Galletada

"Tamalada" - Artist: Carmen Lomas Garza

This has always been one of my favorite paintings by one of my favorite artists. “Tamalda” by Carmen Lomas Garza depicts the Latina tradición Navideña of tamal-making as a family.

Every year as I make tamales by myself, I think wistfully what it would be like to be surrounded by generations of women, each of us with our own task, but sharing laughter and conversation, working together to make tamales and memories.

Growing up in an Anglo household means my grandmothers, my mother, aunts and sisters do not know how to make tamales. This is not a family tradition from my side of the family that I am continuing, rather it is one that I’m trying to start for my own children – although they are boys. Maybe I will teach their wives, or their daughters some day – but when they think of Navidad, I want them to close their eyes and taste tamales – I want them to have that connection to their roots.

I’ve been asked why I don’t making tamales with my Suegra, which is logical since Suegra has certainly participated in many “tamaldas” with her sisters – but she goes back to El Salvador each year for the winter, so it isn’t something I share with her and it’s not something I learned from her. Our recipes are very different; Suegra favors the green banana leaves for wrapping her mild-flavored tamales, and I prefer corn husks to wrap my spicy tamales. Like many things between us, making tamales together probably wouldn’t work out.

I’m not as saddened about making tamales by myself anymore though, because this past weekend, my mother, sisters and nephew came to my house for our annual cookie-baking. As I watched my mother alternate between rolling out the dough and moving galletas in and out of the oven, while my sisters and the boys sat around the table decorating the trays of cut out sugar cookies she provided, I remembered the Carmen Lomas Garza painting.

Maybe an annual “tamalada” is not possible, but our “galletada” is close enough.

Pelucheros

I drew this little comic after observing many familias Latinas who love peluches (stuffed animals/plush toys), so much, that they display them proudly in the living room. Don’t pretend I’m making this up, gente. If you don’t do it, you know a Latino/a who does!

Escritura y Diferencias

September is a special month to me. It’s the month I started this blog last year, and though my husband and I met each other at the end of August all those years ago, September is when we became novios. And so today has me thinking about the early days, when we were new to each other, and I was still discovering all the little things about him that endeared him to me…

I first noticed my husband’s escritura, (handwriting) within minutes of meeting him. He gave me his name and phone number, and instead of the chicken-scratch I was used to seeing from American boys, I held in my hands something not only completely readable, but strangely intriguing.

Yes, after all these years, I still have it.

As novios, I looked forward to his love letters, not just for the words themselves, but the way in which they had been written – the form of each individual letter. Everything about him reminded me of how different we were, from our inability to communicate at times, (I read his love letters with an English-Spanish dictionary by my side), to something as simple as the way we write the letter “e”.

They say “love is blind”, and while I agree with the sentiment, it isn’t literally true. We saw our differences, and were fascinated by them.

Many handwriting experts claim you can’t tell a person’s ethnicity or nationality by their handwriting, but again, I say this isn’t true. (Link is to a PDF titled: “Spanish Handwriting And Spelling” – a document meant for non-native Spanish speakers deciphering Spanish documents to extract information. The fact that such a document exists proves that there are differences!)

Maybe it isn’t fool proof, but I’m able to pick out the handwriting of native born Salvadorans from that of U.S. born Americans. While I haven’t seen handwriting samples from all Latin American countries, everybody in my husband’s family – his mother, his sister, his brother, his cousins and uncles – even completely unrelated Salvadorans I’ve met, all have similarities in their handwriting. I can’t tell you if it’s a uniquely Salvadoran handwriting or a Spanish-speaking/Latin American way of writing, but it is different – and noticing a difference is not a bad thing.

In this politically correct world we’re admonished to look for the similarities, but I say go ahead and look for the differences, and celebrate them, because they’re beautiful.

My hands speak Spanish, too

The other day I took the niños to the pool. Usually I get out a few minutes before them and let them play a little longer. When it’s time to go, I wave them over, since they can’t hear me over all the noise of splashing and playing.

Well, as I waved them over this time, I stared at my hand in disbelief, because completely without my permission, my hand was speaking Spanish.

You see, you don’t actually have to open your mouth to speak Spanish. Different gestures mean different things in different cultures, and while there are many accepted ways to say “come here” for gringos, my hand waved my children over in latino “sign language”.

How NOT to order Pupusas

Last night Suegra made pupusas for dinner. We all sat down at the table and began to eat. I watched my oldest son pick one up in his hands and start munching on it as if it were a cookie.

This is not how you eat a pupusa and it annoyed me greatly. I instructed him to put it down on his plate, pull it open, and eat it with curtido* properly.

Being almost 12 years old, he rolled his eyes but did as I told him, all the while mumbling to himself, “I don’t even like curtido… cabbage and vinegar…two things I hate…especially vinegar…”

I told him that if he ever wanted to go back to visit El Salvador, (he only went once as an infant), he would have to eat pupusas properly or everyone would laugh at him. He considered this for a second and then said something that cemented in reality that he is irrevocably gringo in some ways:

“Well, if we go to a restaurant in El Salvador and we order pupusas, I can always order the curtido light on the vinegar, right?”

* Curtido in El Salvador is a lightly fermented cabbage salad which is served with pupusas. Curtido is made in large batches and kept in jars. It is not something that can be “made to order” under most circumstances.

The Campesino & the Gringo

This is a chiste I heard in Spanish, but with the chiste, I think is a valuable lesson. Here’s my approximate translation to Spanglish.

A group of gringos went on vacation to Mexico. Part of the package included a tour of a local farm. While on the tour, one of the gringos noticed a campesino. The campesino wiped the sweat from his forehead, went to the shade of a big tree, and sat down to rest. The gringo approached him saying:

Hola amigo, ¿Cómo estas?

Muy bien jefe, aquí descansando.

Tell me, why don’t you work more on your land?

¿Y para qué?

To have bigger crops and sell more.

¿Y para qué?

So you can make more money…and buy livestock!

¿Y para qué?

The livestock will reproduce, and you could sell them, and earn more money!

¿Y para qué?

So you could have a pretty house, live in peace and rest.

¿Y qué estoy haciendo?