso fresco.

beans

Prisarts Gallery

Tita was always cooking up something special for us. Every morning Tita would wake up by 5:00 to greet the tortilla sun, eager to prepare our breakfast. My alarm was usually the clinking and clanking of the pots, especially when she would make her delicious black bean burritos with salsa verde. She’d begin by mashing the beans she had previously made in her olla de barro, a special clay pot that had been seasoned from years of cooking beans. Then she’d warm up flour tortillas on the comal; tortillas so soft, like her plump cheeks when she kissed me good morning. A little shredded cheese and salsita verde,y listo calisto,” love wrapped by tortillas awaited at the table. “Panza llena, corazón contento,” she would exclaim. Full stomach, happy heart! Through her cooking, Tita made sure we were always protected by her love.

maiz

Artist: Bones Nelson

At the end of the school day, even though Mamá would cook dinner in the evenings, Tita always prepared a little meal for me; it was her way of welcoming me home. One of my favorite meals was sopita de fideo, Mexican noodle soup. Sometimes she would put banana rounds in my soup, mmmmm. This was a trick abuelas, grandmas, would use to get the little ones to eat their soup. And when she would forget, I would remind her, “Tita, se te olvido hecharle platanito!” Tita, you forgot to add the banana. As soon as I’d get home from school, I would smell Tita’s cooking and see a placemat on the table with a spoon or a fork neatly wrapped in a napkin the way she always wrapped herself around me with her hugs. Before I could even put my backpack down, she would announce what she had cooked especially for me, “Te hice sopita mi niña, ven a comer.” I made you soup my little girl, come eat. That was one of the best parts of coming home.

mole

Artist: Deb Hart

Tita Carmen had many ways of showing her love to us, but the way she loved us the most was through the food she cooked. She believed that if you were hungry, you could never enjoy the beautiful things in life, and you definitely could not be hungry and laugh at the same time. She made each one of us feel special by cooking the foods that made our eyes twinkle like luciérnagas, fireflies, and our smiles wrap around our faces like brilliant streamers.

On special occasions, like on our birthdays, she made mole, a delicious potion of love. She would start early in the morning by setting out all the ingredients she would need for the big meal. Mole is made with over twenty different ingredients! It can take up to two days to make the paste from scratch. Even though she bought the mole paste, she always added her secret ingredients, or “su pellizco de amor,” her pinch of love. Mole is a special treat in Mexico and many families have their own varieties passed down for generations.

“Bate, Bate chocolate con arroz y con tomate. 1-2-3 Cho! 1-2-3 co! 1-2-3 la! 1-2-3 te! Chocolate, chocolate,” She would sing as she stirred the mole paste into a semi-sweet and spicy sauce of love. This took a while, as it had to have the perfect consistency. The house would smell of chocolate, chicken, tortillas, tomato, onion, garlic, beans, cilantro and spices like roasted chiles, sesame seeds, and clove. It was a celebration of food, family, and love. Tita was like mole, loving and comforting during discouraging times, strong and bold during hard times, and daring and sassy in the face of defeat.

baking

With such a big family to feed and little time to cook, Tita figured out very quickly how to cook meals with little ingredients and lots of love. Besides raising her own children, she also helped raise five grandchildren, and me! She was a farm worker for fourteen years and that meant working long hours. Sometimes 14 hours a day, seven days a week under the scorching sun! She would get up at 4:00 o’clock in the morning to be in the fields by five. She spent a huge part of her day bent over or on her feet pulling weeds or harvesting fruits and vegetables like strawberries, grapes, tomatoes, cabbage, and onions.

Even though she would be too tired to cook after a long day’s work, and cooking for so many people could mean spending a lot of time in the kitchen on her feet no matter how simple the meal, she always figured out a way to cook a feast. “Todo sabe mejor, con un pellizco de amor.” “Everything tastes better with a pinch of love,” she would say.

Tita always cooked with her mandil; that was her superheroine cape with which she created magic in the kitchen. She could always make something out of nothing. Mamá told me that growing up, there were times when food was scarce. She remembers once when all there was, was a pack of hotdogs in the refrigerator and a bag of rice, and somehow Tita managed to cook a delicious meal. She chopped the hotdogs, sautéed them in onion and garlic, and cooked them in a tomato-chipotle sauce she made by blending tomatoes and a couple of chipotle chiles, and served them over rice. Mamá says those were the best hotdogs she ever tasted. Tita never worried about there not being enough food. Her philosophy was simple, “Le hechamos más agua a los frijoles.” We will just add more water to the beans. No matter who came around, she always had enough food to feed us all.

Ramona’s Dream

A short screenplay based on conversations I have had with students in the past month.  As I continue to explore the importance of reclaiming our past, connecting to our ancestors, learning our heritage, and actively participating in passing these components of identity to future generations, I am also paying deep attention to the subversive ways in which colonization, racism, and poverty continue to devastate our children.

Int. Public School Classroom (K-8) – Any given school day

A dated resource classroom with brown linoleum floor and yellowing

perforated ceiling tiles with some water stains. 

Some pseudo motivational posters with messages like: “The Difference Between Losers and Winners is Attitude” and “Learning is an Adventure.”

Classroom furnished with five round tables with four chairs at each table. The classroom serves for small group instruction for students with IEPs (Individual Education Plans).

Resource books, instructional strategies written on posters, and some computers line one side of the room.

Three students are in the classroom with their support teacher who is helping them write their history essay which is already past due. The essay topic: Segregation in the South.

Two of the students, Jesus and Alberto, 8th graders, are giggling and murmuring to each other, searching through their back-pack for their work. They don’t seem interested in doing the assignment.

Ramona, the third student, also an 8th grader, is sitting across from them, to the right of the teacher, Mrs. Malo. Her head is bent over her textbook, and she stares intently at its cover, a photograph of the Statue of Liberty with a backdrop of the flag of the United States. Her hands are grasping the chair by the side of her thighs, as she drags her feet back and forth.

Ramona wears brown lackluster eyes, brown skin of a heritage indigenous to the central coast of Mexico, and long flowing hair that fall like Raven feathers along her arms.

Jesus has more pronounced indigenous features with hair that covers his head like a thick knitted cap.

 

Mrs. Malo

(Sternly and compassionately speaking to the boys)

 

Guys, come on, get your work out. We have to get started.

 

 

Jesus and Alberto

                  (giggling as they are pulling out their work)

 

Ramona

                  (bewildered)

What are we supposed to write about?

 

Mrs. Malo

                  (matter of fact)

You’re writing your essay for history. You have to write about segregation in the South.

 

Alberto

                  (inquisitively)

What’s segregation?

 

Mrs. Malo

It’s when Blacks were not allowed to live alongside Whites. They had to use separate bathrooms, sit in different sections of a bus or restaurant, attend separate schools, and were treated as having less value than Whites.

 

Ramona

                  (appalled)

That’s racist!

 

Mrs. Malo

                  (in agreement)

Yeah. So if we work on this essay, it will help you to learn more about how segregation caused a lot of suffering for Blacks who lived in the South. And actually, there have been many different groups of people that have suffered segregation in this country.

 

Students listening intently to Mrs. Malo

 

Mrs. Malo

                  (Cont)

Mexicans also had to deal with segregation, but most of the segregation Mexicans experienced happened in places like California, Texas, and Arizona.

 

Alberto

                  (confused)

Who made segregation?

 

Mrs. Malo

Segregation laws were put in place by White people.

 

Alberto

                  (even more confused)

But why?

 

Mrs. Malo

Many reasons. Hate, fear, control, power, and also this idea called White supremacy.

 

Alberto

                  (confused)

What’s White supremacy?

 

Mrs. Malo

It’s this idea that Whites are better than the other races, and should have control of those races. But this same idea exists in many countries, not just the United States. For example, in Mexico you see that many of the people who hold power and wealth are disproportionately White.

 

Ramona

                  (enthusiastically)

My dream is to marry a white guy!

 

Mrs. Malo turns to Ramona in shock. Mrs. Malo instinctively assumes Ramona wants to marry a White guy because she has learned to see her brown skin as inferior and it would give her more accessibility into a world of more privilege, but quickly catches herself, so as to not criticize or judge what Ramona has just stated. Instead probes Ramona to understand Ramona’s perspective.

 

After Ramona’s comment, Jesus bends his head toward his textbook with his hands in the pockets of his hoodie.

 

Mrs. Malo

                  (probing, trying to hide her disappointment)

Why is that your dream?

 

Ramona

                  (enthusiastically)

Because, they are so cute and they have money, so they can take care of me.

 

Mrs. Malo

                  (trying desperately not to sound judgmental)

 

What about just saying, “My dream is to find a guy that is caring and understanding who will support me with my dreams?”

 

Ramona looks down on her essay, takes her thumb and rubs it on her paper, as if she is erasing something with it.

 

Mrs. Malo

                  (Redirecting the conversation)

What’s your dream for your life?

 

Ramona looks at her with a blank stare.

 

Mrs. Malo

                  (Cont)

What do you see yourself doing when you graduate high school? I know that’s a few years away, so you may not know exactly what you will be doing, but do you have an idea?

 

Alberto

                  (mocking Ramona)

She’s not going to graduate. She’s failing all her classes.

 

Ramona, withdrawn, begins to rub her thumb on her paper again, as if she is erasing something with it.

 

Mrs. Malo

                  (sympathetically)

Ramona is having a challenging time with her assignments, but she can and will improve her grade; that’s why she is here getting extra support.   We all have times in our lives where we go through challenges, but it doesn’t mean we can’t bounce back.

 

Alberto

(becomes pensive and then jolts out)

 

She failed all her classes last year too!

 

Mrs. Malo

                  (still trying to be sympathetic, probes Ramona about her relationship with her parents)

Ramona, what do your parents say about how you are doing in school?

 

 

Ramona

                  (exhaling gently in a resigned manner)

Yeah, they always punish me. I’m used to it now. But that doesn’t really do anything for me.

 

Mrs. Malo

                  (still probing)

What about all your parents have had to go through in leaving their home and sacrificing themselves in an unknown country for a better future for you? Doesn’t that push you to want to do better?

 

Ramona

                  (a bit aggravated)

This work is too boring. I don’t get it. If I could go back to Mexico, I’d rather study there.

 

Mrs. Malo

Did you do good in school there?

 

Ramona

I never went to school there. But maybe the teachers there would understand me better. I don’t know.

 

Mrs. Malo

                  (probing)

Well, what do you see yourself doing once you graduate? Sometimes that helps us figure out how to get there.

 

Ramona

                  (slouching to the side a bit)

I’ll just work in a hotel like my aunts. They make good money. And since I have papers, I will get paid more. Plus it’s easy to start working there since my aunts work there already.

 

Mrs. Malo

                  (disappointed at Ramona’s response)

MMmmmmhh? What would you do?

 

Ramona

                  (with a confused look)

I would do housekeeping. They make like $25 an hour if they have papers.

 

Mrs. Malo

                  (disappointed at Ramona’s response)

 

Is that all you aspire to? Cleaning after people for the rest of your life.

 

Ramona

                  (counteracting)

What’s wrong with cleaning rooms. My aunt’s do it. They make good money.

 

Mrs. Malo shifts in her chair, uncomfortable with Ramona’s question. A bit embarrassed that Ramona might feel that she is degrading the work that her aunts do.

 

Mrs. Malo

                  (still trying to make her point)

Are they happy?

 

Ramona

                  Yeah.

 

Mrs. Malo

                  (trying not to sound judgmental)

All I’m saying is, wouldn’t you rather pick the journey of your life based on your passion instead of what is easy? Many Mexican women, including my mother, have worked as housekeepers in this country because they had very few other options. But you have more opportunities. Yes, maybe you’ll make good money as a housekeeper, but why not make money doing something that you love so much, it doesn’t even feel life work?

 

Ramona

                  ( unconvinced)

The good jobs are for the white people.

 

Mrs. Malo

                  (persuasively)

That’s not true. I’m a teacher – I graduated from college. Your principal is Mexican.

 

Ramona

                  (dismayed)

He’s not even nice to Mexican people. You should see the way he treats my mom. He’s always rude to her, and tells her she needs to pay attention to us.

 

Mrs. Malo

                  (with a stronger tone a bit more animated)

 

Okay, but what about all the people I know? Many of my friends who are Mexican are professionals. I have a friend who is a cop, another friend who is a lawyer, a bank manager, a veterinarian, some own their own businesses. Just cuz you are Mexican, doesn’t mean you can’t be anything you want to be.

 

I had a baby at 18, but made a choice that I would not give up on my journey and went on to graduate from college. But it’s not about graduating from college; it’s about believing in your dream and that you deserve to have that dream.

 

Alberto

                  (animated, jumping forward on his chair)

Oh yeah! Like that guy who is running for mayor. He is Mexican. I saw in the news he would be the first one in San Diego!

 

Ramona cracks a brief cynical smile, looks down on her essay, staying quiet for a few seconds.

 

Ramona

                  (trying to sound convincing)

I’m still going to work in housekeeping. I have papers and I will get paid more than the women who are illegal.

 

Mrs. Malo gives Ramona a thwarted smile, asks the students to open their textbook, and begins to guide them on how to structure the next paragraph of their essay.

 

 

 

 

 

 

                 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Reclaiming My Past is a Matter of Dignity

Who am I without my story?

Who am I?  A question that surges from time to time like the ocean when it is rocked by a powerful jolt. Lately, however, I find myself pondering who I am without my story. My story explains how I came to be where I am today, but in the deepest sense, it doesn’t really feel like who I am.

Here’s a condensed version of my story:

I was born in Mexico and migrated to the U.S. when I was exactly 10 days old.
I had a very dysfunctional childhood (now a days, who didn’t?)
Growing up, I suffered a great deal of abandonment and betrayal.
I taught English for 14 years.
I have a bachelors and Masters degree in education.
I had my daughter at age 18 and was a single mother, with the help of my beautiful grandmother, for ten years before I married the love of my life.
I have traveled to many corners of the world.
I was in a terrible car accident with my husband a few years ago.
I learn from nature, the children I am surrounded by, the books I read, the stories people tell me, and the experiences I have.

But does all of this feel like who I am in my soul? It’s helped shape my life, but it just feels like a story in my life, not who I am now, in this very instance. I am someone that loves the creator, my family, and sunshine. I love freedom and adventure, being creative, writing and dancing, learning about the natural world and my heritage, and I love supporting and empowering others. This feels more real and honest.  I also know that my story began long before I was born, and in order to fully appreciate who I am, I have to find a way to connect to all the pieces that make me whole.

A couple of years ago, I attended a photography exhibition of Mexico, and of all the photographs, and there were many beautiful ones, the following struck me the most:

Blog3

I was completely captivated by the gaze of dignity and pride in this boy’s eyes.  It’s a difficult gaze to find in children, and in adults for that matter. The young boy is participating in a traditional ceremony that pays tribute to the great jaguar spirit.  For more than three thousand years, the jaguar has been Mexico’s most enduring symbolic animal, in part because of its powerful nature, agility, ferocity, and strength.  Since Pre-Columbian times, the jaguar has played a majestic role in spirituality, traditions, agriculture, hunting, and rites of passage among Mexico’s indigenous people.  The gaze in this young boy’s eyes is a result of his understanding of the importance he plays as the link between his ancestors and the future generations.  He is part of a community that values and embraces him, and flourishes from his participation in it. He knows his story began long before the day he was born.

As I contemplated the photograph, I recalled a photograph I’ve carried with me for many years; a photograph that I pulled out of a UNICEF desk calendar of a boy whose eyes told a story of disillusionment. The kind you feel when you discover the monster in your closet can disguise itself as your mother or uncle; when Blog4the grumbling of your stomach is louder than your laugh; or when the earth beneath your worn soles stings from wandering.  What atrocities happened in this child’s life that created this look of degradation? What is his story? Where does he come from?  Because the one thing I know. . . he is more than his dilapidated appearance. Unfortunately,  like many children in his circumstances, he will grow up feeling unworthy, believing  himself to be inferior and undeserving, having to struggle with sabotaging thoughts and beliefs that will become his greatest obstacles in every decision he makes in his life.

Growing up, this is the same story I accepted as mine, because those thought patterns and beliefs were the coping mechanisms that allowed me to make sense of the marginalization and violence I endured.  I grew up in a world of survival and hustle, and within the maelström of evictions, government assistance, waiting lines,  and crime ridden streets; there was no time to slow down to learn that I was here because my ancestors had chosen me to honor them and continue their wise teachings.  I exist within the context of a lineage, and only within the context of that lineage am I able to take my rightful place on earth.  There is something that happens inside of you when you understand that your purpose extends back hundreds of years and reaches toward divinity.  There is a rumbling in your soul, the way a jaguar roars to announce its ownership of a territory.  We must reach back and gather the best that our past has to teach us, so we can fulfill our greatest potential.  If the story you have been told portrays you as weak, conquerable, and conforming in the face of adversity, then you have an inalienable duty to challenge that narrative.  Whatever we have lost, forgotten, or been stripped of, we must reclaim if we are to uplift ourselves and our children.

DancingTree

First I began by reclaiming my own story.  This doesn’t mean I activated the negative script about how I was victimized and rendered powerless – this would have simply caused me to feel more pity and shame for myself, creating a reality that is disconnected from my true purpose and dreams.  Reclaiming my story means having the courage to speak of my endurance as a way of dignifying my existence, being willing to navigate through the pain in order to bring closure to the wound, and embracing forgiveness for myself and the transgressors in my life in order to heal.  As I brought my story into the light, I  realized that these stories are linked to past experiences and emotional suffering, and while they are part of the human condition, without the knowledge of our ancestral past, we will lose sight of the magnificent strength and wisdom that has propelled us to the place we are now.

BlogTree2A tree grows from the bottom up, and from the inside out.  The  primary growth occurs at the tips of the roots and stems and results in their growing taller, robust and noble.  The other growth takes place in the diameter of the trunk, with each ring serving as the memory of its experiences and wounds.  As the resiliency of a tree is possible only to the extent to which its roots support it, I AM possible only to the extent to which I acknowledge the roots of my heritage.

When I listen to the strings of the jarana in a Son Jarocho, I imagine in that moment, music transcends time, for my soul feels the same vibrations of the high-pitched cords that my great-great-great-grandmother, Aurelia Bello, felt when she listened to this music of Indigenous, European, and African influence.  When I cook black beans, especially in those undisturbed moments when I’m separating the debris that gets mixed in with the beans, I can feel my grandmother’s presence.  In my hands, I see her hands, the way she taught me.  And in her hands, are the hands of her mother, and the hands of our indigenous ancestors that cultivated this crop with so much love.   Even in the simple act of making beans, there is a sacredness characterized by the unbreakable bond we hold with our ancestors.  When I dance to Mambo and Danzón, I can feel the energy of my great grandmother, Cristina Garcia Lopez, as she danced the nights away under the humid embrace of Veracruz, and its undeniable link to Africanismo by way of its sister, Cuba.

Whether I pay tribute to La Virgen de Guadalupe, celebrate Dia de Los Muertos, play the congas and sing in verses, or write the stories that have been passed down to me through generations of suffering and overcoming, it is through those acts that I am able to reinforce my roots  to my heritage and my loved ones.  These celebrations and traditions are an opportunity to set new intentions and new ways to find, deeper, meaningful connections to my past, strengthening my roots, to flourish beautifully in the future.  The more I connect, the more I feel their presence, and hear their wisdom through the language of my soul.

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In reclaiming my past, I have come to know that I am more than my story; I am the continuation of the collective strength and wisdom of my ancestral chain. Only through reclaiming my past have I come to realize that I have been equipped with all I need to fulfill my purpose in this life. The Akan (Ghanaian vernacular) word, Sankofa, means one must return to the past in order to move forward, so we understand why and how we came to be who we are; to stand in more presence and awareness of who we are today than ever before! There is no other way to feel more alive.

 The ache for home lives in all of us, the safe place where we can go as we are and not be questioned. – Maya Angelou  Home is that quiet, persistent space where I am unconditionally loved by my grandmother and my ancestors; where I am accepted and forgiven every single time.

An Extension of My Heart

Photograph by Elizabeth Flesh

These hands
brusque molds of barro
Too masculine for ruffled skirts and
Hair resting gardenias
 
Hands of heavy honey yearning to
gracefully dance amongst lilac feathers
Fingers of coarse tamarind shells
with perfect rounded tips of
glossy Rosa Mexicano
 
Veins like mountain ridges
adorning desert landscapes or
flowing rivers of blue agave syrup
robustly awkward amongst fragile
bougainvillea petals
 
These hands
too large for feminine lace
iron comales gently caressing and
delicately holding
lifting
 
These hands held Carmen as
she nourished from my breast,
stumbled through disappointments
and heartbreaks
These hands learned to release as
she transformed into a woman
 
These hands tended to Tita Carmen
dressed her wounds after operations,
massaged her arthritic body,
bathed her, fed her, and cuddled
her as her body conceded to her
lung cancer.
 
These hands have loved David
embraced his fears and disappointments
very close to my heart
nursed his injuries and wounds
supported his back as he
lay and stood
and prayed for him as he
fought for his life
 
These hands
are my hands

Photograph by Elizabeth Flesh