Thursday, December 14, 2006

Lessons From A Batch of Tamales

  • Everyone and everything has its purpose - if you leave out an ingredient you will notice, the same goes with the people; if no one shucks the corn you won't get very far.
  • Work doesn't have to be boring - music is a must, and don't be afraid of raising the volume
  • Honor the history that brought you to this place - my deceased nana's picture was displayed proudly and a candle lit to celebrate all the love she shared and the cooking skills she taught
  • There's no need to deny yourself the fruits of your labor - steam up the first dozen and enjoy them as you continue to make the 30+ others
  • Sharing is key - every freezer in my family has the goodness of this year's batch to enjoy for the next year

I love tradition. It's everywhere; yet unless we take the time to identify and celebrate it, it's either lost or warped into a shadow of itself. As a Mexican-American I'm happy to come from a family that has pulled its influence from everywhere it has journeyed.

My great, great grandfather on my dad's side was a blacksmith. That side of the family is very much rooted in the Old West Cowboy history. It's evident that it still lives on strongly whenever we gather for Easter at a remote ranch for several days of camping and celebrating. While we don't own horses any longer, something stirs in our blood when we're out in the monte.

On my mom's side of the family tree, the best-of-the-best of Mexican tradition comes to life (not that it's missing from my dad's side, mind you). I can close my eyes and feel my body waltzing in the living room of my nana's tiny house to the sounds of Pedro Infante and Jorge Negrete. My hands embraced in the hands of nana who would sing to us as we danced.

I remember watching my tata sit patiently at the kitchen table with his pocket knife, taking out the candy-like fruit of the granadas (pomegranate) and putting them into a bowl for all of us kids to enjoy. If we weren't in the mood for it, there was usually a griddle on the stove with a quesadilla laying in wait.

Piñatas, cascarones (confetti eggs), Ojitos de Dios, the lamenting sound of a guitar accompanied by the songs of the rancho at the funeral of an elder, the piercing call of the trumpet at a mariachi Mass honoring La Virgen de Guadalupe, the blaze of color in the Jalisco-style dresses of the folklorico performance, the smell of roasting chili being prepared for whatever creation emerges from the stove, the sound of the garlic being crushed within the volcanic stone of a mocahete in preparation for the salsa - all of these things are not something that the average American would consider American™, yet they are.

At least they are for the plethora of humanity that has existed in this area for centuries. The blending of cultures that has produced the modern day Xicano is not something that we can turn off unless a decision is make to deny ourselves a whole portion of our identity. Those of us who are on a journey of discovery that leads to nuestras raíces - our roots - will indeed find solidarity with those in our extended familia that are only separated by powerbrokers' lines of division.

You cannot divide a human heart full of love. I hope that this simple fact will become more central to the future of the immigration debates that will undoubtedly rage for years to come. It will give understanding to people who don't understand why people like me see a system in place that is broken and fundamentally opposed to equality.

Part of the Una Identidad Sin Fronteras series

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