Preserving my Culture by Marilyn

IMG_2221_FotorLately I’ve been thinking a lot about my Guatemalan roots. Why is it that I haven’t immersed myself in the traditional food of my culture? Is it because it’s a complex history? I don’t come from a family that can trace their roots. This is a sad reality of a conquered race. I also didn’t grow up in Guatemala. I grew up in Los Angeles with the Guatemalan culture. I’m first generation here and this alone is a struggle because I’ve never fully been from there and I’ve never fully been from here. When I traveled to Spain I was told my last name was Catalan. So what really are my roots? I think this question is the reason that I’ve never immersed myself in fully learning about Guatemalan culture. Because my roots are unclear I search for culture, I search for food, I search for music and I search for what makes me feel more at peace and comforted and my reality is that my comfort doesn’t fully come from Guatemalan culture. It should because that’s what I grew up with but then there’s a void that’s too strong for me to ignore. When I was little girl I would pack my favorite toys and move around the house with my blankets from room to room, corner to corner and build tents where I felt I wanted to stay. I was always looking for the perfect place to play and be comfortable. My parents would call me a wandering gypsy. This is still how I feel with culture. However, Guatemalan traditions and gastronomy are what my parents passed down to me. When I go to Guatemala I don’t even have to speak and everyone knows I’m from there. So it is a big part of me. This is the culture I know, this is my culture and I need to embrace it more.

Before I began this blog with Joanna or my project with Addy I was determined to bring Guatemalan food to light but instead I went with a more experimental approach rather than traditional. I know a few Guatemalan dishes but haven’t experimented with the more difficult and interesting dishes. The ones where I have to burn a tortilla to add to the sauce or roast sesame seeds for the caldo. In truth Guatemala isn’t known for their gastronomy but they have very interesting and yummy food. Who else makes hotdogs on tortillas? We love using mint…we aren’t a fan of spicy salsa but we have chirmol and not only do we have tamales but we also have chuchitos. We’re also fans of “chow mein” but with a Guatemalan twist and you can find it as street food in the city. Our love for breakfast is also intense because you can eat breakfast all day in Guatemala. We’re proud of our breakfast. It’s a beautiful culture. It’s full of color, we love nature to the point that the money is named after the amazingly beautiful national bird, the Quetzal, the Mayan’s contributed so much to modern society like the number 0, we are polite, we love jokes and also there’s intense love for Christian rock music…. it’s a real genre.

Is it that I haven’t embraced my culture because I feel lost or is it that I’ve taken it for granted? Of assuming it will always be there as if Guatemalan culture is my base and I can wander off and always come back to it? If I want something Guatemalan I can go to my family to get my fix. But it became more realistic to me that I have to really learn about my culture when my mom stopped making tamales for Christmas. In all her right she got tired. At a certain point everyone gets tired but tiredness doesn’t mean everything needs to stop. It just means we need to take care to pass what we know to others and hope that the best attributes of our culture continue to thrive. Like relationships, keeping our culture alive takes work because it can disappear if not nurtured; it takes communication, appreciation, respect, validation, loyalty, honesty, humility and commitment. I think it’s time for me to commit myself to nurturing my culture and the best way I feel I can do it is through learning how to cook the food because I don’t have the patience to learn how to play the marimba or learn how to make textiles. If I lose this culture than that void will be more intense.

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