Latino culture, Travel

A to Z Challenge: Few K words in Spanish

How far is it? Photo by Daniel Levis Pelusi for unsplash.com

K is for Kilogramo and Kilómetro.

Not acquainted with the metric system nor thinking it had much importance proved that ignorance is not bliss.

I was in my twenties when I traveled to Mexico and had no idea that it was important to know what a kilómetro (km) or kilogramo (kg) meant.

Okay, I’d heard the word ‘kilos’ a lot but I really didn’t know what that meant physically or distance wise. On a trip to Mexico City, I found out.

“How far is Teotihuacan?”

“Cinco kilómetros.” (five kilometers).

My mind interpreted this as five miles but we arrived quickly at our destination. I later found a kilometer is .6 miles.

So I figured if a kilometer was about half a mile, a kilogram was half a pound.

At an outdoor market the next day I wanted some strawberries. My husband reminded me that Mexico used kilograms for weight and left to a store nearby.

So I asked the vendor:

“Un kilogramo de fresas, por favor.” One kilogram of strawberries, please.

See, I thought I was getting a half pound of strawberries.

A kilo is not a pound. Kelly Neil photo unsplash.com

 

Not.

Petrified with embarrassment, this pocha walked away with over two pounds of strawberries!

To complicate matters, the shortened version of kilogramo is kilo, which doesn’t mean 2.2 pounds but “loads of” as in:

“Me comé un helado con kilos de chocolate.”

“I ate ice cream with loads of chocolate.”

But, it’s okay to make that mistake.

Loads or un kilo of chocolate. Photo by Flavio Shibata for unsplash.com
token
Family, Parenting

How I Found Happy Family Memories in a Token

French solider mask, cinco de mayo parade
A Real Cinco de Mayo Parade, photo by Kym Janisch, creative commons

 

I was going to write about the commercialization of Cinco de Mayo and how much I disliked the marketing of a cultural holiday that symbolizes the hope and pride of a people. About how much I hate to see “Drinko De Mayo,” and “Nacho Ordinary Cinco,” slogans. The distaste for ads featuring tacos and sombreros.

The post for this week was preempted by memories that had me travel many years back. So I changed my mind. But, if you’d like to read about what Cinco de Mayo really means and the French invasion of Mexico, I have an old post here. There are several posts about Cinco de Mayo. I like the one given by the History Channel.

The idea of a Cinco de Mayo post came to an end when I cleaned out my desk drawer hunting for an emery board. Underneath ink pens, rubber bands, post-its and an old address book, I found some foreign money. Coins representing four countries and two Chuck E. Cheese tokens. So make that five countries. Thus began my time travel.

token
Chuck E. Cheese token, circa 1993. “Smile America Say”

 

The faded image on the fake bronze coin showed a big nosed rat in bowtie and bowler hat, circa 1993. Why the weird phrase  “Smile America Say,” is engraved on it is a mystery to me. The other token had a different saying, but I lost that one between last night and this morning.

The rat took me back to the colorful sights and chaotic sounds of our local Chuck E. Cheese restaurant, “Where a Kid Can Be A Kid.”

All three of my children celebrated birthdays at the place among shrieking delighted kids and parents who moaned at the noise level and overpriced bland cheese pizzas.

Chuck E. Cheese parties for the kids in our extended family was a rite of passage, for the children, moms, and dads. We entered the fun zone as proud parents holding onto the small hands of excited birthday boys or girls and left as frazzled shell-shocked adults, sometimes forgetting one of the kids until halfway down the freeway, (she knows who she is).

Kids ran to dive into the orange, yellow and green balls, disappear into fluorescent plastic tunnels, while parents covered their eyes and ears from the blinking lights, electronic noises, and shrieks. Some of which probably came from the parents who’d been in the place for half an hour.

Try keeping track of your kid in the crowd of pint-sized children all waving arms, jumping, twirling, or cowering in a corner. (Wait, the cowering would be at the parent table).

All that excitement doubled when the red curtain rose and the mechanical singing chicken, mustachioed chef, and the blue guy who appeared. The smarmy dancing and squawking of the robotic characters, behind the arm-waving teenage CEC workers, delighted the under six-year-old set whose parents tried to look semi-excited but came off as confused, scared or both.

confused parents
Confused or Scared? flickr.com creative commons photo

When the bottom heavy rat strode into the melee of children I thought he looked like a thug rat in a knockoff Mickey Mouse film. But the kids, especially my toddler daughter hugged the seven-foot gangster rat like he was her cuddly stuffed lamb. Her eyes and body danced to the songs of the chickens, while one son veered away from Mr. Chuck E. Cheese and the noise, concentrating on a birthday cake and waving balloons. The older son ran circles around the rat and scampered back to the game zone, clutching trailing strips of orange tickets.

Ah yes, the memories. Happy and frightening at the same time. All those germ infested rainbow balls, tickets and tokens, bland pizzas and a giant rat returned to me via a grubby Chuck E. Cheese token.

Maybe I should have stuck with a Cinco de Mayo post.

Books, Calaveras, Family, Latino culture, Latino Family Traditions, Latino Literature, Mexican History, Mexican Holiday food, Mexican traditions

What’s up with Mexican Culture and Death?

                        La Catrina from the Book of Life movie poster
La Catrina from the Book of Life Movie

Yes, it’s that time again…not Halloween, but Dia De Los Muertos (Day of the Dead) on November 1 and 2nd.

I used to hear that celebrating Dia de Los Muertos (DLM)was morbid. But with some understanding of the cultural concept of Dia, it has become quite trendy–a real party.

We did not celebrate DLM in my Mexican-American home (In the 60’s we were Mexican-American, the 70’s Chicanos, the 1990’s Hispanic, 2000’s Latinos- a short history lesson).

Growing up Catholic, November 1st was celebrated as All Soul’s Day, and we attended mass (Not a party).

If you are ‘new’ to the Dia de los Muertos revelries, here’s a list I complied last year on the Icons of the Day of the Dead. 

And if you’d like to celebrate the days leading up to DLM, here’s a list of 10 Must Have Items for Dia De Los Muertos. 

Dia is trendy now but that’s okay. To me, this means DLM is not only culturally relevant to Mexicans, Mexican American, Chicano’s, but the concept also resonates with other people who agree that those who have passed should be honored, remembered, and celebrated.

Hey, even Hollywood jumped on the bandwagon. I’m so glad that the person who pitched this story idea was Jorge Gutierrez and that award winning director, Guillermo Del Toro signed onto the project.

Read this wonderful movie review of “Book of Life,”  by Melanie Mendez Gonzales.

If you’d like to become better informed or give your kids a wider multicultural view, here are some beautifully illustrated and written children’s books on the Day of the Dead.

Just a Minute by Yuyi Morales
Just a Minute by Yuyi Morales

This is a story about a young girl who helps her family prepare to honor her grandfather.

I Remember Abuelito-A Day of the Dead Story
I Remember Abuelito-A Day of the Dead Story

I like to use the remembrance cards that are given out at church funerals. I place these all over my dresser, light a candle, and re-read the cards and think about the good times I’ve shared with the person.

And now that you know a little more about Dia de los Muertos you can chose to honor your loved ones too by setting up a space on your counter or chest of drawers, with or without a candle, and place photos of the person (s) you’d like to honor.

Family, Parenting

Tamales and Traditions

Wrapped in Tradition-David Kadlubowski for The New York Times
Wrapped in Tradition-David Kadlubowski for The New York Times

Christmas just isn’t Christmas without making tamales. Tamale making or the tamalada (tamale making session which turns into a gossip fest and/or party) took place at my mom’s house for at least 40 years. Ten years ago the location moved to my house. This year it’s back to my mom’s home.

Holiday traditions rarely follow a straight line. From our past to our present the traditions branch out as we add children, relatives, and present life to the mix. Whether your celebrations of the holidays are uniquely your own, or passed down from great grandmothers to you, they are worth sharing.

This year our family traditions will branch a little more. Just like on Thanksgiving, I’ll be away from my mother and siblings, and with my adult kids in Colorado on Christmas Eve. They are making their own life while we (the vast majority of the extended family) are here in Southern California. And that’s okay, more than okay, it’s good.

In our family, Mexican American/Chicano, we make Mexican style tamales and champurrado as well as sugar cookies, fudge, and ham. We celebrate the Mexican and the American because that is who we are.

Mexican Champurrado-thick hot chocolate drink
Mexican Champurrado-thick hot chocolate drink

I’m eager to share Christmas with my kids because the activities of the day will provide touchstones to remember our past holidays. The tamalada gives us an opportunity to share stories of the past:

“When I (nana) was a child, we got oranges and candies as presents…the firemen distributed gifts to the poor- us…’member when tia put the sevo (fat) into the tamales accidentally instead of the meat, I didn’t eat tamales for five years… when I was a kid we had to attend midnight mass or else…’member when your tio tied the Christmas tree with a rope to keep it straight…”

We’ve shared hundreds of stories at the tamale table while spreading masa, sprinkling cheese, and spooning chile into corn husks.

In my kids case, we’ll make our tamales and champurrado vegan style. This is not what nana envisioned would occur with her recipe but continuing with the traditional foods will pass on my mother’s culinary knowledge, and her mothers knowledge, to my son and daughter. And we’ll share all of the above stories and then some. 

Holiday traditions may branch out, but they pass on our heritage, and in doing so create a canopy for our children and grandchildren to pass on to subsequent generations. Happy Holidays!

If you’re interested in making tamales you might want to read my Tactical Tamale Plan. 

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