Food & Family

Discuss an accomplishment or event, formal or informal, that marked your transition from childhood to adulthood within your culture, community, or family.

“Food is the way to a man’s heart.” This surprisingly sexist saying has always been a coveted motto among the women in my large Latino family. The number of times my abuela disclosed what she believed to be the secret to love to me is incalculable. My first memory of these words was at the much too young age of 10, when my grandmother was babysitting me. Usually, when we were over at Abuela’s (Spanish for “grandmother”) fun things like coloring and playing dress-up were on the agenda, but today was different. My Abuela believed it was her duty to teach me a crucial life skill, the art of making a tortilla. This thin flatbread made from flour was and is an essential part of life in my household. It is served with almost every meal, and all great women in my family have perfected this culinary talent until it’s basically second nature.

The lesson was a bit stressful and was definitely not as fun as playing tag with the neighbors outside. I learned how much work my mom put into making tortillas every night, and I finally got an explanation of her unnatural strength: kneading that dough was no joke. For the next week, I told everyone I saw about my accomplishment; they gave their apathetic and courteous “congratulations,” and now I understand why. The traditional tortilla is an almost perfect circle, at the time mine were looking more like misshapen potatoes. But that didn’t stop me from being the proudest kid on the block.

Two weeks after the life-changing lesson, my mother, sister, and I made our annual trip to Honduras, our country of origin. Unfortunately, this trip is one of my most memorable not for the fun, but for the great loss my family experienced, the death of my uncle Mario. He was a ray of light in all of our lives; he lived with me and, every morning, he would sing a ‘wake up song’ at the top of his lungs, starting each dawning day with joy. When I heard about the car accident that took his life, I sat there as my heart sank. I had never endured such pain until that moment: this meant that I would never again hear that wake up song in his voice. My family, especially my mother, was devastated. We were so far away from him, and no one had dealt with this type of loss. Within the madness of planning the funeral and arranging the burial, we children were often left alone, a second thought to the obviously more important problem.

The morning of the wake, about 15 women from my family had come over to clean the house. Everyone was so preoccupied that no one had begun cooking lunch, which gave me and my cousins a great idea: we’d cook for them! We decided to make baleadas, a traditional Honduran meal consisting of beans and sour cream in flour tortillas. I decided to take charge and put myself on tortilla duty, and thus we started making dough and re-frying beans. I kneaded the dough as fast as possible and when all the components were done the assembly line of cousins whipped up about 30 baleadas, and began serving the hard working women. I will never forget how my mother teared up when I served her the meal; she couldn’t believe what I had done. My mother still remembers that moment herself, and remembers the relief she felt because she had one less thing to worry about. I was finally one of the tortilla experts in my family, and in my abuela’s eyes I was ready for marriage. In my eyes, I was ready for maturity — any and every version my life may offer.

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