It would take you not living in the place where you grew up — far from the daily tastes, smells, sounds you love — to truly understand the joy I get when I discover Cuban/Miami-home-style food and products in Nashville’s grocery stores.
In the morning, I ran into Publix to grab some coffee creamer and cut through the frozen food aisle. I always look in the “Hispanic foods” section for fun. And there it was: Frozen guanabana pulp! (Passion fruit too, but I’m more a guanabana girl…) Dreams of guanabana shakes on hot summer days! Hurrah, a taste of home in the new homeland.
Then, the same day, in the evening on my way home from work (Yes, I’ll tell you about that soon…) I dropped into the little store in my tiny town and saw the word “Manteca” out the corner of my eye. Manteca! Yes, I rejoiced at seeing lard, but mainly because it was written in Spanish and found in the most un-Spanish of places.
The last time I did a Wepa dance in a store aisle, I found dulce de leche in a squeeze bottle. You would have thought I had just seen a naked George Clooney, I was so happy.
It’s the little things.
And again, if you don’t live far from your gente, you have no idea what I’m talking about.
That’s OK…I am solid in my crazy, and in my longing for frozen tropical fruit pulps.
I know for sure I won’t be wearing yellow panties, despite the good luck they promise. (I don’t own yellow panties. Bad color for me.
But, on this New Year’s Eve of 2011, I will be mopping and throwing the dirty bucket water out the door a lo cubano, there will be 12 grapes consumed, and there likely will be some Violetas cologne splashed around the corners of the rooms to santiguar la casa un poco. Oh, and a suitcase by the door to inspire travel in 2012.
And, because we’re Southerners, you know, on January 1, 2012, we will dine on black-eyed peas and greens — a culinary wish for good fortune.
It is my guess Maria, at 8, will think me crazy, ridiculous, even. I know I thought these rituals loco when I was little. But, there is a comfort in ritual, a tie that binds you to your people, your place.
The New Year’s Eves of my past are varied — with family, in NYC clubs with friends, in restaurants, at house parties. All fun, memorable-ish. All rites of passage, maybe.
But, the way we do it now — just us, at home with maybe a quick visit to a friend’s party — is so good. Quiet, comforting, reflective.
For Maria, I’ll explain the New Year’s rituals learned from family, and I will hope she eats the black-eyed peas this year. She didn’t last year, despite my covering them with cheese and making them a creamy dip.
You know, I’m thinking she may truly get it all, remember it when she’s grown, if she’s the one who mops the floor.
Dear free-born, democratic country-living American friend…or stranger, here is something you can read before you once again utter the statement: “But at least in Cuba they have free health care and free education.”
Not really true. And at what cost?
Check out the photos from a 6th grade classroom in the Rocky Mountain state. They were sent by a friend whose daughter is on the hunt for a Middle School, and given that I’m their Cuban friend, they forwarded the photos.
I love them.
Check out some rules:
No Talking Bad About the Government
Must use Cash. No Mastercard/Visa
Need Government Authority to Create a Group
Anything You Write for Publication Must be Government Approved
I am guessing the little American school children are horrified to learn there also are no iPods, no Phineas and Ferb and no Wii. And, that there is some dudes beyond Mom and Dad who are offering up ridiculous rules.
My friend’s note:
“The teacher has the students actually play out scenarios… She said there were some pretty unhappy students under Castro, but a few escaped.”
Oh hells yeah, I would want to escape to.
Glad my family did.
Anyway, happy to see a stark and realistic picture of Cuba’s daily reality being painted.
And, perhaps one day, I will live to see more Cubans standing up for themselves and creating change.
I discovered a great essay by Susan Newman over at Babble that made me think a lot — again — about being the mother of An Only Child. The title was “Is it Selfish to Have One Child?”
The idea of being labeled selfish stopped me, made me read, made me share with friends via Facebook. (Lots of feedback there on that one…)
I’ve never thought of myself, other moms of Onlys, or the childless by choice selfish. If anything, those of us in this category by design (because not everyone picks this box by choice) have made a conscious choice to have an Only child.
I imagine some have thought of me as selfish, or pitiful, or sad, or something.
But, here’s the story. I feel like sharing it. Maybe just to add to the record and chant that the families we’ve created, small in size, are big and wondrous and wonderful in their own way.
I didn’t really ever know how many children I wanted. But, I remember being very young and in love and planning a marriage and dreaming up the names of two future girls.
And then I married someone else and I went into it knowing it was possible there would be no girls with ringlets and solid English names. The man I married wasn’t sure he ever wanted children, but eight years in, he agreed to having one child.
I took the bargain.
And then, to my great shock, I had to poke my belly with drugs and suffer indignities under florescent light just to conceive.
I prayed to la virgencita that the drugs and ovaries swollen with multiple ripe follicles would send me twins.
God sent me one perfect daughter, instead.
After Maria was born — in the 10th year of my marriage — my spirit grew calmer, settled, complete. The person I had been missing had arrived and I was going to enjoy every minute. Mostly, I have. (Just being honest here…)
I have been asked many times when we were going to have a second child. I don’t think my husband got asked as much. I have been asked if I feel badly about not having more children. I always say I do, a little. But, I offer up my age (now 44) and explain that infertility treatment isn’t something I plan to go back to. Plus, we’ve aged out of adoption options, as my husband is much older.
End of story.
No Pity, Please
It shocks me to think a stranger who doesn’t know my story, or friend who does, would think me selfish, or pity me, for having an Only. Not to mention pity my happy, healthy, delightful daughter. Those of us with Onlys don’t merit pity, I promise you.
And listen, if someone says they were too selfish to have children, or have more than one, freaking applaud them. Applaud their ass for being honest and self-aware.
Deciding to get pregnant requires commitment, plus even more commitment after the kid gets here. We all know these kids are not a daily, happy, fabulous, miraculous stroll in the park. If you start out the relationship iffy, well then, who knows if you’ll ever be in with both feet? Pity the child then.
And, we could say that having four or six or seven or 20 is selfish, right? Tables always can be turned.
Embracing the Choice
Let me tell you how any uncertainly about having an Only went away.
When a friend was struggling to have a second child, I asked her why she kept trying despite the hardship.
If you attended, you’ll see some words and thoughts you will recognize and a new thought or two.
Unleashing the Power of Your Voice by Breaking Your Own Rules
When I launched Bilingual in the Boonies in 2006, just a few months after leaving my job as a reporter, I emailed a link to my former editor with the subject line:
“Look Ma, No Hands!”
Blogging was liberating and exciting.
A little scary, too.
I spent nearly 20 years in newsrooms and during that time at least three sets of eyes looked at my copy before it was published.
Suddenly, it was just me, the dashboard and the publish button.
There also had been a lot of rules to follow: correct grammar, the AP Stylebook, even specific newsroom rules of style — everything from the abbreviation of states to how many words should, or could, be in my first graph. (And sometimes, a few rules depended on whom was your editor that day…)
Suddenly, in blogging, I was not bound by my newspaper’s or editor’s rules.
Know the Rules: They Give Confidence
But, I kept to many of the good rules I learned from talented and passionate reporters and editors. I believe in rules. Understanding the basics and norms of whatever you are doing gives you a firm foundation and confidence. A grip on the basics often will point toward a better way of doing things — and in your own style.
Being comfortable as a writer gave me the confidence to try a wholly different medium for writing, one that was somewhat bold and non-reporter-like in 2006.
Back then, journalists didn’t really blog. Plus, as a reporter, not a columnist, I am trained not to express an opinion – and that is pretty much the opposite of blogging.
I had to get over that and by 2009, I especially had to.
Here’s an example of the Disruptive Voice we’re talking about in this Latism session. (#latismvoice)
Personal (and Social Media) Disruption
Nashville voters were facing an English-Only Resolution that would ban city government from working in any language other than English. That meant translations for immigrants and refugees would have been a no-no.
Well, the thing was defeated. Amen. But, that was the first time I used my big mouth and my personal blog for a cause became a broadening of what I wrote about.
It also was my intro to vlogging, something I now love and something I learned to do only after I broke two of my own rules:
1. Don’t express your opinion.
2. Cover your face from any video camera.
The Rules You Have to Break Most Often are the Ones You Make Up for Yourself
If I had kept to the belief that I was always and forever a writer, a person who avoided the camera, I never would have taken up doing video.
But the truth is that as my blogging style emerged, and when the Tiki Tiki Blog was born to tell the cuentos of what it is like to live Latin in the USA, I had to confront the fact that some stories have to be told on video. (Despite how long Carmen Miranda Remolino went on, I got great feedback from readers and friends.)
So, for the Tiki Tiki, how could I capture the accents, the gestures, the facial expressions with just words? I can’t. So, I got a Flip cam, breathed deeply and went for it. It was scary and unknown, but a necessary way to tell the stories I want to tell.
It is an irony for me that this year the Tiki Tiki and I have been recognized for our videos — not our writing. So, the attention has come for something that I did not know a lot about two years ago, something that forced me to break rules I had established for myself.
The videos bring traffic. I optimize them just as I do blog posts. The videos also bring comments, and they have helped create the community that — blessedly — hangs out with us at the Tiki Tiki’s social media channels. In addition, videos and the Tiki Tiki help win me freelance work, so that’s not bad.
And so, back to the good rules: This new love of video means I have had to study things such technique, editing, software. It means I have watched a whole lot of vlogs, videos and business videos and heck, even commercials, which are great for teaching you to get a point across in 30 seconds. Knowledge is possibility.
And all the good stuff that doing video has brought has happened because I had the confidence to open my mouth, broke my own self-imposed rules and took a chance. When you break down your own barriers, new stuff appears for you. New paths and passions.
Breaking past fear and rules means the authentic appears, and that’s the voice, the person, whom your readers and viewers really want to know.
What Rules Do You Need to Break to Unleash Your Voice?
What self-imposed rules are keeping you from telling it like it is?
What rules are keeping you from expressing yourself with a more authentic voice, or in a different medium?
What rules do you need to break in order to experiment and grow?
You don’t have to go off and Find Your Voice. You already know what it sounds like. Your Voice is the person who talks inside your head, the sound of your Spirit — the one who tells you to try new stuff, but whom your outside voice, your public persona, often quiets.
Let that Voice out, scary as it can be, and many right things will happen.
“OK, why don’t you tell me what you think the F-Word is?”
“It’s a bad word.”
“It’s OK. You’re not in trouble, I just want to make sure we’re talking about the same F-Word.”
And then she said it, with the right frustrated emphasis on the “CK!” Grown up yuck from my little innocent’s mouth.
“Yup, that’s an F-Word, alright.”
Apparently, a classmate who does not enjoy doing a certain type of work told her that she likes to say The F-Word when she does this particular task.
Maria also told me she learned Ass and Damn, but I am not sure those gems came from the same classmate.
I am just feeling a little bit grateful she didn’t learn the F-Word from me. I have been known to say it a little bit and the Cubans I come from have bocas sucias. So, getting to nearly 8 and just learning the F-Word is a good example of our self-restraint. (I’m claiming that as parental victory, OK?)
So, her father and I had a talk with her about the use of her new words. We asked her not to say them because they’re not polite, and please, don’t teach them to any other kids. We especially emphasized we don’t want to get a call from school should she get caught dropping F-Bombs.
Words can hurt, she said.
Yes, they can, we said.
We also told her her friends will tell her a lot of things, things they will encourage her not to tell us. We told her some of the stuff will be wrong, that she can come to us for fact checking with no worries.
I had flashbacks to the neighbor girl who, when I was 8, told me where a man puts his penis to make a baby with a woman. I thought she was talking about the urethra. The fear that image struck in me…ay, I can’t even tell you. I never asked my mom about it. I shudder to think my kid is going to get that kind of wrong information.
The F-Word episode was funny and surprising. And sad, too. More examples of the beginning of innocence lost. I have an image of myself pushing away all the hard stuff, the ugly stuff, the mean stuff, away from her. A futile, and perhaps misguided, attempt.
But maybe this is what life is about. We lose our innocence in little bits — and maybe some of us in huge chunks – and our work is to regain it, to get back to seeing and living as a child does.
I don’t know.
But, it is fascinating to watch it all unfold.
I only pray to survive her growing up without dropping a few F-Bombs of my own.
This essay is part of the first #HablaTalkwriting prompt series I am doing with Latina Bloggers Connect. They’re a way to inspire the writer, bring out the video star, and promote the community of talented voices. Check out the community and join in.
Happy Happy Joy Joy
A few weeks ago, I escaped on an overnight to Atlanta with a good friend. She had an appointment down there, 4.5 hours south of Nashville and I basically invited myself.
The plan was to eat and shop…and we did, though I did not score anything much. I do not count the $39 Ikea blanket as a fabulous score, despite the reasonable price. I marked it as “necessity.” I got one cool dress, but my goodness, there was disappoint to discover II can’t even score big with the clothes in Atlanta. Something is wrong with me and I think it is a combination of age 44 and extreme cheapness.
However, success was found in solitude, in the disconnect from the daily routine — the lunch-making, the car-line, the working, the cooking, the dog walking. I know you know.
When my girlfriend left for her appointment early in the morning, I was left in a hotel room all by myself for five hours.
I had coffee, watched the morning shows — which I rarely ever do — I read the free newspaper in bed. I went to the gym and worked up a sweat. I took a long shower. I sat at the desk, fiddled with Twitter and Facebook, jotted down writing ideas, read about Angelina in Vanity Fair. I wore fuzzy socks.
In my college world religions class, I learned about a culture who believes that when we die, our soul travels up to the top of the Universe and is suspended for all eternity in its own Bubble of Bliss. There are others in their own Bubbles of Bliss all around you, but you don’t know it, and if you did, you wouldn’t care anyway, because you’re in your own Forever Bubble.
Hotel rooms are my own Bubble of Bliss.
I didn’t think about this much until I started attending blogging conferences. For as much as connecting with my tribe is wonderful, heading back to a hotel room alone is just about as sweet.
Writing down all this hotel love, I am struck at the memory of thinking a friend of mine odd for her hotel habit. She told me about it maybe seven years ago, or so (Our daughters are the same age). Every once in a while, when she needs to disconnect, to recharge, she leaves the husband and kids at home and checks into a local hotel. I remember her telling me that she sleeps well, she reads, she watches movies.
I don’t think I got it then, but I so get it now. (The woman is genius, really.)
As the Atlanta escape ended and my girlfriend and I got back in her Mama Fab Van and headed north to Nashvegas, I was recharged (an a little high on free hotel coffee).
And a recharged me means I connect better with my family and the creative goods flow better in my work.
And well plus, I’m always happier when someone else makes the beds.
Hey, American South, look what is happening: A new cuisine is emerging, born of Southern and Latino cultures.
Tamales stuffed with greens, corn ice cream topped with hot praline sauce, brownies with chile, sweet potato and plaintain casserole.
Welcome to El Nuevo South.
The ingredients of our people are joyfully intermingling with traditional Southern staples and celebrated in a new cook book, The New Southern-Latino Table: Recipes that Bring Together the Bold and Beloved Flavors of Latin America & the American South, by Sandra A. Gutierrez.
The 150 original recipes explore the melding of cultures, ingredients and cooking techniques of more than 20 Latin American countries with that of the traditional American South.
We can only say Wepa, Y’all, to that.
Gutierrez, a food writer and culinary instructor from Cary, N.C., will be in Nashville this month during the Southern Festival of Books. She will be on a panel entitled “Meet Me in The Kitchen — Recipes for the New World Cook” from 12 p.m. to 1:30 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 16 in Room 30 of Legislative Plaza. (Be sure to check the online schedule just in case anything changes between now and then.)
I leave you with this image of Guava Layer Cake with Cream Chese Frosting from the book, an image that made me dream of los bakeries in Miami and made me believe I can make this Cuban- and Southern-blended cake for my own daughter, a Cuban-ish girl born and raised in the American South — a perfect melding of cultures. Like the recipes in the book.
From "The New Southern-Latino Table: Recipes that Bring Together the Bold and Beloved Flavors of Latin America & the American South." by Sandra A. Gutierrez. Used by permission, University of North Carolina Press.
She can kind of play Twinkle Twinkle Little Star.
And tune the thing.
So yes, city folk, we’re taking mandolin lessons around here. Even I grab the lovely piece and hit it some.
La Nena also is taking two other classes after school.
That’s three extra-curricular activities…There are a couple others she used to do regularly that we have not returned to because, well, five just seems like much doesn’t it? (We added two and got rid of two, basically.)
I had a rule that we’d only focus on one extra-curricular a semester.
That lasted until last year.
There is a parental push to give, to expose, to share the world so she can take bites of it and decide what she likes.
“Mama, her voice sounds kind of funny,” she said nodding toward the stereo.
The voice she heard belongs to a pop singer without much range, a young woman who once melted down publicly and is attempting to come back. The voice on her latest single is most definitely not completely human.
I explained that some popular singers aren’t really great singers. They get some, or a lot, of help in the studio. They’re famous anyway because, well, maybe they’re good performers.
I didn’t tell her that we really don’t know why on earth some people get famous and rich with little, or no, talent. (Have you heard of this girl/woman? Horrifying!)
The conversation left me with a strange feeling. Like, I’ve cracked into her childhood a little bit and taken away from some of the truths we are teaching her. Like, do good work and you are rewarded. But, now she kind of knows: Hey, you can’t sing (or act) you can still get on the radio.
She now knows that what you see and hear isn’t always authentic, and I guess that is good.
Maybe I am bothered by her new awareness because it seems like some trust and innocence is lost.
Now she makes a habit of commenting on the singers’ voices.
“Mama, do you think her voice is real?”
“Mama, I think his voice was good and really his.”
“Mama, I think they put her voice through a machine.”
“When I grow up and become a singer, I won’t need auto-tune.”