As a child, my family ate just as many potatoes as we did rice & beans. We ate french fries, shepherd’s pie, potato salad, mash potatoes and baked potato-looking back we could have been mistaken for an Irish family. Rice & beans and potatoes are a wonderful metaphor for what I learned from the many women in my life. I grew up surrounded by second generation Latinas, my mother and my aunts who were born in Queens, New York- so I witnessed how they struggled with the pressures of assimilation and also the gifts of negotiating and bridging cultural values that were both American and Latino. I always thought we ate lots of potatoes because we just really enjoyed them, but 10 years ago I was chatting with my mother and she divulged a cultural taboo- she didn’t have a passion for cooking, so potatoes were the easiest way to make lots of inexpensive food in different ways for a family of six. My job was to peal a whole bag of potatoes-maybe that’s why I have an aversion to peeling foods in general! And even though she didn’t enjoy cooking everyday, I’m sure she would have rather read a book, or taught a class, in other words, she would have much rather preferred to engage the intellectual parts of who she is, she cooked everyday because she chose to find ways to manage the cultural expectations/values that were a part of her tradition. Admirably, she also nurtured her intellect and creativity, in her thirties my mother pursued a college degree, took voice lessons while my dad took on the responsibilities of feeding and putting us to bed-I remember feeling so proud of her tenacity and talent. The Latina women in my life were a great influence, they have helped me to figure out ways to integrate my cultural values, without becoming stifled by Western norms or my indigenous culture’s expectations. Its the reason I enjoy listening to Ted.com and old folktales about Juan Bobo. I believe this is the legacy I hold dear to, its not only the capacity to embody a life that makes both rice and potatoes, but to find the beauty in a sancocho (hearty soup) of identities.
Note: Mayra is battling Burkitt’s Lymphoma. She’s in an aggressive cancer treatment. She’s in remission at present, which is great. She’ll continue through the prescribed chemotherapy. You may visit her Mayra’s blog here and leave her a word of encouragement.