Beans are very much a tradition of Mexican and Mexican American culture. Once upon a time they were considered, “la comida del pobre”. They are a humble dish to serve, economical and available on the spot. “¿Quieres un taco de frijoles? is what my ama offered after school or practice. A bean taco, which was really a bean burrito because the beans were wrapped in one of her yummy flour tortillas. That was always available in my amas kitchen.When visita dropped in, a full meal was whipped up and offered, but when we got home, un taco would quiet our hunger down, until la cena. Beans were a staple in my amas kitchen.
Every week my ama boiled a large pot of pinto beans. I knew no other bean, frijoles de la olla, straight out of the pot, whole beans with bean broth, or frijoles fritos; refried beans, fried and mashed fresh each day. Con mucha vergüenza I confess that I got tired of eating them. By the time I left for college, I did not appreciate my amas beans anymore.
While I was far away from home, I missed everyone and everything from home. I was eating but did not care for my own cooking and the food in the cafeteria was way too bland. I missed my ama and her cooking. Ahora si, I missed the comfort of her frijolitos. there were days when one of her tacos de frijoles with a pickled jalapeño would have hit the spot. I couldn’t wait to get back home for summer break and rest my brain from textbooks and enjoy her perfectly refried beans in one of her homemade flour tortillas. Gracias a Dios I found a renewed appreciation for frijoles!
I found it hard to believe that beans were that easy to make. How could something so simple be so tasty? Especially, given that Mexican food is so flavorful and spicy. Otra confesíon, as a young wife, I tried “improving” my amas beans, because I imagined that beans would be so much more yummy with a chunk of onion and garlic in them as they cooked. I was wrong about that, and I picked up my amas method, just plain ole water, salt and lard or oil. However, like my ama I eventually settled into my own kitchen and “owned” my apron, that’s when I substituted the salt with bouillon instead. They were just as delicious as my amas beans, imaginate!
In my opinion, flavorful, spice infused Mexican food served with simple but tasty refried beans is the best.
Three steps to making Frijoles de la olla:
Primero, Clean them, make sure no small rocks or particles are in them. Segundo, Rinse them and put them in a pot, cover with plenty of fresh water, bring them to a boil, lower the flame to medium low and simmer them with the lid slightly slanted to allow steam out. After a while, add salt, ( or bouillon) . I usually wait until they are brown. Keep on simmering until they are soft. Taste them, they might need more salt, add more as needed. Listo! My ama liked to serve up a piping hot bowl of beans with diced onion, cilantro and jalapeno. Por su puesto that it must be accompanied with corn tortillas, acuerdense, salsa was always available on my amas table. Pero, mostly we enjoyed the beans refried.
Frijoles Fritos are just as easy to make:
In a skillet pan my ama melted lard or oil. When it got hot and ready, she transferred the beans from la olla with a slotted cooking spoon to drain the bean broth as much as possible, although some did transfer. Con cuidado! They always spit and splattered loudly as they hit the hot grease, but in true latina fashion she knew how to avoid any burns. With one hand holding her slotted spatula filled with beans, she leaned back as they touched the melted grease. Luego, she allowed the beans to simmer a while before mashing them. As they continued to simmer the broth evaporated. They were perfectly ready in minutes.
Through the years I have mastered her easy 1, 2, 3 method, taking little notice of the spitting beans because, like my ama, I lean back as I transfer them into the hot oil. “Frijoles aguaditos” is how I like to serve them, with plenty of the bean broth, thick but runny, Honestly, the translation “watery beans” kills the muy delicioso vibe. Pero creeme, even though they are simple, they are very tasty. I’ll serve them with a side of Mexican rice to accompany the main dish. Or I use them on top of nachos or as the first layer on tostadas. If I serve them in a burrito, it will include meat also.
Beans remain a part of the Mexican meal, but they are no longer just “a poor man food” They are a popular pretty much everywhere. I’m glad I learned to make and appreciate my amas beans once again. I do not serve them everyday, but often enough. Thankfully, my gringo husband appreciates them. Mi hijo Thomas always gives me the “good cook” thumbs up that I’ve learned to count on. Enjoy a bowl of beans or a taco de frijoles, it’ll do you some good.
Miriam Webster defines volcano with these words “a vent in the crust of the earth or another planet or a moon from which usually molten or hot rock and steam issue” and “something of explosively violent potential” Doesn’t that sound like the Middle School experience? Verdad que si? Just ask any 6th, 7th or 8th grader, they’ll tell you how hard it is, IF you can get them out of their sullen state. My middle school initiation was perhaps the worst ever!A 6th grader is supposed to be the top dog in elementary school. You know, the ones everyone looks up to. I was ready for my time to shine in that place.
Leaders of the Middle School
Back in the ancient days of the 70s, in my little town of Calipatria, the classroom announcements for the new school year was a huge deal. It was both an exciting and nerve racking time, I mean our happiness rested on who was gonna be our teacher and if my current best friend would sit in the desk next to us.
The hot scorching desert sun could not stop us from that mile-long walk across the tracks. We rushed past the gas station, the grocery store, the laundromat, the Bank of America, the Circle K, park and library. Our sun scorched skin simply soaked in more sun. We had to know what our future held. This was an exciting time for me and my sister Patty, she was gonna be in 8th grade, imaginate! Even though I would barely see her around I was so proud of her, 8th grade, wow! Y pues, I was sorta following in her steps, 6th grade, a big kid in the elementary level, I needed this promotion.
Z is for Last in Line
Zepedas were ALWAYS at the bottom of the list. Last in line, y porque? Totally not fair! But it was so. My eyes automatically went to the bottom of the lists for our names. Pattys homeroom teacher was Mr. Carter. Hijole! That’s the one she didn’t want, she said he was mean. I wondered what a homeroom was?
Imaginate my dismay when I did not see my name in either 6th grade classes. Maybe I flunked? Que verguenza to do 5th grade again? No que muy Honor Roll student, what would my friends say about me? And my apa, oh no…
Then, I saw a whole new class was posted, my name, Rosalba Zepeda was found at the bottom of that list. A hybrid class with both 6 and 7th graders. Que? A mixed class? Porque? Mrs. Lara was gonna be my new teacher. She was kinda different because she had married Mr. Lara and he was Mexican-American. She was white! I had never seen that! I didn’t even know that was allowed. Mrs. Lara was new to our school and a new wife and new to a mixed classroom. Was the school experimenting with us? Was there no place for people with Z names or new teachers who dared step out of the box?
The walk home was long and hot, I was burning up. My friends didn’t know what to think, they all had their names on the 6th grade roster. Patty was too angry about her homeroom teacher to feel bad for me because I was gonna be in that weird hybrid class.
My Middle School Hybrid Class
When September rolled around, I was tense. My classroom was out in a bungalow separate from the middle schoolers and also separate from the elementary kids. I felt like we were deserted, I wonder if Mrs. Lara felt the same? Was my class a 6th grade class or a 7th grade class? I had decided I was going to take my ‘big kid’ roll anyway, those 7th graders weren’t going to boss me around. I entered the class room looking confident, but feeling nervous. I picked my desk in front of the class. I didn’t want to test the 7th grade cool kids, besides I still had an honor roll reputation to uphold. It was going to be a long year. Here’s are the things that are bookmarked in my memory for that mixed year:
I sat on my desktop and broke it!! Asi es, right in the front row for all to see, just before Mrs. Lara had called the class to quiet down, I was confidently sitting on my desktop table when all of a sudden, crack! I went down a notch. I managed to jump off as everyone laughed but the humiliation almost killed me. Mrs. Lara didn’t laugh.
During recess, I made a stand to keep my victory in the game of Caracol and paid dearly for it. The 7th grader leader decided I wasn’t worth her acquaintance so everyone else followed her lead. I was marked as the target the entire hybrid 6th grade year. When girls decide to be mean, hijole! Cuidate!. Needless to say, it was a lonely year. Mrs. Lara saw the separation, and was on my side.
This bookmark will probably be red flagged. It happened like this. One day during PE our class got to participate in a softball game with the mighty 8th graders. That meant I was gonna be with Patty! Yes! Those rare moments in school when you get to be close to one of your big sisters and feel real safe and secure. Softball wasn’t Patty’s strength, but some of her other peers, like the catcher was a superstar. Patty was feeling her disdain every time she went to the plate. Her class was losing. She was sick and tired of the “trash talk” She walked to plate and positioned herself to bat. The catcher cried out “She’s no batter” She gripped that bat, ready to kill that ball. Strike! And she tensed, poised. “Strike Two!” the catcher taunted as she swung and missed. Her lips thinned and began to get dark purple. That was always a sign to me that I had gone past the point of no return and she was gonna kick my butt! To top it off my enemies laughed and taunted her and me. I held my breath. The catcher pricked her one last time “she’s no batter, strike three!” Patty didn’t even look at the ball being pitched, she swung and struck out. Without missing a beat, she threw her bat down. She turned around and confronted the catcher, throwing her to the ground making her face her taunting words, the volcano had exploded, the pressure of 8th spewed out. We all ran to the plate and surrounded the girls, the chatter and provoking challenges “Don’t let her get away with that” were smothered as the teachers put a quick end to the fight. Mr. Carter easily lifted both girls and walked them to the principal’s office. Somehow some pressure had been lifted off me. I looked at my arch enemy and dared her with my eyes to mess with me again. It would be a giant I would eventually have to face in middle school, pero, for the moment, I felt invincible, that was my big sister, I dared anyone to mess with her.
Those experiences shape us as adults. It’s not “just” puberty. We experience that humiliation that helps keep our heads from getting too big later in life. We learn how to empathize and notice when someone isn’t being treated fairly or when someone feels left out because we’ve been there before. And when we look that bully in the eye and make a stand, we learn that we can over come anything.
Middle School is not an easy time, I’m sure everyone has their stories of fear and rejection. If you’ve got a child in middle school, remember those days and use them to help your kid make it and maybe even thrive.
Halloween always creeps up on me and it has always been a sticky tricky day for me. When I was a little girl in Imperial Valley, I had to do what I could to make it fun. Then as an adult I tried to ignore the day as much as possible, like my ama tried. Imposible! kids don’t let you ignore it. One of the biggest candy hoarding days of the year, parents need to recognize, verdad que si?
As a little girl, it was the one holiday that I rallied for as far as dressing up. Don’t get me wrong, I was not trying to be a princess or any silly girly character. But the unwritten and unspoken rule was that to trick or treat you had to be in costume. I would start working on my mom and sisters a few days ahead. I needed three things to make my day a success. Primero, I needed permission and a chaperone or partner to go out and knock on doors for candy. Luego, I needed money for the yearly carnival and finally, I needed a costume. Halloween was up to me, my ama didn’t highlight the day in any way shape or form. She kind of dreaded the day, because all the kids in the barrio knew she had her tiendita, and they expected some great candy from her store. Halloween almost always meant bankruptcy for her negocio.
The week before Halloween the kids were talking about what they were gonna dress up as, or what costumes their mom had bought them. I was always embarrassed that I wasn’t getting a cool costume so every year I said I wasn’t dressing up. Every year I said it was dumb and every year I didn’t mean it. Y cada ano I’d give into the pull of trick or treating.
Now that I think about it, my ama always enjoyed my silly chicanadas that I called costumes. I would jimmy rig a costume mostly out of my apas clothes and get into my sister’s makeup. Que one year a baby, another year a hobo, a fat man, a farmer. Basically the same idea always with a different name.
12 Year Old Transition
In small towns I think growing up and getting to that serious behavior that a 12 year old should have, takes a little longer. I was not serious about growing up and morphing into a teenager. I didn’t care much about being cool, I couldn’t start thinking of makeup, gracias a Dios! Wearing Makeup was taboo for us younger girls.Silly boys weren’t noticing me yet. Pero, I was real serious about getting lots of candy.
One particular year, I had secured permission and a partner to trick or treat, my sister Patty was gonna keep an eye on me. I always had to work extra hard on begging and pleading with Patty. She hated taking care of me, she was already in that cool teenage age and walking clear across town to trick or treat was not cool! I promised to give her a lot of candy and quien sabe what else I promised, but in the end I prevailed upon her.
All I had left to create was my costume for my night of fun and candy. I had the same old options so I think I decided on a combo costume of an old fat hobo man, muy original verdad? Being giddy with excitement I decided to go extra on the fat and stuffed my pants and shirt, bien exagerada, I could barely move.I was ready, with my big bag on hand, we left. The getting to the carnival part is a fuzzy memory, I’m guessing that somebody gave us a ride there because I can’t imagine Patty agreeing to all that work. Anyway, we were at the carnival for a short time since my pocket book was very light. It didn’t matter to me anyway, I was anxious to trick or treat a lot of kids already all over town, I didn’t want to miss out.
To maximize on trick or treating candy you have to have a lot of energy and a good plan. Patty wasn’t interested in the plan I had mapped out in my head. She gave me one option. Leaving the school grounds and walking past the middle school and the elementary school, all connected, then turning left would land me on the West side. Going further, past the Circle K then turning right going several blocks further got me to the Rich side of town. Guess what Patty was pushing for? She was getting crabby and I was getting anxious, especially since I was pretty slow with my fat man costume. The padding kept creeping down my leg, almost tripping me. I kept having to re-stuff myself and hold on to my backside to keep the pillow from falling out.
But God had mercy on me and we got to several houses that gave lots of candy before she headed us toward home. I milked it as much as I could knocking on doors as we made our way home. I was whiny and grunting and she was so mad that I had tricked her into doing this, we were both pretty tired by the time we reached the railroad tracks. Suddenly our senses were very alert and we had to put off our tired feelings, and watch out for danger, of the El Cucuy kind. We were on Mainstreet, it was way too dark to take the shortcut. Huge semi trucks occasionally passed by and we so appreciated the bright lights those trucks flashed, we stayed dangerously close to the pavement, hugging it. I, the “fat man” was behind Patty and every time I heard crackling, or scraping sounds, I was sure El Cucuy was behind me, I couldn’t turn around, it would be my demise, so I quietly whined, hating my sissy lala emotions. I’m not the hugging type, but that night I was ready to pounce on my sister for support. Talk about a Halloween nightmare on Mainstreet, hijole! Crossing the tracks and walking that long dark road just before we saw the houses of the barrio was maybe a 10 minute walk but my stuffing and the darkness made it the longest walk ever. Suddenly, I could appreciate why my ama banned us from being out at night. Halloween was one of the few exempted days and I wondered why that day was ok? We walked fast as I was trying to keep my belly intact.
It wasn’t too late in the night, but those railroad tracks and the empty lots made it the perfect scene in a scary movie, I had imagined it all in those few minutes. Such relief flooded us when we entered the safety of our barrio. Kids were still out and about and Patty loosened up. I took advantage and knocked on a couple more doors in my hood. All was well that Halloween. Pero que susto!
We got home exhausted. I tossed my hefty candy bag onto the table, happy with my loot. Oh how sweet home was. I plopped myself down on the chair in the dining room, I was coming undone. So as I was pulling the stuffing out of me my ama was laughing at the image I created.
Ama: Como te fue?
Me: Ama, fue el día más feliz de mi vida!
My mother let out a gleeful carcajada.. Her way of laughing started from the bottom of her belly and rolled out past her mouth. I loved to make her laugh, it was always so contagious. She had quite a laugh out loud moment.
Counting all my worldly experiences of all my 12 years of living, I had declared, this had been the happiest day of my entire existence. I had already forgotten the pain in the butt it had been to walk. El Cucuy didn’t come for me, the tracks and all my fears were forgotten.
I was pretty proud of myself whenever she told the story of my “happiest day of my life”. I’m so happy to have that treasure in my vault. The contagious laughter has carried on through her grandson Jonathan, everytime he has that LOL gut roaring laughter I remember my feisty ama.
I probably spent way too much time just trying to come up with a catchy title for this post. Hijole! This post feels like a desperate plea to get approval or accreditation. Who is gonna give me that final stamp of approval? If this feels like an explanation as to why I’m even here, it is. I need to remember, quizás mi propia voz, my own loud voice needs to tell me to get to writing!.
Voices In My Head
The many opinionated voices inside my head make me lose my way. Esperate! No estoy loca, or maybe I am just a little crazy. You know those sneaky mockers question why am I here, in this blog? Doubting Thomas (not my Thomas 😆) truly questions: Que fregados estas haciendo?!Deveras, sometimes it’s the loudest voice screaming: What the heck are you doing? Really? You think you belong here in Writers land?
Some days my voice is really soft, if you know me, that’s pretty incredible to believe, ya se. It whispers to those loud intimidating voices. “I want to write” Que?! They laugh at me and some days those snickers push me into a corner and I won’t write. Pero, gracias a Dios I don’t stay there long, because I want to write.
Me gusta escribir. Sometimes it’s a lot of work, pero I like it anyway. When I was in university so long ago my english T.A said “you’re a good writer” Deveras? Was a good writer supposed to put some of her dirty laundry on paper? Especially on papers that were graded? Still, I allowed myself some flattery in that comment, it gave me a warm fuzzy feeling inside.
Then, years later, a very important person in my life asked me to write a letter of recommendation where I described my relationship with the person requesting the letter. When I was done and the letter was submitted, that person said “You’re a good writer” Pues ya sabras, it was like yeast in my brain. The idea grew, was I a good writer? If that person thought so, then it must be, verdad? Now it was more that a good feeling inside and it was more than therapy.
My Writing Plan
In a different post, I describe my writing as a therapeutic relief, and it is. Mapping situations out with some embellishment, helps me work things out. But all of a sudden, when I got inspired to write a short story or a skit, I began to do it as if someone else would one day read it. Yes, I neatly, or not so neatly filed it in my different folders, almost ready to be read by other eyes. I totally enjoy just getting the scenes out of my head and onto paper, quisas someone would enjoy reading them? That yeast was really growing, imaginate! I was bold enough to create my first blog. Asi es,choosethenarrowpath.blogspot.com, was born. I did this todasolita. All alone in the blogging world I began to learn a lot about the hard work of writing, but the desire to share wasn’t quenched despite my lack of skills in the tech world. The lack of readers did slow me down on that platform, but my folders kept growing.
As the idea of sharing my writing grew, another one did too. The fact that I had never finished my degree bothered me now. Going back to college and finishing my degree, or at least improving my writing skills seemed doable now. I had been way too busy and focused on raising my children and teaching them to walk on the narrow path while juggling life. Besides I had absolutely no time, energy or money for my schooling. Luego, Thomas, my last child, entered high school and I had time again. Did abuelas go to college?
Back to School
I was glad for the opportunity and I shyly shared with Ben, my family and dear friends my dream to be a published writer. Going back to school would boost my confidence and sharpen my pencil. It was the weirdest, oddest feeling. Walking back into the college culture, I felt like I was walking back into the 80s, back to UCSD. A 50 something year old grandmother feeling those butterflies, those awkward moments of not knowing anyone. Inside I was 18 again, but thankfully, God kept me grounded as I stayed focused on the academics and I loved the stimulation that came with learning. Pero, it was short lived. Ya se, the roller coaster of life. My apa needed me. As a full-time caregiver I didn’t have time again, and I chided myself “tonta.” That was silly, of course I was too old and too busy for schooling again. I was disappointed, but my writing didn’t stop.
My collection of stories grew, especially since my apa was unloading all his memories. I worked on my historical fiction short stories and I hung on to my blog.As dad grew weaker my writing experiences grew further apart, for a long while my journal was the only book I wrote in.
As my apas last chapter in life came to a close, I grew frantic with writing. Como pues? How could he just leave? Was tercera edad, 96 years of living reason enough to close a chapter? I hadn’t gotten my collection of his stories in rough draft order. How would I get the stories out if he left?
In the midst of a busy emotionally packed season of caregiving, the idea for a different blog came up. My daughter and I brainstormed about a title, and presentation. It would be here that I would bring my experiences, my fathers y todo lo demas, all things pertaining to Rosalba. I was finding my voice. What was my voice anyway, besides loud that is? Daniella, is a visionary, and she said, “Mom you just keep writing, don’t worry about things.” For me it’s a good plan 😉.
Man! It felt good to write like I talk. In my other blog, I write like I think. I hope that makes sense. I have a million questions on the most important person of my life; Jesus, and there I ponder on “the deeper” stuff. Daniella describes it as reflective or thoughtful. “My diary in the corner of the internet”. My besty often wonders “what must it be like in your brain” She says it’s constantly tracking! Anyway, all that to say, I found my voice and it was comfortable.
With all the emotion that came in those last days of dad’s passing, also came a need to write, a renewed desire to write, a desperate clinging. I wrote and Daniella handled the rest. We’re a good team, she’s alot like her daddy, muy paciente. ☺
Today, with things a bit more settled, I’m back in school and on the write path. This is the beginning, but just getting on this path was a journey in itself. Hijole!
I imagine that everyone who has a dream or passion jumps on the hope train and has to travel sometime before they arrive at their destination.
I’m going to tell you about my New England connection, si pues, this Mexican-American has a few stories and an array of emotions as I discovered Bens gringo world. Nowadays it’s nothing new to find one of mi gente on the East Coast, but back in the mid 80s when I started the brown Mrs. Greene journey I really felt all alone.
Mixing cultures and social economic lives did add to my conundrum. Hay si, muy gringa, with my big english words verdad?
Having been in San Diego Ca. only a year and a half, the melting pot of cultures intimidated me. My upbringing, with the unspoken but obvious boundaries made me shun gringos. White guys didn’t notice me, I certainly wasn’t going to notice them. Period.
An Interracial Relationship
You can imagine the incredible turmoil and betrayal I experienced when I noticed my Benjamin! A White guy from New England!? Not even a tanned Californian! Of course I rejected the idea for a season and moved on… and went back…and moved on…but eventually the fireworks burst out the wonderful colorful display of our young love and promise. A hopeful new beginning like God’s promise through the rainbow, a much needed display that sealed the deal.
Jesus People Wedding
Benjamin Walter Greene and I were married in a “Jesus People wedding”. I looked around for a definition of our kind of ceremony and couldn’t find one, so instead of google defining or describing our wedding I will. Our wedding ceremony centered around Jesus instead of the bride. Right in the middle of our Sunday morning worship service the bride comes in. No grand procession of walking the aisle. Doesn’t that sound just right for me? If you’ve read some of my other posts you’ll note that I’m a simple girl. A simple wedding was just my stilo but for some brides, or mother of the brides, it’s a huge deal! Hijole!
We heard the good news of the Gospel, pledged our hearts and lives to our marriage covenant with a resounding I do. We broke bread with our families, sweet and simple, the honeymoon awaited us. Then, we stepped into the twilight zone of our mixed marriage, well mostly I travelled by myself because for some reason Ben was not tripping!
Our First Year of Marriage
It was a first year full of fireworks, mourning and hormones, asi es, explosive! My ama had just passed in May, I learned I was pregnant in June and we were scheduled to fly out to the East Coast in July. My life was already upside down and I was going clear across the country to the other coast, Pacific to Atlantic! A whole new world.
Ben was excited! He couldn’t wait to show me his childhood home and life. As the weeks drew closer he showed me again pictures of his family home in Connecticut, a house his architect father had designed. However, for the Greene/Torrey Family, the real treasure is the family estate home, which is called the Manse. Yes, the houses have names! Manse means the residence of a minister.
Ben told this little desert girl with barely any roots in America that his family traced back ancestors to England and the Mayflower! Que hiba pensar? So many levels of OMGs!
I accused Ben calling him an Aristocrat! A cold blooded Englishman! My son Emery would say white privilege! Rico! Y yo? No wonder mi apa was very nervous about us marrying. Of course, this is what was causing my nausea. Ben needed to go alone on his voyage to see his family.
Facing My Fears
Everything I had feared was gonna happen to me now! How could Ben make me go? How could Ben leave me all alone? How could Ben even think of going at all? Wasn’t he supposed to leave his family and cleave to me, his wife? I didn’t think I could survive being surrounded by only English speaking people, who would I turn to?
The East Coast
July came and we boarded our flight to New York City. If I was gonna go so far away I had to have someone familiar so we visited friends in NYC. I thought the Big Apple was for the rich and famous or for the peliculas, no movie, it was the real deal. This Mexican American played tourist in the big city, even if it was only a few days. We visited the Statue of Liberty, The Twin Towers and experienced New York pizza. We wanted to walk the streets of Spanish Harlem but didn’t feel confident enough, I guess my small town barrio experience wasn’t gonna cut it. The New York Ricans were the spanish speakers, sort of. I barely understood them and they said I spoke spanish like I was singing! Three days passed like the whirlwind and before we knew it we were on a train for Connecticut. Que aventura verdad? I didn’t realize that the adventure was going to slow down to a complete stop. Life in my husbands world was calm, very calm. It made my heart race, crazy huh?
A Quiet Vacation
Just getting out of the city quieted everything down, except for my thoughts. Bens mom met us at the train station, a quiet reunion and ride home. I was the only one who felt awkward, I’m glad I was in the backseat because I would have been awkwardly fishing for conversation topics. Right here is a good place to tell you that apart from coming from different worlds, Ben and I are complete opposites. I’m a talker, I’m noisy, I’m busy, I’m loud…he’s not. Wow! It was going to be a silent two weeks.
New England is beautiful. Man! I’m terrible about these types of details, I hope I can hang on to your attention here. Greenery, tall trees, lakes. Aver, see if this helps you see how I saw things. We drove down the narrow roads with tall trees on each side and looking far into the distance you almost felt like the trees were going to close you into a tunnel. Bien bonito, like in the movies. compare that to the dry desert view of the Imperial Valley
In the big city, with all the pollution and noise the mosquitoes didn’t bother me, but as soon as I stepped out of Nancys car, they welcomed my fresh blood. Ben says it’s that spicy latina blood that I bring from the West.
The Architect and the Artist
Ben’s dad had designed the house in an H shape. Muy interesante. The tall pillars of the H were the main rooms and bedrooms. The horizontal pillar of the H had the bathrooms and laundry room. I haven’t lost you have I? One of the openings of the H was where the front door was, while the back deck covered the other opening of the H. The deck had been built with a tree planted in center for shade, eventually. It was quite serene, until my eye caught a little gargoyle propped over the roof’s edge. Although it was an artistic touch, it bothered me. Maybe elcucuy‘ was supposed to keep Ben and his brothers in check?
Right in the front yard was an old rusty tractor as decor. Where I’m from esos tractores were child’s play for us. Pero, on the East Coast antiques are a big deal. The house stood tall and serene in its natural wood. The living room and dining room had large wall size windows that overlooked a large field and pond. It was truly a Good Housekeeping magazine scene. My mother in law was a multi talented artist and her home displayed her artistic hand.
This was all so new to me, I felt like I was in a museum and Ben was enjoying giving me a tour of his house. Things that were commonplace to him, were amazing to me. Like a windy staircase, como los ricos, that went down to the basement. Basement? Only in some of the books I read.
More large windows. Imaginate, in the bathroom! They could easily be peeked into from the dining room with it’s wall size windows. How in the world was I going to shower? Thankfully, my husband shared the secret for a comfortable shower time. Run your hot water, steam the windows then you could relax. I’m a bit indecisive on where I should include the fact that the bathroom door slid into the wall, they didn’t really secure shut. Pero Pues, I got through my first few days in New England without too much verguenza, thankfully, everytime I showered the windows stayed completely steamed and covered.
I’ll have to do a part two post on my first New England experience since I haven’t even described my Manse experience, you know the Greene/Torrey Estate house in New Hampshire? Es que, there’s so much reaction in this first visit. So many things we take for granted, like chile! A meal without chile, Asi es! No chile whatsoever, not even tabasco sauce. Hijole! All you salsa and chile addicts are feeling me right now huh? This was only the beginning to my cultural shocks in the kitchen that I would experience.
My experiences would be considered “A first world problem” but as silly as it was, I had a lot of adjusting to do, I think it might be called assimilating? Chale! Nope, I would have to make some Mexican American contributions to my new family.
Next time I’ll take you to the Manse in Jaffrey, New Hampshire.
I would love to hear about your culture shocks or adjustments as you encountered other countries or cultures, even here in America.
I was a very little girl when I first heard the term sister in-law. I wasn’t sure what exactly that meant. Somehow when my brother got a wife, I would get another sister, and the law was going to be involved.
I wondered if she was going to give me the same bossy big sister attitude that my other three sisters already enforced? “Rosie, bring me some water.” “Rosie, subele al la tele. I can’t hear it” Rosie this, Rosie do that. (How many big sisters could a 8 year old handle anyway?)
Just as I was wrapping my head around the idea, I was informed that I was to be a flower girl in the wedding. Ugh! A flower girl! What was that? It didn’t sound good, sounded like a sissy-lala girly mess and I wasn’t going to have a choice in the matter! Yikes! This in-law thing was heavy.
My soon to be sister…inlaw….was uptight, I wondered what life was going to be like with her in the family. Of course I didn’t know then, what I know now and that is, almost every soon to be wife goes through with another ceremony known as the Bridezilla metamorphosis. I did, my bestie/maid of honour will confirm it without hesitation. My own sweet sweet daughter scared me at one point, but I’d never admit that. (She was a beautiful Bride but ‘Zilla’ affected her quiet nature.)
Pretty can be painful
The day before the wedding, all the girls in the wedding party were giddy with excitement as they were primped and prettied. I was miserable and uncooperative. Cual fue mi pecado, that I should have to endure such silliness? Then it was my turn, everyone was excited to see how the hairdresser would transform my thick wiry long hair (BTW, long hair was my moms rule) into a beautiful hairdo.
I was mad, my lips stuck out, my eyebrows knitted together and I squirmed with every pull of my hair. She gave me gum, which helped distract me as she pulled and separated strands of my hair and rolled them in the curlers. If my chewing annoyed her, she didn’t show it, but of course my big sisters warned me when I would pull the gum out and stretch it as thin as I could, then pop it back into my mouth. I chewed that piece of gum all day long, took it out to eat then back again. At one point in the busy day my almost sister in-law warned me about not going to bed with the gum in my mouth. I kept getting in trouble every time I itched my head because of the curlers in my hair.
Everyone was busy, I was tired, so I was sent to bed to get me out of their hair. The gum was forgotten as I fell asleep almost immediately. I woke up with gum stuck on the curlers through my hair! Everyone panicked and I was rushed to the hairdresser. (I can almost hear the siren of their distress). They all watched in suspense as she carefully clipped the gum out of my hair and released my hair from the curlers and pronounced in victory, I would still be a pretty little flower girl. ARGH! I felt like I needed another gum.
Walking down the aisle
I walked down the aisle, in my white poofy dress and big hairdo, tossing flower petals to the ground. I heard a lady say, “Que bonita esta!” (I was very self controlled with a pasted smile and no rolling of the eyes- I mean, how could I not be with my big sisters watching me) the bride was behind me, stepping on my petals, radiant and beautiful. As I tossed rose petals to the ground I walked into in-law-ness and it seemed kind of bleak to me.
What else would this sister-in-law make me do? Relatives by marriage were to be handled with special care and somehow I already knew it. So I practiced the new role to a fault, saying the wrong things, not understanding the family connection and pretty much dismissing it, I had too many people bossing me around already and I only had one little brother to boss and he wasn’t letting me.
Becoming the In-law
Then at 22 it was my turn to become an outlaw. That’s what my husband’s family call the relatives who connect through marriage. I felt especially outlawed since I thought, that they thought, I was way out there from different land. A Mexican-American from the West Coast who met their son in his Pentecostal church! (How much more convoluted could this get?)
In-law, Outlaw, Gringo-law?
I was kind of used to in-law-ness from a little sister perspective, now I was facing brother-in-laws who were gringos and I was the first brown Greene. They were nice, polite and quiet. (hmmm why was that?) My bottom line, they were sangrones. Stuck up, keeping me at arms length was their way of letting me know my place.
I can see my bestie, throwing her hands up in frustration at my interpretations and all I can say today is that, that I was wr…wrong.. But those kind of thoughts are real, they will can take you for a roller coaster ride if you let them, unfortunately, I did go on that ride a few times and after 32 years of being Mrs. Greene I still get that invitation for that nasty ride sometimes.
Could our worlds come together?
The daughter in-law role was especially scary for me. Just thinking of it made me awkward and nervous. Of course I was on a one track mind, she knows I’m Mexican! (You can take this Mexican out of the barrio, but you can’t take the barrio out of this Mexican)
Soon after we got engaged my mother in-law introduced herself in a letter, since I wouldn’t meet her until the day before the wedding. Through her letter she welcomed me into her family. I’m sure she did this to put me at ease, to break the ice maybe, but instead it added to my anxieties about having a mother in-law that was another color, another economic status and she was so cool and calm. Scary.
In her letter she said she looked forward to meeting and knowing me; I was to be her first daughter! What?! I couldn’t be another mothers daughter!
What’s in a name?
How was I supposed to address her? She wasn’t my mother, or my peer, and she certainly was not my friend. (Was that even allowed anyway?)
In my world, my sister-in-law simply called my Mom, Suegra, or by her nickname Dona Chuy, short for Maria de Jesus. Can you picture me calling my quiet poised white mother in-law suegra? Or worse, greeting her with, “Hello mother-in-law.” After we were married I avoided calling her anything, in fact I just avoided her! I was super thankful that she lived clear across the country. I did ask my husband what he thought I should call her and he suggested I ask her, as if it was easy (he didn’t know I was practicing social distancing). She graciously said to me “You can call me mom, or Nancy, whatever you’re most comfortable with.”
Well, I was most comfortable with not addressing her at all!
She is clothed in strength and dignity
She was quiet, and serious looking. Quiet people tend to make me a bit nervous and I end up talking too much. (Which is crazy or providential because my husband, my daughter, my daughter inlaw and my bestie are quiet, calm people. Thankfully, God arranged enough crazy and loud friends in my life to keep me in reality.) Of course I analyzed her quiet nature through my brown shades and also judged her as sangrona, imagining her to be stern and not wanting anything to do with the likes of me. My mother in-law was gracious and kind to me. She had once been a new daughter in-law and was now navigating through her own new mother in-law role.
I was the new Mrs.Greene who was too careful and worked too hard at being a mature wife. I was hoping that I looked pretty and poised next to her son. I practiced what my Ama had taught me, and took care of my husband, serving him first. Inside I felt like a lost little Mexican girl amongst all the white folks, all 4 of them. My mother in-law graciously let me find my place in my new family.
Nancy, is what I settled with. I wasn’t comfortable, but it felt better than anything else. I eventually learned that my mother in-laws’ mannerisms were, just that, her mannerisms, and not a judgment against me or about me, (as my dear friend would say, “it’s not always about you Esa!”) What she gave her son, she gave also to me. At Christmas she gave me gifts just as thoughtfully as she gave to her son. Then soon after, she thoughtfully gave to our kids, her grandkids and reward.
In the few short years of our relationship she wrote me letters and sent birthday cards. In her non-intrusive way she demonstrated her care and her confidence in us. My mother taught me how to make tortillas and my mother in-law taught me how to bake bread.
Nancy was a Martha Stewart before Martha Stewart, very creative and artistic. I’m grateful that our children got those genes. I still have the lovely painting she made just for me when I was just a wee little bride; Posies for Rosie.
Crowned a Mother in-law
Now I am a mother-in-law. I can almost walk back into my mother-in-law’s shoes and clearly read the caution signs she must have seen. What a minefield this relationship can be and seeing all the explosives doesn’t make it easier. Once I had questioned every move or look from my mother-in-law and now, I’m aware of every tone I use and every look I give.
My personality is outspoken, when needed, I can be aggressive, and a momma bear. My daughter in-law is quiet, sometimes timid and soft spoken, she has an air of sweetness about her that adds to her natural beauty. I look past her timidity and see how graceful she can be and am not at all surprised at how very much my son loves her.
I wanted to embrace my daughter in-law and welcome the newest Mrs. Greene into the family but I truly felt that I would suffocate her, (hugging is something I already do very awkwardly). I didn’t want to scare her, anymore than she already was. I had been in her shoes, so I didn’t do much at all, except smile in my gruff Zepeda way, because I needed her to know I wasn’t angry, I just looked it sometimes.
God seems to always connect me with opposites. My daughter in-law and I have come a long way, as we’ve worked out our relationship, we’ve discovered that our vastly different personalities and generation gap can still manage to produce good family ties and wonderful friendship.
I thank God always for these incredible opportunities and connections in the in-law world.
Since Christmas time is a wonderful time of different holiday dishes and traditions, I thought it would be a good time to tell you about my learning to cook “journey”. (Anyone outside of the Mexican-American circle would call it a roller coaster!)
I’ve been cooking since I was barely a teenager. (As a young roommate I never shared the ‘wealth’ of my knowledge with my roomies, since I believed knowing how to cook meant following recipes) I cannot say I love cooking, especially the way I was inducted into the kitchen, but my ego is strutting; bien culeca when someone says “Oooh are those Rosies enchi’s?”.
It all started when I was almost fourteen years old, the summer before high school, when my whole life would turn upside down. My older siblings were all going off to work with mom in the grapevines of Coachella Valley, but I was not old enough to get a work permit. However, I was old enough to cook all by myself in the hot kitchen and so began my culinary journey.
Cooking class in my Mexican mother’s home was very informal. (I just felt my daughter roll her eyes at the obvious truth) Chores done and laundry continual, Mom would pull out some meat and say,
“When this defrosts, go ahead and cook it and serve it with frijoles de la ollatoday. No need to refry the beans today and don’t forget to make the tortillas first, they’ll stay warm”
“What?! Ok, Wait, what do I do with the meat?”
Without even looking back at me, she’d say,
“Con cebollita picada y pimienta. Ah, y un poco de sal. No se te pase!”
“That’s it? Some diced onion, pepper and salt? How do I know if I have enough salt or too much in it?”
She’d put down the laundry basket, look at me and say,
“You have to taste it Rosalba. If you need to add a little something, check the fridge, maybe some diced jalapeno, or garlic. There’s comino in the cupboard.”
She’d go right back to the endless laundry.
“Dad’s gonna be here just after noon, so be ready to serve”
That was the lesson. After staring at the meat, which was seeping blood, I wondered how I was going to create something delicious like Mom always did. I had no choice but to go for it and cook.
I cut the meat into small bites, I could not get all the fat out and that worried me. Still, I seasoned it with a dash of pepper, salt, and a sprinkle of cumin. Then, I just tossed it all into the pan with diced onions. That fat that I struggled to cut off, simmered and blended with the onion. As it continued to cook down it blended with the meat juices and created a gravy. It looked tasty, hmmm. I added a dash more salt, and let it simmer.
Mom came by and stirred the simmering pan, tasted, and added a dash more pepper and cumin. She lifted the towel my warm flour tortillas rested in, (I forgot to mention that making dough for tortillas had perhaps been my first lesson in the kitchen, a constant practice, since in our home we had fresh flour tortillas everyday) she covered them again and keeping a straight face she walked toward the door where the laundry waited.
“You’ll definitely have to practice rolling out your tortillas, round is the shape we’re aiming for.”
Dad came in, washed his hands and sat down to be served. I held my breath as I brought his plate to him. He uncovered the tortillas, lifted it up high and smirked.
“This looks like the seat of your bicycle” (rolling tortillas was not my constant practice a whole different struggle)
He rolled it and bit into it and took a fork full of meat and beans to his mouth. He ate everything on his plate, then took the last bicycle shaped tortilla and cleanup the gravy, and spoke.
“That was good. Thank you”
After that, I felt like I was a culinary graduate! (after all my apa had just approved me, every daughter’s dream) Now, I could conquer any belly, taste bud or picky person. Of course, I quickly realized that for basic training in my amas kitchen, the first lesson was that it was not as scary or difficult as it seemed, and it was nowhere near impossible. I would have to watch very carefully as she taught me to make the other Mexican essentials of her kitchen, the refried beans, the Mexican rice, the salsas, the sauces for the meats and on and on.
(My daughter in-law also says that she has to keep a really keen eye on my hands as I work in the kitchen because all of a sudden, “Le voy a echar un poquito de este” But I neglect to tell her what the “este” is beforehand or how much of it I added, making her learning experience much like mine)
Although cooking is not my favorite thing to do, I truly enjoy when others enjoy my cooking, then I see its value and love it.
I started this blog by looking for the “formal dictionary” definition of my very dear practice of Spanglish. Although Mexican-Americans have similar experiences and each family has its personal touch, most assuredly Spanglish is in their mix. Some families choose to drop the whole Mexican culture and embrace American ways forgetting that it’s OK to be American with languages and traditions from their roots; it is the American way after all. Other families hold on rigidly to the language and culture of the “old country”, perhaps because it is easier to practice what they already know. A concern I’ve had is when families stick to “their own” ignoring the fact that “American” is now part of their experience. Then, there are families like ours; keeping the old, speaking in Spanish often, keeping alive some traditions and holding fast to some of the “old fashion” standards, all the while tentatively reaching out to explore what the good ole U.S.A offered.
What in America is Spanglish? It is what it sounds like, a combination of Spanish and English, dashes and pinches of retreaded words all mixed together so well it forms its own category in the language world; Spanglish. Here’s what a typical conversation with my older sister would sound like while we watched T.V. in the living room (since it’s hard for me to believe I actually have an accent, I hope you can hear us talking, see if you can follow along)
Patty: Man!Tengo hambre. Will you make me sangwich.
Me: Orita no, I don’t want to get up. Estoy bien agusto. You always make me do it.
Patty: Andale! Please. You make them so good, con jalapenos
Me: Not right now. Tengo flojera. You make us one
Patty: Pero, you make the best, andale. Hurry, there’s a commercial, you can do it, bien rapido
Me: I can’t. Se acabo el pan.
In my experience, I’ve learned that not all Mexican Americans speak Spanish, a lot depends what generation they fall under, first, second, third or more. However, I think it’s safe to say that most will speak a little Spanglish if they’ve lived in the barrio or around it. Somehow that Mexican culture mingled into their lives also.
En mi casa, our early days were only in Spanish. My dads Jefe had rented out to him a house out in the middle of nowhere, since he was the farmhand doing the irrigation and taking care of the boss’ fields it was perfect for mom to adjust to her new life. My older siblings hadn’t been immersed into English or American life so Spanish was the only language. Then, when they were immersed into American ways because of school, they repelled that immersion, preferring the comfort of Spanish at home. Three years later, and two more kids (me and my little brother, made eight kids in all), my dad decided to move us into town. We went to the projects.
Here, in very close proximity with the neighbors I heard the “foreign” language of English. By now I was even hearing English from my older siblings. An English word, then a Spanish phrase. Still I found myself shocked when my first best friend; Li’l Debbie, did not speak Spanish, she certainly looked like she should! I think she was a fourth generation Mexican-American (maybe she was just American and not hyphenated?) Li’l Debbie became my first unofficial English teacher. Playing with her and creating Spanglish along the way prepared me for kindergarten and English.
With all this 2nd language coming into our home, Mom had to officially establish an unspoken rule. En mi casa, se habla Español! While we were out in the community, we spoke in English and Spanglish, but when we got home, we spoke in Spanish, Mom didn’t know how to speak English and as we grew and our English improved, she found less and less need to embrace the English language. Instead she took a translator to her every appointment. There was one word that mom used in English. As our voices rose in the house and around the table, and she was hearing too much Spanglish, we would suddenly hear a very loud, “SHAT AP!” And we did.
Speaking in Spanish covers so much more than words. Speaking Spanish reaches out to those Mexican traditions that I am so thankful for. Embracing English along the way paved the way for my appreciation of my country and I can rock my Mexican-Americanness in Spanglish.
I usually tell people that I am bilingual, but as I’ve written this, I wonder if I qualify for trilingual, Porque, pues, you see, it’s like this, poquito Spanish and some English and a mixture that is only captured by a fellow Spanglisher.
Mexican and American – Both can exist together nicely.
What generation do you fall under? First? Second? Or Third generation? When does a hyphen get removed and a hyphenated American become just American? I think that depends on individual preferences. Honestly, I don’t always use my hyphen card, and you know what’s crazy? In other countries, (other than Mexico) I am just American! Don’t get me wrong, I know I’m American, but through the years I’ve walked in mine fields of coined terms and technical vocabulary that I’ve used very non-technically, either applied to myself or to someone in my Mexican-American path.
First-generation American, which I applied to myself, because I assumed that since I was the first of my entire immediate family to be born in the United States I should be first, especially since I’m almost the last of my siblings, I held on to this. For years I’ve said “Yes, I’m a first-generation American,” with a fixed conviction that I was. Then I read the Wikipedia definition: (my sons teacher always warned him about where his source of information was coming from) “According to the U.S Census Bureau, first generation refers to those who are foreign born, second generation refers to those with at least one foreign-born parent, and third-and-higher generation includes those with two U.S. native parents.”
So, not only am I not first, my parents were not just Mexican, they were considered immigrants! By whom? That would be the previous generations of immigrants now called just Americans. Then, as I am processing this information, something else hit me. All my older siblings were considered immigrant children! Raised in the U.S, all of them American citizens, with kids of their own that do not even speak Spanish. It hit me hard, that I was raised in a mixed home; Mexican and American.
Why is this so relevant now?
Because as I sit and describe my Mexican American-ness I realize that some things were not necessarily spoken of, but lived. Just the facts: Mexican parents with six immigrant kids and later two American born kids. A home with mostly Spanish speaking until us younger kids got older and Spanish thinking switched to English and the languages mingled; also called Spanglish. Of course, always speaking only in Spanish when speaking to our mother. We didn’t go around telling our friends or teachers about our home life, but it showed in our upbringing.
It is my experience that many hyphenated American families either incorporate both cultures or stubbornly insist on just one, thankfully our parents allowed us to exercise our American after we had established our Mexican.