I come from a long line of chilies and pierogis.
As the topics of identity, biracialism, and antiracism are in the forefront of our minds right now, I thought I would celebrate that I am not just one culture. I am a mixture of chilies and pierogis.
I come from a family who prided themselves in hard work, hard work, and more hard work. The act of making chili colorado or chili verde was time intensive. We had to wait for the New Mexico chiles to arrive in the mail before we could even start the process of making the family recipe. I also come from a long line of pierogi. Although I didn’t live close to my Polish great grandma, I would hear my grandpa recount the stories of the traditional holiday meal his mother would labor over the stove to celebrate their traditions and customs. I would listen to the stories that my parents would tell me about both of my great grandmas, one speaking mostly Polish in Massachusetts and one living in Pasadena, California who spoke Spanish and English.
As a young child, every week we would go grocery shopping with my great grandma, eat a pork roast with beans, have sugar doughnuts for dessert, and drink 7 up. . . it was part of our routine. My tiny great grandma would bustle around her kitchen in her 1929 California bungalow and make us an amazing lunch. She looked forward to each week when we could come and spend time eating a meal with her around the dining room table.
Little did I know that Carmen Celis had so much to celebrate even with the hardships she had endured over a lifetime. Through the years, I learned that my Great grandma lived through the Great Depression, her husband died at the age of 38, she raised 4 children as a single mom during World War II, she had to hide her children in the cellar during the bomb raids, she worked two jobs, and the list goes on.
I come from strength whether I like it or not. . . . the women in my family have endured hardship and it is my ancestry that I rely on when I am faced with adversity. My great grandma- her devotion was crystal clear- it was to her faith and family.
This is only one family member. . . I have many other women on both sides of the family who have helped shape me. When my Polish great grandparents came to Ellis Island, their family name was changed. They did not know how to spell in English and the interpreter tried his best to record the family name. With that being said, my great grandmother in Massachusetts was focused that her children grew up learning their Polish heritage and American customs. Every Saturday, my grandpa would go to Polish school. Although he did not want to attend another class, he could read and write Polish up to his 98th birthday. He had never traveled back to Poland but he knew his culture. This woman, also part of my ancestry, was focused on identity and race before it was even brought to the forefront of society.
Who do I identify with? I wish there was a box where I could check that I am Mexican and I am Polish. I identify with both cultures, both languages, and both types of family recipes. What I have realized is that cooking is what brings my ancestors to the forefront of my mind.
When I make my chili verde, I am connected to my Latin great grandma. My girls and I excitedly pick the tomatillos and cilantro from our family garden, I roast my jalapenos and anaheim chili peppers, and simmer the pork roast for hours. It is a labor of love I like to call it. I do not have air conditioning in my kitchen- but it might sound silly, I appreciate that as I work for hours on creating the perfect chili verde. It is my kinship, sweat, and hard work that reminds me of the hours of work my great grandmother put towards her family.
Last spring, My friend shared heads of cabbage with me. As I stared at it, I wondered what I could make with all of this cabbage. My friend said, “I make all kinds of Polish recipes with it- try making golumpkis.” This was out of my comfort zone. I was nervous that I wouldn’t be able to make this Polish delicacy with the correct flavor, the right consistency, etc. However, I also thought about my great grandma and her focus of wanting her children to know where they came from. As my two daughters looked at all of the cabbage in disbelief, I said, “Have I ever told you about your great great Grandma who only spoke Polish?” We started to peel the cabbage leaves and prepare them for the long process of making the recipe. I can’t say this was a great success but I can say that my children had a chance to learn about their ancestry that afternoon.
Now more than ever, I feel compelled to enlighten my children on their ancestry, the obstacles that our family have triumphantly overcome, and the passion each individual has had to help drive them down the path of life. Because at the end of the day. . .
If you do not know where you come from, how can you move forward?
If you feel inspired, please send a family recipe that we can share and celebrate your heritage at firstname.lastname@example.org