By Veronica Guevara, ICADV Director of Equity and Inclusion
Earlier this year I had the opportunity to attend the Women of Color in Solidarity Conference; “Connecting Head, Heart, & Soul: Healing Women of Color BY Women of Color” in New York City. The conference offered amazing workshops and discussions. It felt like a breath of fresh air and left me with so many things to think on and process. I dedicated many pages of my journal to notetaking and reflecting during and after the conference. Two of the workshops that impacted me most were about reclaiming abuelita healing traditions and reconnecting and healing through medicinal herbs and ancestral teachings. I had so many questions for the elders in my family. I asked away and started learning about the uses and healing properties of medicinal herbs, how to prepare homemade remedies and the ingredients for certain foods.
First, I was more interested in learning about the methods of preparing certain dishes and foods. I quickly learned that beyond methodology it’s about the ingredients and their meanings.
I asked my in-laws and learned about the ingredients they use. Each family has their own ingredients that are passed down from generation to generation through word of mouth and are rarely written down. Each family, town, state, region has its own mole, its own enchiladas, tamales and so on. So much variety and history behind each dish. The tamale, for example, has a long history it is one of the oldest dishes our indigenous ancestors created. The tamale is made with corn flour filled with meat or a variety of ingredients, wrapped and steamed in a corn husk leaf or a banana leaf. The Spanish tried to eliminate the corn based diet such as tamales during colonization to get rid of our indigenous roots, but they could not take or break this away from our ancestors. Our ancestors persisted.
Although my family and my partner’s family are from the same western state in Mexico – only about fifteen minutes away from each other – so many dishes are prepared differently and contain different ingredients. My family’s mole is spicy and his family’s mole is sweet. My mom’s enchiladas are prepared with a corn tortilla, red sauce and filled with potato and his mother’s enchiladas are prepared with a flour tortilla, green sauce and filled with beans or chicken.
It is joyful, healing and powerful to learn how to prepare these remedies and dishes that have been in your family for generations and to also create new dishes for the generations to come. Food is something that brings us together, it unites. As the daughters of immigrants, my sisters and I have faced gaps in communication and understanding with my parents and the elders in our family, and food has been the bridge, the one thing that brings joy and connection and warms the soul. Throughout the years I’ve learned a lot about who my parents were before they left Mexico and how hard they’ve fought to keep parts of themselves alive in the United States. But it has taken a lot of time and energy, to heal. For many years they would avoid my questions or have short responses. I didn’t understand this growing up but now I do, some things are still painful to remember, and some things bring too much sadness. I now see that my biggest way of understanding and learning from my family has been through food.
In my family we don’t verbally express our love for each other, we only hug on special occasions like birthdays or Christmas or the new year. The way my parents told me they loved me was through food, and they did that every day. In my family, both my mother and father cooked and continue to cook; even when there was no money or food in the kitchen. The gaps of communication with family still exist and it feels that the effort to remain connected, to understand and be understood must remain constant. Even as we speak the same language, it can be so hard to communicate. Generational leaps prevent us from sharing and learning from our elders. Asking questions or just being present in the kitchen, helping prepare food, is my favorite thing to do because spending time together is healing and keeps the bridge of communication and understanding alive for us.