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

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Does Anybody Really Know What’s Supposed To Happen After You Get The Baby Jesus Figurine In La Rosca De Reyes?

Culture

Does Anybody Really Know What’s Supposed To Happen After You Get The Baby Jesus Figurine In La Rosca De Reyes?

alejandro.munoz.p / Instagram

Remember Día de Reyes when everyone cuts the rosca and hopes to god not to get the little niño Jesus? If you grew up Mexican, you probably know that whoever gets the baby Jesus figurine owes everyone tamales. But when is the tamal party? And most importantly—why? Keep reading to find out what El Día de la Candelaria means, what your abuelitas and tías are actually celebrating and how it originated —spoiler alert: it’s colonization.

February 2nd may be Groundhog Day in the United States, but in Mexico, and for many Latinos outside of Mexico, there is a completely different celebration on this date.

The religious holiday is known as Día de la Candelaria (or Candlemas in English). And on this day of the year, people get together with family and friends to eat tamales, as a continuation of the festivities of Three Kings’ Day on January 6. 

This is why your abuelita dresses up her niño Jesús in extravagant outfits.

For Día de la Candelaria it’s customary for celebrants to dress up figures of the Christ Child in special outfits and take them to the church to be blessed. Día de la Candelaria is traditionally a religious and family celebration, but in some places, such as Tlacotalpan, in the state of Veracruz, it is a major fiesta with fairs and parades.

February 2nd is exactly forty days after Christmas and is celebrated by the Catholic church as the Feast of the Purification of the Virgin.

Alternatively, this day also counts as the Presentation of Jesus at the Temple. The origin of this religious feast day comes from ancient Jewish tradition. According to Jewish law, a woman was considered unclean for 40 days after giving birth, and it was customary to bring a baby to the temple after that period of time had passed. So the idea is that Mary and Joseph would have taken Jesus to the temple to be blessed on February second, forty days after his birth on December 25.

The tradition goes back to around the 11th Century in Europe.

People typically took candles to the church to be blessed as part of the celebration. This tradition was based on the biblical passage of Luke 2:22-39 which recounts how when Mary and Joseph took Jesus to the temple, a particularly devout man named Simeon embraced the child and prayed the Canticle of Simeon: “Now thou dost dismiss thy servant, O Lord, according to thy word in peace; Because my eyes have seen thy salvation, Which thou hast prepared before the face of all peoples: A light to the revelation of the Gentiles, and the glory of thy people Israel.” The reference to the light inspired the celebration of the blessing of the candles.

In Mexico Día de la Candelaria is a follow-up to the festivities of Three Kings Day on January 6th.

On Día De Reyes, when children receive gifts, families and friends gather together to eat Rosca de Reyes, a special sweet bread with figurines of a baby (representing the Child Jesus) hidden inside. The person (or people) who received the figurines on Three Kings Day are supposed to host the party on Candlemas Day. Tamales are the food of choice.

This tradition also carries Pre-Hispanic roots.

After the Spanish conquistadors introduced the Catholic religion and masked indigenous traditions with their own, to help spread evangelization, many villagers picked up the tradition of taking their corn to the church in order to get their crops blessed after planting their seeds for the new agricultural cycle that was starting. They did this on February 2, which was the eleventh day of the first month on the Aztec calendar —which coincidentally fell on the same day as the Candelaria celebration. It’s believed that this is why, to this day, the celebratory feast on February 2 is all corn-based —atole and tamales.

This date is special for other reasons too… 

February 2, marks the halfway point between the winter solstice and the spring equinox, which aligns with the pagan holiday of Imbolc. Since ancient times, this date was thought to be a marker or predictor of the weather to come, which is why it is also celebrated as Groundhog Day in the United States. There was an old English saying that went “if Candlemas be fair and bright, Winter has another flight. If Candlemas brings clouds and rain, Winter will not come again.” In many places, this is traditionally seen as the best time to prepare the earth for spring planting.

In Perú the Fiesta de la Candelaria is a festival in honor of the Virgin of Candelaria, patron saint of the city of Puno and it is one of the biggest festivals of culture, music, and dancing in the country.

The huge festival brings together the Catholic faith and Andean religion in homage to the Virgin of Candelaria. The Virgin represents fertility and purity. She is the patron saint of the city and is strongly associated with the Andean deity of ‘Pachamama’ (‘mother earth’). It is this common factor of both religions that brings them together for the festival. In 2014, UNESCO declared the festival an Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. The main dates of ‘Fiesta de la Candelaria’ are February 2nd – 12th.

A Woman Threw A Lowrider-Themed Party For Her Son’s First Birthday And It’s Just Too Much For Our Hearts

Culture

A Woman Threw A Lowrider-Themed Party For Her Son’s First Birthday And It’s Just Too Much For Our Hearts

When it comes to maintaining and seeing our Latinidad flourish, instilling a sense of pride, excitement, and curiosity in our younger generations is key. Particularly when it comes to the past. One Twitter user’s recent birthday celebrations for her son, emphasized just how much teaching the old to the new is vital.

Way back before Twitter user @whoissd’s son Silas Cash C turned 1 year old, living in Southern California crafted a car style called “lowrider” that expressed pride in their culture and presence in the states. While the brightly painted, lowriding automobiles that were outfitted with special hydraulics that made them bounce up and down saw a peak in the 1970s, they remain a big part of Chicano culture, particularly in Los Angeles.

@whoissd’s son Silas is proving that he’ll be part of a generation that will not let the culture die out recently when he celebrated his first full year with a theme that was little more unique and closer to his family’s hearts.

For her son, Silas Cash’s, first birthday, SD threw an authentic lowrider party — complete with the recognizable cruisers in attendance.

Twitter / @whoissd

On July 27, SD shared pics of the big event with her Twitter followers. The post showed baby Silas Cash cruising in his own pint-sized orange lowrider. The party came complete with several lowriders and classic cars in attendance for party-goers to check out. Since posting the adorable pics on Twitter, the message has received more than 22.5k retweets and over 138k likes.

According to SD, Silas Cash developed a fascination with lowriders because of his dad. In an email to REMEZCLA, the mom explained the connection.

“[My son’s dad] started restoring two cars to continue a bond that he had shared with his own father throughout his childhood and it’s now something that the has been introduced to our son. The lowrider culture represents family, unity, and respect to us. It really is a beautiful thing.”

The one-year old’s mini lowrider had to be specially made in Japan just for his birthday party.

Twitter / @whoissd

Silas Cash’s mom explained the decision to have the tiny lowrider made for her kiddo.

“We originally thought about getting Silas his own lowrider because of the immediate attraction he has to his dad’s Impala. With enough searching, we were able to find someone who custom makes remote-controlled pedal cars, and we were sold… Silas and his dad have matching orange ’63 Impalas with the same candy paint hardtops to match.”

Twitter was quick to react to the simply adorable party and they couldn’t stop gushing over it.

Twitter / @cali_kalypso

As this tweet points out, this party is so authentically LA. Lowrider culture started in the streets of California in the mid-to-late 1940s and the post-war ’50s. Chicano youth would lower their car’s blocks, cut spring coils and alter auto frames in order to get the lowest and slowest ride possible. Back then, this was an act of rebellion against the Anglo authorities who suppressed Mexican-American culture.

This Snoop Dog meme says it all.

Twitter / @marissaa_cruzz

We’ve seen this meme make its rounds on the internet our fair share of times but this time it 100% applies. These pics of Baby Silas Cash and his mama are some of the cutest we’ve ever seen. The added bonus of the mini Impala makes this post almost too cute to handle.

A reminder that this little man is officially the coolest kid on the block.

Twitter / @devyn_the_lame

We can just see Baby Silas Cash pulling up to the playground in this custom low rider peddle cart and being the envy of all the other rugrats. There’s no doubt that he is the most chill kiddo at daycare.

*”Lowrider” plays in the distance*

Twitter / @JGar1105

We’re getting major “The George Lopez Show” flashbacks with all this lowrider talk. Don’t you think Silas Cash needs his own theme song? Obviously, there’s only one that is cool enough for the littlest lowrider.

Other tweets pointed out that it takes a fiercely cool mom to pull off this sort of party.

Twitter / @ismokemaryjuana

We’ve got to respect SD’s mom game. She really took her vision and went for it, resulting in a fun, unique and memorable party that her guests will never forget. Great job, mom; we hope Silas Cash grows up to realize how awesome his parents are.