Culture

When My Father Was Diagnosed With Cancer, He Worked Hard To Make Sure My Sisters And I Learned How To Make Them

Food has always had a significant place in my family’s traditions. It was the center of every gathering and what connected us despite whatever differences we had. Whether it was a BBQ celebrating a birthday or trays of Mexican food at a quiñceanera, food was the common denominator. No event combined food, family, and tradition better than our tamaladas.

My dad was the host of our tamaladas.

Photo provided by Samantha Chavarria

Truthfully, he was the orchestrator of most of our family meals. Someone who had already been cooking for other people all his life, my father put himself through culinary school while my sister and I were small. Working two to three jobs while going to school, he was a man fully committed to making a better life for us. Ever the doting Latino son, family was everything to my dad. As such, he also helped provide for his parents and younger siblings on top of caring for his young family.

His investment paid off and he was eventually able to become an executive chef. However, food wasn’t just my dad’s profession. It was his passion. Even when he retired, he was still the head chef of every holiday meal and family gathering. He even cooked at my wedding; baking and decorating my cake as well as preparing an asado to feed our guests. Food was his gift. His recipes were forged by his senses.

His dishes were the highlight of these life moments. They had the power to bring his family together and that was a responsibility he held in the highest regard.

Then he received his cancer diagnosis.

My dad had been sick for a while but the cause was a mystery. Still, even before doctors could pinpoint the cause for his waning health, my dad was certain it was cancer. My family didn’t want to believe it. I didn’t want to believe it. My dad was clearly just thinking negatively. A man as strong as my dad— a man whose personality was always larger than life— couldn’t be that sick. Doctors hadn’t found anything for a reason. We couldn’t allow it to be a possibility.

Soon we learned it wasn’t just a possibility, it was our reality. My dad was finally diagnosed with pancreatic cancer; a cancer with an only a 7% survival rate past 5 years.

It didn’t seem real. Personally, I rotated through a phase of straight out denial and painful grief. There was no reconciling it in my mind. My dad handled it much better. Even knowing the survival rates, he wasn’t willing to give up without a fight. He wanted to live and, more than anything, he knew his family needed him.

Still, he knew he was on borrowed time. His diagnosis came right before the holidays so he was deep into his first round of chemotherapy by the time Thanksgiving arrived. My dad still made all of his signature dishes, though the occasion felt strained. There was a certain realization that we were trying desperately to ignore. These holiday meals were my dad’s domain and the thought of this holiday season possibly being his final one was overwhelming.

Halfway through December, my dad decided to have a tamalada.

Photo provided by Samantha Chavarria

Some of my aunts and cousins had wanted to learn his recipe for tamales but this could only be learned by making them alongside him. There was no recipe. The consistency of the masa was the guide. It was measured by the scorched fragrance of the ancho chilis. There were no written directions that could properly explain how to spread and roll the cornhusk hojas.

So, in the house owned by my family since my grandfather’s father first purchased it, we held our tamalada.

I knew what my dad was doing. Watching him instruct his sisters in mixing masa and setting my younger cousin to single-handedly prepare multitudes of pan de polvo, I understood his intent. He was passing the knowledge on to those who would be around to use it the following years.

Anger was added to my mixture of grief and denial. I didn’t want this. These secrets were his and, as long as they stayed his, he’d have to stay here to pass them on another day. Sharing them with others felt like he was acknowledging that he wouldn’t be around; that there was a time limit that he was tied to. I didn’t want to admit that.

I had long ago learned these techniques from him. Years of making tamales alongside my dad as we talked and laughed had taught me.

Still, I wish I had paid more attention to his fast folding fingers. I wish I had been more present on the day of the tamalada instead of trying to swallow the bitter combination of my feelings.

My dad died in August of 2018. It devastated my family. I’m honestly surprised to be as functional as I am so soon after his death but I’m still utterly wounded by the loss. My dad was my best friend. He was my teacher. He was the keeper of my secrets, our family history and the recipes that filled our bellies during times both tragic and triumphant.

It hurts, but I finally see that last tamalada for what it was. Yes, it was an attempt to pass those techniques down to their new keepers, but it was something even more significant. It was my father’s attempt to give us final, beautiful memories that would keep us warmly wrapped in his love throughout the coming years. When we wouldn’t have him any longer, we’d have his memories.

When I look back at that last tamalada— past my anger, grief and denial— what I see is truly priceless.

Photo provided by Samantha Chavarria

I see my dad, watching his family create something that would live beyond him. I see him sitting, arms crossed with a tired yet satisfied smile on his face. In my memory, he’s smiling at me; his grin silently telling me, “Mija, it’s going to be okay.”

This year, we will gather in that same house that my great-grandfather bought. In the house my father spent his first and final days in, we will cook the chilis and mix the masa. We’ll shimmer the pork and roll the hojas. My family and I will tell stories about my dad as the tamales cook. We’ll laugh and cry and drink too much café con leche in my dad’s honor.

It’s never going to be the same, but it’ll be okay. My dad taught me that, too.


Read: My Abuela’s Distaste For Cooking Taught Me To Appreciate The History And Taste Of A Good Mole

Recommend this story by clicking the share button below! 

Notice any needed corrections? Please email us at corrections@wearemitu.com

Mariah Carey’s ‘All I Want For Christmas Is You’ Is Already Everywhere And It Is Only October

Entertainment

Mariah Carey’s ‘All I Want For Christmas Is You’ Is Already Everywhere And It Is Only October

Jeff Kravitz / FilmMagic for Mariah Carey

It is a fact that 2020 has tested us more than any year before. Everything that could have gone wrong has gone wrong. There is a virus keeping us home, wildfires are ravaging the West Coast, and, well, politics. It is only October and people are finding solace in a likely unlikely place: Mariah Carey’s “All I Want For Christmas Is You.”

It is October and “All I Want For Christmas Is You” has already been No. 1 on the Billboard Charts.

Only Mariah Carey could have a Christmas song make it to the No. 1 spot months before Christmas. We can only speculate that the state of the world right now is making people crave something joyous and jolly. And, tbh, if you are reading this you have either secretly listened to the song, are currently listening to the song, or know someone who is already listening to this song.

“All I Want For Christmas Is You” reached No. 1 for the first time last year. The song, written in 1994, took 25 years for the song to make it to No 1 and that is just a travesty of epic proportions. However, it is never too late to truly appreciate the truly important cultural touchstones of our society.

Carey’s greatest song is literally taking over people.

Those first few notes just make the whole world hit differently, in all honesty. Not to mention that Christmas is more Christmas-y when “All I Want For Christmas Is You” is playing. The air gets colder and there are suddenly sleigh bells ringing in the distance. The iconic Christmas song is a very important part of American culture and history.

Even the kids are rocking out to “All I Want For Christmas Is You.”

It seems that the anthem for this Halloween is “All I Want For Christmas Is You.” This is not up for debate, according to Twitter. People are all spending time listening to this holiday bop as a way to make the year go a little bit faster and end 2020 without anymore damage.

So many people are being forced to listen to the song because of those around them.

There is nothing wrong with celebrating the holidays early. Everyone is just trying to make it through the remaining months of 2020 with some kind of comfort. If that comfort comes from one of the greatest songs ever created on this planet, then that’s okay too.

If you need to mix it up, there is no lack of covers out there to enjoy.

There is the Dolly Parton/Jimmy Fallon version, but they are not the only ones. You can also check out Ariana Grande, Fifth Harmony, and Idina Menzel giving their own spins on the holiday classic. Yes, classic. Like Carey, this song will likely outlive every single one of us.

You can check out the original music video for “All I Want For Christmas Is You” below.

Oh, and there is a 2019 version so there goes your weekend.

READ: Here Is How Much Money Mariah Carey’s ‘All I Want For Christmas Is You’ Has Raked In For Her In The New Year

Notice any needed corrections? Please email us at corrections@wearemitu.com

Photo Of Volcanic Ash In The Shape Of La Calavera Catrina Is Going Viral

Culture

Photo Of Volcanic Ash In The Shape Of La Calavera Catrina Is Going Viral

@essmealvarez / Twitter / Public Domain

Latinos are nothing if not superstitious. We see signs everywhere and quickly believe anything our abuelas tell us. The latest manifestation that is catching everyone’s attention is the image of La Calavera Catrina in volcanic ash. The volcano erupted in Mexico and the shape of the ash is honestly impressive.

The Popocatepetl volcano in Mexico put on a special show recently.

A resident living near the volcano captured a photo that showed the volcanic ash creating that face of La Calavera Catrina. La Calavera Catrina is one of the most famous symbols of the Day of the Dead celebrations. It is really easy to see the shape taking form in the volcanic ash that is rising over the city.

Naturally, the image is making its way around the world via social media.

Social media is good for sharing things like this far and wide. The internet loves a volcano eruption and Latinos love a superstitious or traditional sightings. This is obviously heightened in 2020 when travel is impossible and omens are literally everywhere.

People are using the natural phenomenon to educate people about La Catrina.

La Calavera Catrina was not always associated with Día de los Muertos. It was originally drawn by artist José Guadalupe Posada as satire to call out Mexicans striving to be European. The description for La Calavera Catrina included the word garbancera, which was a name given to Mexicans who rejected their indigenous backgrounds. The description further calls attention to the Mexican women who, like La Catrina, wore big hats and used so much makeup that their faces looked whiter and whiter.

Over the years, La Catrina became a symbol for Día de los Muertos.

Over many years, Posada’s image has become a major part of the Día de los Muertos celebrations throughout Mexico. La Catrina was always known after her creation, however, it was Diego Rivera who made her famous. The artist created a mural in the historic center of Mexico City across from Alameda.

Rivera added the body and dress to Posada’s original creation. La Catrina stands between Rivera and Posada in the mural that was painted between 1946 and 1947.

The history lesson is a welcomed accompaniment to the stunning natural phenomenon.

Who doesn’t like to see pieces of our history shared far and wide? The history of La Catrina is another moment to dispel the myths and misconceptions people have of Mexican and Latino culture.

READ: ‘La Calavera Catrina’ Is Getting Her Own Parade For ‘Día De Muertos’ In Mexico City This Year And We Have All The Deets

Notice any needed corrections? Please email us at corrections@wearemitu.com