As I surfed, I discovered a "flock", (it's their word for group, I think) that was devoted to Latinas. (My flock is on Meditation - more suited of course to a soul searching, spiritually unenlightened one such as I). Being a Latina, I decided to make an entry and had fun writing about my background. I probably should be doing more of this anyway, since the book I've written and rewritten umpteen times, is about my coming of age in the Bronx. Anyway, one of the things I mentioned was precisely that I was enjoying it, and I would expand my comments into a blog post. Here it is:
The kitchen was noisy, hectic and busy. People ran around, all giving orders and adding to the chaos. This was my very first ever, and thankfully, my last Enchilada Dinner Fund Raiser for my daughter's soft ball team, an attempt to help her make friends in her new community. We had just moved from Long Island, New York to this slow paced, bi-lingual, bi-cultural state where parents did things like this - make their kids join soft ball teams and then work their butts off trying to raise enough money to cover costs.
I did the best I could to become invisible, to let no one know how clumsy I was in the kitchen, and especially I wanted to hide the fact that I had no clue how to make enchiladas, having barely tasted my first ones only weeks before.
Shyly, I had to confess this to a Mexican-American lady, who clearly did not believe me. I guess she assumed I shared her heritage and I was merely slacking off or worse, ashamed of my true heritage. She was less than helpful to me as she ordered me to dice onions all morning. I muddled through somehow, and considered the discomfort of the day dangerously close to trauma.
We don't all look alike, though there is a distinct Latin look. I have that. I have dark eyes, dark, wavy hair and olive skin. I'm short, and if curve is the new word for bulge I'm very curvy. My countenance is conjured up whenever people think of a typical Hispanic lady. My cousin, on the other hand, is very white, thin has red hair, hazel eyes and a face full of freckles. His brother has black hair and pearly white teeth that glisten in contrast to his very dark skin.
Aside from physical diversity, there are distinct differences in the cultures of the various countries that fall under the Latin umbrella. They can be subtle, and most often involve differences in the spoken dialect of the global regions.
Though our music may sound the same to the unfamiliar ear, there is an immense range of rhythms and beats that are unique to each country. However, music is one of those things that, regardless of its origins, weaves throughout the hearts of all, and knits a web of unity and camaraderie amongst all Latin souls.
ETHNICALLY SPEAKING, YOU ARE WHAT YOU EAT
Food is what to me provides the deepest distinction between Latin cultures. Even if we don't all look alike, we all like to eat what our grandma's cooked and that remains unique to each country and that's what the irritated Mexican-American enchilada lady failed to comprehend.
Rice and beans, in a myriad of heavenly varieties and combinations, is the staple in Puerto Rico. Pork is the meat of preference and garlic is used as if it had been included in the most powerful and mystical of all ancient scriptures - like a sacred ingredient, without which the world is doomed. There are all sorts of tropical fruits, roots and yams. And bananas come in a variety which ressembles the diversity of the people - there are regular bananas, plantain bananas, purple bananas and little wee bananas which are great when fried. There are probably more I don't know about. And by the way, almost anything that is edible can be fried, according to some hidden Puerto Rican health book, that challenges the findings about cholesterol being bad for you.
MY ALMOST DAILY RITUAL
Many years ago, when I lived in Germany, my grandmother used to send me bags of rice and beans, though I assured her they had food there. She did this because (though most proponents and defenders of having strong cultural identities would deny it) I think most cultures have a downside. For Puerto Ricans, at least the ones I know, the downside is the belief that things Puerto Rican tend to be superior and this is especially true about food.
Almost daily I encounter this perspective in the food department at my house as I struggle to care for mother and mother-in-law as best I can. I used to cook daily until I got smart and started making better use of my freezer, in spite of protests from the elderly ladies, who prefer their meals freshly cooked. My mother and mother-in-law refuse to eat anything but Puerto Rican food. There are those who have advised me to let them starve, but I'm too kind. So almost daily, a ritual takes place at my home which involves none other than rice, beans, avocado and plantains because the ladies don't really eat much else. Luckily for me, being vegetarian, they no longer like meat, so it's one less worry. I try to diversify the food as much as possible, but only within the realm of what constitutes a Puerto Rican meal. And since we live in a place where we're probably the tiniest minority, stores do not usually stock up on our delicacies.
A BLESSING DISGUISED
I like all kinds of food - Mexican - of course, Italian - my favorite, Chinese -yum, Indian -lifts my spirit, Middle Eastern - a ticket to heaven. When the ladies did not live with me, I made Puerto Rican food once a week, maybe. Their presence and demands, now keep me frequently connected to my culture in more ways than one, but most intensely through my stomach.
Though it may sound like complaining, which is not foreign to me, the fact that I so often cook and eat the food of my childhood, seems to not only feed my body, but in a strange way nourishes my spirit. It makes me happy.
I don't always eat the food the ladies prefer, but I do eat it frequently. When I do, I can feel a connection to my earthly roots. If you accept a holisic approach to life, you know that what affects the body also impacts the mind and the soul.
Tonight the ladies are having their usual soul food. Hubbie and I are having enchiladas. After living in New Mexico for over 20 years we're tri-cultural now and Mexican food is our other soul food. Meat and potatoes? Well, we don't eat meat.
Plantains are large bananas. We like them ripe and fried. Sometimes, we eat them when they are green, hard and are closer to a potatoe. They are fried, of course, but prepared a little differently.