By law, I am United Statian. By ancestry, I am Mexican. In recent times, I’ve been more United Statian than Mexican; The last time that I went back to Mexico was in 2010… I think.
No matter how distant Mexico may be in spirit and space, there are some memories that are deeply rooted in my brain. Once a blue moon, however, a new memory will sprout from the deepest reaches of my subconscious.
I was cooking with my dad when I had a moment like this. He was cooking carne asada and I was being inventive with some canned beans. “How could I make these better?” I thought. “Aha! Chorizo.” I leaped in front of the fridge and opened the doors. The chilly air fell out, the blue light beamed out. We kept the chorizo in the same place, but this time around there was longaniza.
I put the pan over a medium flame, then poured olive oil in the pan. After the flame heated up the oil, I put in the longaniza, its ruby meaty complexion sizzling into mahogany crumbles of cooked meat. The oil turned slightly red.
I put in the canned beans followed by seasoning and let nature do the rest. After a few minutes I uncovered the pan and stared at the beans. I slowly dipped my finger into the pot for a taste. “Something’s off,” I insisted. I thought, scanning the pantry for something to save the beans. “Aha! Tomato sauce.” “Of course! The beans were missing a hint of sweetness.” I saved them.
I’ve always been a food and kitchen enthusiast. When I was a kid, my mom found me in the kitchen cooking an egg. I always hovered my parents in the kitchen when they cooked. Sometimes I helped them out, but more often than not I observed.
After my tomato sauce moment, I sat down with my dad to eat the food we cooked. As I bit into the chicken legs he grilled, a memory sprouted in my mind.
I think it was 2010 (the last time I visited Mexico) and I was outside with my Tía María en el rancho de Guanajuato. I was following her around as she was preparing dinner. Chicken in hand, she nestled it on the edge of a prep area outside. In the blink of an eye, she cut off its head. It felt like I relived the moment. I winced. I was mortified. Yet, I was unphased.
My Tía María did what she had to do. I wonder though, what was she thinking in that moment? What was she thinking before and after she killed the chicken? No matter what she was feeling, I know that the priority in her mind was providing sustenance.
I have no doubt in my mind that she built relationships with everything she cooked. She was not removed from the gruesome processes required to provide sustenance: cutting off chicken’s heads, yanking herbs from the ground, and gouging water from the river. All equally gruesome. All equally selfish. Yet equally necessary. I have no doubt in my mind that she thanked God for her food before she ate. I have no doubt in my mind that nature gruesomely took from her as much as she gruesomely took from nature. Both engaged in a dance of give and take until finally both reach a static state, a final state of equilibrium — the most gruesome of all acts where both sides are equally culpable.
My teeth meet and a piece of juicy chicken falls into my mouth. “Mmmmm — OW!” My wisdom teeth had been yanked out a few days prior.