mexican

A clove of Garlic on my window.

My Mom always had a thing with putting a clove of garlic on the window. As far back as I could remember, it was one of her little superstitions. Like having a glass of water by the bed before you sleep. Eating 12 grapes at midnight on New Year’s Eve. The garlic clove on the window became her little quirk.

She had been doing the garlic thing for so long that when I was younger I believed all windows came with a clove of garlic. When I’d see a window without one, I’d assume the window was broken. It wasn’t until I was a teenager that I understood it was one of her many superstitions.

“Para la mala vibra.”, she would say. For the bad vibes.

When you’re 15, you think anything your parents do is crazy. Everything they do is just weird, off, and super Mexican.

“Mom, you sound crazy. Who would want to give us bad vibes?”, I’d say.

“People. Not all people know the vibra they put out”, she’d respond.

Just another thing to add to the we are different pile. We mexicans are a rare breed of crazy. Superstitions, bad vibes, all of the cosmic universe hocus pocus.

We have a superstition for everything in my family:

Do the sign of the cross before you start a journey. To ensure your journey is blessed.
A St. Christopher medallion to ensure safe travels.
A glass of water by the bed, to trap the bad dreams.
Never place your purse on the floor, that way you will always have money.
A clove of garlic on the window to suck out the “mala vibra” before it enters your house.

I didn’t believe her at times. I didn’t want to. I refused to believe that anyone would want to harm us. Who could want to put out a crazy vibe like that? What would they gain? But I obliged her wishes. I wouldn’t mock or say anything. I just allowed her to work her brujeria  and hoped for the best in everything. Keeping a “buena vibra”, a good vibe going.

Two weeks ago, I had a crazy spell of insomnia. Something I have never experienced. My body would collapse on the bed but I couldn’t shut my mind off. I would find myself falling asleep only to wake up an hour later in a panic.

“Something is wrong. Something happened.”, I would think.

I would look out the window and see my street, black as night. For two weeks, I couldn’t get it together. I tried everything. I took baths with essential oils. I slept with lavender on my wrists. I would watch tv until my eyes felt heavy but nothing worked. I would have resorted to sleeping pills, had it not been my mother handing me 3 cloves of garlic.

“I’m sorry, mija. I’ve been so busy, I haven’t changed your garlic. Here, put this garlic on each of your windows”. She instructed.

I haven’t told her I hadn’t been sleeping. Just briefly in passing. I didn’t want her to think it was serious or that I needed to go to the doctor again. But somehow, without saying anything, she always knew.

I haven’t slept right in a few days. I find myself staring at the ceiling at night, praying to sleep. I hadn’t spoke to God in a long time and these past few days, I’ve been having long detailed conversations with Diosito. I refused to believe this is a coincidence. That this garlic clove is going to solve anything. It’s just a vegetable on my window. Everything has an explanation, a scientific answer. But I could hardly keep myself awake anymore. I wanted to cry from all this stupid exhaustion. I am not sure how much longer I can keep this going.

I replaced each clove of garlic, one clove for each of my windows. The first garlic looked like a raisin. Completely brown with the life sucked out of it. Nothing out of the ordinary, it’s how they usually look when my Mom changes them. I find myself doing exactly as she would do when she would change the garlic; saying a prayer to each garlic, something only she would understand. The second garlic started its stage of regrowth. Equipped with a sprout of life inside of itself. My mom always said when a garlic sprouts life, you have buena vibra, good vibes.

Upon replacing the second garlic, I didn’t understand why I had a third. The only rooms I occupy are taken care of, maybe she miscounted? Then I remembered that nothing my mother ever does is without reason. Handing me 3 garlic cloves for each of my windows, means something. I was too tired to ask her; another lecture of why we do this and what it’s for, etc. It wasn’t until I remembered the third window, that I remembered why the third clove. A window in a room that I don’t normally occupy. A room I only go into to throw miscellaneous items away. The room has always been too warm, too cluttered with objects, old relics of the past that I haven’t had the time to clear out. I never go in there, I tell myself. But it’s worth a shot.

I walked toward the window and see the shell of the garlic. I pick up the shell and start replacing the garlic. I say my final prayer, my wish.

“Please allow no harm to me and my family. Please protect us from negativity and harm from the outside world.”, I said.

I start walking toward the trash to throw away the last dried up clove. Upon inspecting it the clove started disintegrating to ash. As if the clove of garlic held on enough just to become a pile of dust. I didn’t know what to do. I just stood there, with the skin of the garlic and felt every emotion inside turn to dust.

“They can’t hurt me no more. They can’t hurt us anymore.”, I found myself saying.

I didn’t wanted to just throw it away in the trash. I wanted to rid myself of that “mala vibra”. I flushed the ash and the garlic skin in the toilet. Walked toward the sink to wash my hands from what happened. Its through that, that I felt a weight lift off my chest and completely off my shoulders.

Was this the reason why I stopped sleeping? Was this the reason of my insomnia? There’s a reason for everything, right?

I walked toward my bed, turned off the light, and covered myself with blankets. I didn’t have a chance to look toward the ceiling before falling into a complete deep sleep. It could just be coincidence. Just my body finally giving out and allowing me to sleep. But I tell you, I have never slept more soundly then I did that night.

Brujeria, superstition, or not, I will continue to change the garlic on my window. As long as it guarantees me a good night sleep.

 

 

 

 

 

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Amor Eterno.

When I think of home I think of the music of my childhood. The music that blared every weekend morning before starting our day. The songs of Pedro Infante, the harmonies of Steve Wonder, and the tender voice of Juan Gabriel. There isn’t a memory that doesn’t include a song of Juan Gabriel. Every car ride to school and every family gathering. Even a distant memory of being in Mexico and seeing mariachis strumming the first chords of his songs, before belting out the beautifully tragic lyrics. A man with such a vibrancy for life; who captivated the world with his songs of love and heartbreak. We invited this man into our home to remind us of what we have. To remind ourselves to love, to embrace heartbreak but not give into it, and to understand we are never alone.

I can’t help but think of a lifetime of memories that his songs bring. Songs that we’ve all sung at family gatherings, birthday parties, and even sitting in your car thinking of the one person you told yourself you wouldn’t think about. Of all the songs that he has written, Amor Eterno is the one song I can’t help but grab my heart and cry. Crying for lost loves. Crying for people who have passed. Crying for people whom we miss and wish to have one more day with. Another day to say everything we needed to say that we couldn’t say when we needed too. Then the tears start to form at the corner of my eyes as soon as the strings start playing. I hear his voice so clearly. Dedicating the song to every mother, including his own whom he lost long ago. A loss he felt so deeply that her passing is immortalized into this song.

This song reminds me of a family who’s son passed away in route to Acapulco. Forever bringing to light the tears as soon as the line “El mas triste recuerdo de Acapulco” is sung. Of my strongest prima that never lets anything affect her and catching her singing the lyrics softly with tears in her eyes. Her own loss for words and deep profound love within her heart. I think of the countless times my Mami has skipped over this song because it reminds her of my Abuelita, her Mami. How much she misses her and no matter how many postcards and phone calls she makes, it is never the same as seeing her face to face. How I have seen her sing the same words over and over, and trying to hold back her own tears.

I can’t help but think of the the last time I saw my Abuelito. Looking out from his favorite window over looking the street below.  Then later holding his hand at the hospital in Mexico City and knowing this would be the last time. I feel myself breathe a little harder. This deep feeling in my chest as my heart begins to break. I think of my Tia who recently passed and a memory of her in her home filled with warmth and love. A home filled with all her relics and accomplishments. Every conversation I had with them, forever remembered and returning through this song. I think to myself, I should have tried harder to keep in touch. Let me have one more day to make amends.

Yo he sufrido tanto por tu ausencia,
Desde ese dia hasta hoy, no soy feliz.
Y aunque tengo tranquila mi consciencia,
Se que pude haber yo hecho mas por ti.

I sit in disbelief that a song with the simplest words and such a powerful melody could fill the spaces of your veins and tug at the heart. How no matter how many times you hear a song after that, this song will forever haunt you with memory. With a feeling of nostalgia and your only response is to think back at that memory. No matter how many times you want to stop the tears from forming, you can’t help yourself.

I hold myself tighter. Refusing to give into the song, even though I am watching as my surroundings become blurry. Slowly I lean into the melody. Into the words that I have found myself repeating before the next line. This aching lump in my throat when I try to sing. This pain. This sadness. This memory I have tried to forget. I sing louder as if these spirits could hear me. As if they held my hand and sang a long with me. This song overtakes all my emotions and I watch as one by one the tears start to fall. It’s been a long time since I have cried like this. A long time that I let this heartbreak be a reminder of how much I am missing. Because I miss them. With every inch of my heart that beats to the words of this song.

Its only until you have lived through the words of his songs, that JuanGa opens his arms out to you. And like a familiar friend, you outstretched your arms to this man. Taking comfort in his words, and sing a long to the melody. Forever I will be grateful for this man. Who opened his heart to the world and allowed us to take a part of his journey.

Even after the song plays out, I still cry out for one more day. I scream out how much I am hurting and missing, until my cheeks hurt from sobbing. Its been minutes since the song has stopped playing. I slowly start collecting myself and watch as I wipe away my tears and pick up the remaining pieces of my heart. Thank you, Juan Gabriel. Thank you for these cherished memories and for always feeling like home.

Obligo a que te olvide el pensamiento,
Pues siempre estoy pensando en el ayer.
Prefiero estar dormida que despierta
De tanto que me duele que no estes.

 

“White” Mexican.

I don’t sing Corridos.
I can’t dance Salsa.
I have brown hair and dark brown eyes, but my skin is pale as snow.
If it wasn’t for my last name, you would think I was like everyone else.

“She’s not like a Mexican, she’s white.”

People have a way of being cruel without intending to. Saying a variety of ignorant things without realizing the sentiments. No one will ever see the words that sting like tattoos on my flesh that no amount of ink could cover over. My pale complexion does not show the color of my blood that flows through this vessel. The blood that roots itself down like the roots of a tree; each root firmly planted in each equally diverse culture. I stand here amazed at the words that make no sense to me. Am I not the product of my ancestry, because of the way I act toward you? Do I insinuate more of one culture than the other? Am I not a true Mexican, because I lack all the stereotypical characteristics you think of? I was not aware that being a product of two different nationalities, I had to prove myself to everyone.

 “She’s more of a white-washed Mexican.”

I listen to Joy Division and stand in the background like a wallflower; bobbing my head to the music.
I sing old latin folk songs, while also singing every motown love song.
I didn’t grow up in a rancho, I grew up in a suburb.

I was born and raised in the United States. I say  “Like”, “dude” and every other juvenile slang word you can think of. The only time I give myself away is talking an octave above everyone else. When I am passionate about something, I become loud and obnoxious, much to the dismay of my peers. When I express myself, I use my hands when I talk, and over exaggerate everything. I am not hiding who I am. I do not have to run with the Mexican flag across my chest to prove that I am Mexican. I was raised in a predominately american environment that has allowed me to be close to my american culture. I am not white-washed, because I do not have an accent when I talk. I am not white-washed because I love american customs just as much as I love mexican customs. I was raised under the belief that I could be who ever I wanted to be. I don’t have to prove my identity to anyone. This isn’t a sick competition of who is better at their culture, because no one will ever win. I am American, I am Mexican, I am both. I am born American with a Mexican ancestry.

But none of that matters to you.

“She’s a coconut; brown on the outside, white on the inside”.

I don’t have an accent when I speak.
I seldom ever wear a color louder than neutrals.
I have tattoos you will never see; none of which are my last name across my back.

I am not a coconut.  I like what I like for my own personal preference. My style is understated because that is my aesthetic. While I talk with my hands, I speak fluently in both languages, and I love chisme/gossip just as much as the next person.

But, no.

Instead you see the outside and will never understand my insides. You think you know my struggles just by looking at my face. But you don’t know. You think that by saying words, they don’t hurt after they have left the tip of your tongue. The words stay with me long after you have gone on to the next subject. How dare you defy my identity, on the basis of not being your stereotypical race. I am not the spokesperson for being of two different ancestries. I am not here to prove to you how much of my nationality that I know. I am a Mexican-American. An american born, mexican-american culturally raised, citizen of the United States. I am not a “White” Mexican, nor a white-washed mexican, or a “white” girl.

I am just me, and the best I will ever be.

 

11/1/2015 – Day Thirty – Four.

I am not a cook. I can say that without flinching or getting an anxiety attack. I am not. I can do a variety of things; cooking however is not one of them. A lot of my cooking is based on watching other people cook, learning from the experts as I like to say. I can’t give you a recipe to make salsa, but I can show you. “I can show you”, is a motto that I have been taught on numerous occasions. No one taught me how to cook, I just learned by watching others. I can get by with simple step by step recipes, but I cannot cook for the life of me. Part of it has to do with lack of patience, and other half has to do with pure laziness. Do not ask me for the perfect recipe for the greatest salsa because I do not have one. I don’t have the best chocolate chip cookie recipe. I don’t even know how to make pie crust from scratch. I consider a lot of family and friends, the bakers, the chefs, the experts that can cook, etc. They can whip up a pie at a moments notice. They can make a variety of different meals that would put some minute meals to shame. To say that I am a bit jealous, I will admit to it. I would love to be able to make something without a recipe, or just be able to make something from nothing.

For the past couple of years I have grown an interest of knowing more about my culture. Whether it be stories about my family or knowing more about my culture itself. Being of Mexican descent, I want to know everything.  Everything in my culture is a story, with a purpose and place, which I find absolutely fascinating. Cooking is a big part of my culture, especially in my family. Every one in my family cooks; from my Abuelita (grandma) to my Tios (Uncles), Tias (Aunts), and primos (cousins). I am always fascinated by how simple ingredients can be transformed into epic feasts. My Mom has often stated “There is no reason to go hungry. If you have rice, beans, and tortillas, you are set”. She’s right. A lot of our meals have consisted of simple ingredients that make up these amazing meals. Most of the times we do not need a special holiday to make these delicious feasts, but on the day that there is a holiday they become these emotional and elaborate works of art. When I was growing up I always had a fascination with Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead). I loved the idea of having a day to celebrate with your ancestors that have passed on. Eating all the things they loved, celebrating life, discussing stories of the past, and my personal favorite eating “Pan de Muerto” (bread of the dead). It sounds a little morbid, “Pan de Muerto”, but I assure you it’s absolutely delicious.

While I love all aspects of pan dulce (sweet bread), Pan de Muerto has a different meaning on this day.  While breaking bread with your family members you would share a piece with your ancestors and continue this celebration of life and death. Pan de muerto would be the center piece that adorned your alter, the bread you would break and share with each family member. We have usually purchased a large pan de muerto (to share) or bought tiny individual ones to place on our alters to consume. This year I wanted to do something different. I have always depended on going to a panaderia (bakery) to purchase bread, but what if I made the bread myself? What if I put together all the ingredients and made it myself? People thought I was crazy. Honestly, I thought I was crazy. I’ve never cooked with yeast. I couldn’t tell you about kneading anything of that matter. Making pan de muerto, when I could very well just go to the local panaderia and buy it? Like are you crazy?!?

Considering that all my baking consisted of following a box recipe, I knew I had my work cut out for me. I mean, I wasn’t expecting perfection. Edible, yes. Perfection, no. I wanted to see if I could honestly pull this off. I can follow basic instructions. I can follow directions. After scouring the internet, I stubbled upon a recipe by Dariela of Mami Talks (www.mamitalks.com). Something about her recipe sounded like I was talking to a relative who was giving me instruction. I have the disadvantage of having a majority of my family members living in Mexico, so asking them for a recipe is harder with translating, language barriers, measurement differences, temperature changes, etc. Or sometimes they’ve never made it themselves, which is why the internet is amazing! After gathering the ingredients in the recipe, I started the grueling process of making the bread. Let me just state, it was not an easy process. Its a process that takes a lot of patience, which I often times do not have. A lot of waiting around for dough to rise, then kneading, letting dough rest, etc.

Whew!

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I give props to every baker I know. Especially the bakers in panaderias. There were times in the process, I would get frustrated. Was all this work, really worth it? Do they not have little canisters of pan de muerto that I can pop in the oven? WHAT IS THE MEANING OF LIFE!?!?! You know all my little dramatics rolled into one bread. When the bread was ready to pop in the oven, I did the sign of the cross and prayed it didn’t burn. I could have taken the easy way out. I could have complained about driving 3 minutes to the local panaderia. I could have picked the perfect pan and went on to do my alter. But I didn’t feel close to my culture that way. If I had done that, I wouldn’t feel the flour in my hands, watch the dough rising from the bowl. All these processes I would have missed by doing what I normally do, depending on someone else to do something for me. I have been so dependent of everyone to save me from myself. Even simple cooking, I would rather have someone else do.

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It may not have been the prettiest pan de muerto, but it sure was yummy. All that anxiety, all that complaining, proved that I could do it. It may not have been a recipe passed down from generation to generation; I may not have perfected the art of pan dulce. After making this recipe, I felt like I could cook anything. More importantly, I didn’t feel dependent of having someone else clean up my mistakes.

I made this and it was delicious!

Shout Out to Dariela of Mami Talks for your amazing recipe of Pan de Muerto. I cannot wait to make this next year and share this with my family.