Family, Latino culture

A to Z Challenge: U is for Uvas

A canopy of grape vines, photo by Igor Ovsyannykov, unsplash.com

The Spanish word uvas means grapes.

When I think of grapes many memories come to mind.

My mother’s family were migrant workers; her father a foreman. They followed the crops from Pomona, California to Fresno and all the little towns in between in the great California Central Valley.

Picking fruit, nuts, and citrus in 90-degree weather was the norm for Mom, her brothers, and sisters. They spent a childhood in migrant camps, traveling from town to town in a loaded down jalopy like the Joad family in the book, Grapes of Wrath.

One of her first memories is playing under a sunshade of green grape vines where the earth felt cool. At four years old, she cared for her baby sister as their mother worked up and down the vineyard rows clipping clusters of grapes.

When I think of uvas, I remember Cesar Chavez’ boycott which began in 1965. Although Mom no longer worked in the vineyards she honored the boycott and made sure everyone in the family did so too.

In 1970 the United Farm Workers union won their first contract and we could eat grapes again, but that was shortlived. Growers broke the union contracts three years later and signed sweetheart deals with the Teamsters Union.

In 1973, the family boycotted grapes again. I remember the bumper stickers, NO UVAS, and the boycott against Gallo Vineyards.

That boycott of grapes lasted until 1977. I was in college by then; carrying No Uvas, No Grapes signs in front of Safeway stores in Santa Barbara and my hometown of Oxnard.

College students and workers in Philadelphia boycotting grapes, 1976. Getty images

This tiny fruit, the uva, carries a huge weight of memories.

Thanks for reading.

Family, Latino culture

A to Z Challenge: S and T are for Sábanas y Toallas

photo by Igor Ovsyannykov for unsplash.com

This is the last week of the A to Z challenge, which presented me with (you know the answer)-

challenges.

I’ve never blogged every day; at the most twice a week and lately twice a month. This endeavor tested my commitment and discipline which were good things.

Every once and a while test yourself, commit to something new, dare yourself to try what you haven’t tried before.

Now on to the letter S and T.

The words that begin with the letters S and T which I’m most familiar with are sábanas and toallas.

These words mean bedsheets and towels.

During my childhood we were poor. Living in the housing projects poor, state government food poor, no dryer poor. We hung clothes on the rope clothesline in our asphalt backyard.

My job was to hang the sábanas and the toallas. They were the large items and with a little struggle, I could throw them on the clothesline.

The smell of bleach and detergent hovered in the air around me as I made my way down the lines.

Mom came behind me, taking wood clothespins out of her blue gingham apron pocket, and pinned the sheets and towels.

Old fashioned wood clothespins. Photo by Nong Vang for unsplash.com

I’d sit on the porch watching the white sábanas and colorful toallas sway in the breeze, feeling important because I helped my mom. I wondered when I’d grow tall enough to hang and pin the clothes myself.

By the time I turned nine, I could reach the clothesline. Hanging wet blouses, heavy jeans, and the families underwear (except Mom’s, who hung them in the shower during the night) was no longer a desire but a chore.

At that point, my daydreams switched to Mom buying a clothes dryer.

 

 

Parenting

A Daughter’s Birth Day

pexels-photo-302561.jpeg

Today, I’m reflecting on my daughters original birth day many years ago.

I came across the writing prompt “I remember…” and the memories came.

I remember focusing on the circle of light in the ceiling of the hospital room until finally, I felt a deep pressure and a tug.

I remember my baby in the arms of a nurse, a blur as she left my sight. An exhausted breath exhaled from my entire body, replaced by my tired smile.

I remember the gasps from my doctor. Seconds later another gasp from someone behind me.

I remember freezing in time.

“Oh my,” the doctor said and broke into laughter. A female voice giggled.

“What, what?!”

And then a chorus of “oohs” and “awws.”

Lowered into my arms was a healthy looking infant, rosy-cheeked, with a halo of just washed inky black hair standing on end. I couldn’t help tearing up and laughing at the same time.

Large eyes blinked, pink bow lips puckered.

I remember the moist baby scent of warmth; murmuring the words what a marvelous miracle.

baby girl with great grandparents
Daughter, four months old, with great-grandparents. Her hair is dampened down. http://www.alvaradofrazier.com

For months her full head of hair wowwed whoever saw her. They asked if they could touch her soft mane, fanned around her head like a fuzzy mohair hat.

Twenty-nine years later, my daughter’s hair is waist length, thick and beautiful. Today’s its emerald green.

 

 

 

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!