Catholic School, Latino Family Traditions

Ash Wednesday and Lent, Memories of Catholic School

catholic church
Catholic Church, photo by Jason Mrachina, Tn. Flickr.com

 

Today is Ash Wednesday, a Catholic tradition that marks the start of the Lenten season. Or to us Catholic school kids, who’ll never forget, it’s time to give up something for 40 days to remind us of sacrifice.

Everyone strolled around the neighborhood with their ash crosses on their forehead, a mark of a ‘good Catholic,’ on Ash Wednesday. You didn’t have one, you must be late to church, hurry, the priest is there until eight at night.

During grammar and high school, no student got a free pass on the ashes. If you were on your death bed, you got ashes. And don’t try to tell a teacher you went to church at six-thirty in the morning with your mom, washed your face and the ashes came off. We had to wash around the ashes. Everyone knew that. A double dose of ashes for you.

The teachers lined the entire school up, two by two, like little kids boarding Noah’s Ark. First graders walked to church first, followed by the rest. The trip to church was the best part.

We counted how many kids fell off the sidewalk, ran into a pole, or lurched over a fire hydrant. They didn’t get any sympathy from the teachers because they ‘should be watching instead of talking.’

Smoldering trails of incense, sweaty kids, and corn chips smelled up the church on Ash Wednesday. Into the pews went the first graders until the last eighth grader sat.

ash wednesday
The last one in line typically got this smudge of ashes.

 

Row by row we stepped into line, waited for the priest to smudge our forehead. First graders got a nice, neat black cross. The eighth graders got either a letter J or some kind of ashy Rorschach blot.

Dinner conversation on Ash Wednesday covered the items we had to give up.  Candy, soda, or Hostess cupcakes were the standard fare. The Hostess cupcakes was a good one because we rarely had those. They didn’t put those items out at the Weber Bread outlet, only those crusty apple, or lemon turnovers.

If it was Friday, we had fish, or shrimp with nopales (cactus), or nopales with chile, or mac and cheese, anything without meat.

We counted off each day until Good Friday, not because we looked forward to fasting one meal but because of the Passion Procession.

Kid you not, we had a genuine procession from the old church to the newer one with real people playing the part of Christ, Mary, and the Roman Soldiers, with their uniforms and everything.

The procession brought out hundreds of people to the street. I’m talking about viejitas swathed in black shawls to babies in strollers, visitors, religious orders, and a few gang bangers. By the time we got to the crucifixion hundreds of people were in tears, shouts rose, the motorcycle cops looked scared.

Each year I attended it always got cloudy when the cross went up. Sometimes the wind kicked up, or a drizzle fell, or all three.

We got older and less Catholic (except Mom of course). Ashes were still de rigeur but giving food up wasn’t as important as doing something positive or less negative: giving up cussing or alcohol, be nicer, or pay people compliments every day.

I like this message from the Pope:

Pope Francis
Pope Francis Words on Fasting-Lenten Season

He’s on Twitter. Some more wise words:

 

You don’t have to be Catholic to know these are wise words for Lent or life. Have a great week!

 

Family, Latino culture, Latino Family Traditions, Parenting

How Tamales Make My World A Better Place

Ingredients for making 'Green' Tamales
Ingredients for making ‘Green’ Tamales

Every December, I write about making tamales, and this year is no different.  Our mother has made tamales for over seventy years, longer than her children have been alive. And her mother made tamales before she was born. And her mother, back to the days of maize and metates.

Something is wrong with my universe if our family stopped making Christmas Tamales. Our world can be is disarray, but we come together, three or four generations of our family and spend an entire day making tamales.

Keeping our tradition alive is like maintaining a bridge beginning in the past crossing to the present and spanning into our future. It’s family represented with food.

The name tamale comes from the Nahuatl (Aztec) word ‘tamalli,’ meaning ‘wrapped.’ The masa (maize) for the tamales come from our indigenous roots and have names from our ancestor’s primary language (Spanish/Nahuatl). Making tamales, for me, is maintaining our culture.

In the past, I’ve written about our Tamale Tactical Plan, The Five Important Ingredients for the Best Tamales, and the Tamales and Traditions post. Everything you wanted or didn’t want to know about tamales is in one of those posts.

This year four generations of our family donned our favorite aprons to make ‘green tamales’ or tamales de rajas. Right before Christmas we’ll make the ‘red tamales,’ or the red chile and pork tamales.

On our table, (picture above) in the twelve o’clock position is the masa preparada (prepared corn meal), at three o’clock, are strips of Ortega California green chile, at six o’clock, is more masa, at eight o’clock, is shredded Monterrey and Cheddar (a big mistake-use Monterrey only), at nine o’clock, is a pitcher of homemade chile, and in the center are the soaked corn husks, or ojas. We use a knife to spread the masa onto the oja; some people are adept with a spoon or a tamale spreader that looks like a cement masonry spreader. We are butterknife people.

Assembly line style, the five of us (four generations) spread the masa onto the oja and fill up every spot on the table. Two people stuff and fold the tamales. To get this important job you have to work your way up from tamale spreader to the stuffer.

This year, my eleven-year-old niece (representing the fourth generation) who graduated to tamale stuffer last year. You can see how proud she looks. She’s been helping since she was five years old. That’s her grandmother beside her (the second generation).

Corn husks with masa ready to be stuffed-www.alvaradofrazier.com
Corn husks with masa ready to be stuffed by the fourth generation-www.alvaradofrazier.com

I remember when her mother was five and helped spread masa on the corn husks. Truthfully, she spread more on the table than on the ojas, but that’s how you learn. This is a picture of her now (she’s the third generation).

spreading tamale masa
Tamale Time with the third generation. http://www.alvaradofrazier.com

This is how traditions are carried on through the years, from the parents to the children. It’s one of the touchstones that ground us to this world. For us, it’s part of parenting.

My portion of the tamales is in the freezer, ready to make the trip to Denver for a snowy white Christmas. While I’m there, I’ll make tamales and carry on the tradition, with a vegan twist, with my son and daughter.

Many of you are from different cultures and places in the world. I’d love to know what traditional food you make during this time of year. If you have a link to a post you’ve written about your tradition, please include it in the comment section so we can visit your home and kitchen.

Thank you and enjoy the holiday season.

 

Art, Family, Latino culture, Latino Family Traditions, Writing

The Ortega Adobe – A House of Dreams

A couple of months ago I wrote about Ekphrasic Poetry. There is also such a thing as creating a story from a photograph, or Ekphrasic Prose.

This story is based on a painting housed in our county library. The Ortega Adobe is a California landmark that still stands 160 years after it was built.

Art Tales photo

                                                                     House of Dreams

 

María Conception awakened with a sharp intake of breath. Why did the man in her dream try to grasp her hand? He was a shadow, but his presence familiar.

The sun burned hot through the muslin curtains covering the window. She pulled her damp nightdress away from her chest and rose slowly, allowing her arthritic knees time to acclimate to movement. The clatter of pots, a knife chopping against a heavy board, and the kettle whistling sounded through the room.

Her legs moved slowly, shuffling towards the nightstand and the pitcher of water. After a rinse of cool water on her face, she stroked wet palms over her silver mane, twisted a rope of hair to the nape of her neck.

Buenas días, Doña María.” Her new daughter-in-law wiped her hands on a faded blue apron before she took an earthenware cup from the cupboard. “The coffee is ready.”

“Maybe today,” Maria Conception said noticing lines of worry across her daughter-in-law’s forehead. She sat heavily on the wood chair, its seat smoothed from years of use.

Both women cast glances towards the kitchen window, searching the sky for answers, wondering if bad weather approached or the bloated clouds were passing through. “I hope they return soon,” her daughter-in-law said.

Woven baskets filled with chiles sat next to the charcoal brazier, ready for roasting. “Canning day,” María Conception said. Soon, the familiar scent of burning coal and the sting of chile vapor rose, filling the home, before escaping through open windows.

María Conception instructed her daughter-in-law on the correct way to make chile sauce and the virtues of canning. She needed to know the Ortega family’s cooking secrets so she could provide for an unstable future when it arose. She began with the telling of the family history.

Their adobe, given to them in a land grant, stood on Chumash land spanning the years between Mexican territory and California statehood. Emigdio, María Conception’s husband, built the house.

She remembered the day he returned with his horse sweaty from pulling the carreta filled with redwood beams he found in an abandoned adobe in Rancho Sespe. Their river rock foundation would now have an equally sturdy roof. “A good home,” she said.

They raised thirteen children who worked their fields, tended the goats and provided for their needs.Their adobe withstood the flood of 1867 and the fire which burned their rafters of giant reed cane tied with rawhide. The odor lingered for months. The rugged beams survived, slightly scorched. “A miracle,” María Conception said.

Minutes passed to hours as the chile roasted, was peeled, and plucked clean of seeds. Unspoken anxiety stretched in the space between the two women. María Conception rocked in the oak chair her husband carved decades before. The rhythm, a comforting pulse, creaked to a stop.

A knock on the door boomed and paused, followed by rapid taps. María Conception looked through the window where Mr. Sanchez stood, his hat in his hand, and she knew what her dream meant.

#

This story is fictional however some of the characters are based on fact. Emilio Ortega, Emigdio and Maria Conception’s 11th child, established the Ortega Chile Packing Company using his mother’s recipes. The company has a variety of products on the market.

John Riley, Latino Family Traditions, Mexican American War, Mexican and Irish culture, San Patricios, St. Patrick's Day

The Irish Mexican Connection

Irish and Mexican Flags

There is an Irish connection in my family. My maiden name has Irish roots while my mother’s maiden name originates from Mexico via Spain. My nieces, one of whom is named Erin, are of Irish and Mexican heritage and I have a cousin born on St.Patrick’s Day. (Okay, that last one was a stretch).

Besides the personal connection, there are more Irish Mexican facts you may not have heard of:

Image of the flag carried by the St. Patrick Irish Battalion in the US Mexican War

1. The Mexican-American War of 1846-48:

Los San Patricios, led by John Riley, (Juan Reley was the name he enrolled in the Mexican Army) began with 175 immigrant Irish, German, English, French, and escaped African slaves from the southern USA and grew to over 700 men, the majority immigrants from Ireland. You can read more of their history in this 2014 post.

2. Mexican Irish beach towns:

San Patricio (St. Patrick). Villa Obregon (Alvaro Obregon -O’Brien- was the President of Mexico from 1920-24. Melaque, a version of the Irish word “Malarky.” There is no indigenous word called melaque.

3. Religion and culture:

The Catholic faith is one of the strongest connections between the two countries.

“Mexicans and the Irish are connected by their Aztec and Druid heritage to an earth-worshipping tradition, strong beliefs in spirit, life, family, and cultural gatherings.” Mexico Insights-Judy King

 4. Music:

Ireland has a full Mariachi group, Mariachi San Patricio. Dublin also has an annual Taste of Mexico festival. 

Mariachi San Patricio-Ireland
Mariachi San Patricio-Ireland

And for a musical break, let’s hear how they sound:

5. Rebels, Actors, and Artists:

Zorro, yes, the famous Mexican Robin Hood, was not a fable. Born William Lamport, he was the son of a wealthy Catholic family in Wexford County, Ireland. He used the name Guillen Lombardi but was not a Spaniard. He was an Irishman, educated by the Jesuits in Dublin.

Zorro Poster
Zorro Poster

Juan O’Gorman, the artist, and architect, was born in Coyocan, Mexico to an Irish father and Mexican mother. He built the home and studios of artists Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo. His brother, Edmundo, was an esteemed writer.

Actors Anthony Quinn, Sara Ramirez, and several others are Mexican Irish. Add comedian and director, Louis C.K to the list.

Sara Ramirez-Actor, Grey's Anatomy
Sara Ramirez-Actor, Grey’s Anatomy

I’m sure there’s an Irish Mexican food connection, besides Jose Malone’s or Carlos O’Brien restaurants, but I’ve never heard of a specific dish.

So, on St. Patrick’s Day, my family will enjoy our annual meal at an Irish (American) pub, maybe with a Harp Lager and celebrate our Irish Mexican connection.

Have a great weekend!