I come from a lineage of healers. Women and men who tended their kitchen fire daily. My ancestors not only taught me how to take care of the Self. They also taught me the importance of sharing the responsibility of taking care of one another as a family and toward our community. I learned this through contemplation. My teachers’ mama Marcela and mamita Virginia taught me with actions. They expressed their unconditional love through the process of tenting to the soil of our cornfields, frijolares, and hortalizas. They enacted love through the kitchen fire by cooking with so much joy, power, and creativity. Even when the food shortage was our reality, I noticed that mama and mamita kept finding ways to warm our stomachs and spirits.
This summer, my teacher Raeanne Madison who is a birth keeper and decolonizing educator, taught me in her Postpartum Healing Lodge Course, more about the importance of our lineages to tend to the kitchen fire. In her Ojibwe and Mexica traditions, it is sacred to cook each meal for the birthing person and family during the postpartum process with compassion, love, and respect as sacred rituals. Food is healing medicine. The process of preparing homemade food is also a powerful ritual that I learned at a young age while being raised in Chalatenango, El Salvador. I am grateful to continue reclaiming these traditions.
Since moving out of my village I’ve felt a disconnection with the processed foods encountered in every place I’ve lived. This year, my intuitive Spirit has been at the cellular level longing so that I can tend more deeply to my kitchen fire. Reclaiming is a process.
My sister Ruth, one of my teachers, has a lot more experience tending to her kitchen fire as she has been away from home longer and abundantly rooting her family in the new home they are building. A few weeks ago during our two-hour long conversation, she reminded me of how her family reclaims the kitchen fire in the privacy of their home. Ruth is a powerful resilient human who inherited the cooking creativity from our mamas. In our journeys of border crossing because of the inherited systems of colonization, our inner-power remains rooted in radical unconditional love.
My sister remembers the process of growing our food, picking the vegetables from our hortaliza, preparing the woodfire, and smelling the smoke coming out of the seeds of cashew. For example, first, we would make a fire pit on our patio, then we roasted the seeds in an old pan we had. We collected the seeds as we ate the cashew fruits. Once we had enough seeds, we the siblings, and neighbors came together to share. It was a playful process. Ruth even remembers when we burned our tongues because we took the seed right from the pan to our mouth and how exciting that moment was. The burning of the fire, the burning of the spiritual powerful sensations when the raw roasted cashew seed touched every corner of our mouth.
Nowadays as we continue to adapt, these processes of reclaiming, ritualizing, and prioritizing specific moments of togetherness with family are crucial for decolonizing our wellbeing. I call this process “Ritualistic Sacred Act of the Mundane”. We celebrated el día de almas difuntas, a very sacred day on November 2, as in El Salvador it is spiritually important to honor the Spirit and memories here on Mother Earth of our ancestors. And tending to the kitchen fire is part of the whole process. Mayita, my niece and teacher, shared with me how important it is for her to reclaim these traditions. The other day during our mindfulness conversation she shared that food makes her happy, and that food connects her deeply to both of her lineages and traditions. She loves that food brings her and her family together at the table.
When I asked Mayita, do you have any foods that are very special to you? she told me with a lot of excitement “I love pupusas, tamales, pastelitos, and Salvadoran quesadillas” and then she continued, I especially love the pupusas made at home by my mom Ruth because she knows that I am vegetarian and so she makes them without meat for me. Then, she enjoyed that her tía Erika (me!) introduced her to the Salvadoran quesadillas, a traditional dessert that mama used to bake in her artisanal oven for almost all of our holidays, birthdays, and simply to apapacharnos while growing up.
Then, Mayita stated that she also honors the foods from her Chinese traditions. She was excited to share that the process for making dumplings and pastelitos, even though the dough is different, for the latter is corn flour, the process to make them is similar. Her smiley face said it all, the kitchen fire warmth her body and Spirit. Then she paused for a moment. She looked at me and said, I am grateful for my mama Angel, my grandparents, and aunt from that side of the family as well. In general, Mayita stated, it is those moments when family comes together that food taste more delicious, and the laughter, fun moments of cooking together, for me is through those moments that I learn more about where my ancestors come from and how to honor and respect them and their traditions.
During my recent visit to my sister Ruth and her family, we felt the need to tend to the collective kitchen fire as well. So, we reached out to Melisa, a friend of ours who is also from El Salvador who now lives with her family in Vermont. We did an impromptu trip to visit them. We were inspired to learn about Ananda Gardens, a diverse, small-scale farm, located 10 minutes from downtown Montpelier. To learn more about how Ananda’s Gardens works you can visit their website by following this link: Go Ananda, Melisa, Patrick, and Munay!
This was a sacred visit, in which Maya got to make new friends, learn about the sacred complex process of growing food, see some chickens, and observe her tía Erika jump of fear when a worm said “hello, there!”, in a surprising way while drinking hot cacao with the family outside in their patio. Melisa welcomed us to grind the corn as we reconnect with our tradition of preparing the corn flour to make tortillas from scratch, a process our ancestors call nixtamalizar —nixtamal is a word that comes from Mayan traditions in Mesoamerica. This moment was powerful, for us who have been away from our land and traditions for a long time, touching the molino was a sacred moment!
After walking around the gardens, asking so many questions to Melisa and Patrick about their work, joys and challenges of growing food to provide at a small scale to their Montpelier community, we all tended to the kitchen fire, made fresh tortillas, which we ate with bean soup, rice, salsa, cashew sour cream, and ended our beautiful visit sitting around the fire-pit in their patio, telling stories of how the respective partners have met and continue to tend their families as they continue to reclaim their traditions and honor a home rooted in love and practices that bring them aliveness and joy!
In January 2021 I will facilitate the Reclaiming Home Ancestral Program Spanish version, an 8-week group coaching online course designed for Black, Indigenous, and people of color of the Global South. You can join my e-mailing list HERE to receive more information soon.
How are you all tending to your kitchen fires within the privacy of your homes?
What are the traditional foods in your lineages that support you feeling rooted in radical love?
How are you reclaiming your ancestral home through homemade cooking now?
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