As a Latina, the memories I treasure most all revolve around one significant aspect of any Latin/Hispanic household: food.
Tortillas de harina (flour tortillas) and fajitas de carne asada (beef fajitas) always wait for me when I return to my parent’s home in our small country town. The tortillas are wrapped snugly in a kitchen towel and the meat is fresh off the comal and sitting perfectly for me to devour them with some salsita. Just one bite fills my mouth with the warmth of how being back with family should feel. After each bite I take a sip of the fresh sweet tea that only my Bella (mom) can make.
Tortillas de maiz (corn tortillas), frijoles (refried beans) and carne molida (ground beef) sizzling in a skillet, that I saw my abuela use so many times, welcomed me into my abuela’s home one of the days prior to her passing away. As we all exchanged hushed conversations, my tia (aunt) and Bella would prepare food since there were visitors tapping on the door to pay their final respects. The dry, yet rich smells of our food filled the house and I couldn’t help, but think that these were the same smells you could find at a child’s birthday party.
Maduros (sweet fried plantains) are the sweetest kiss you could ever experience, well, almost. The heat that comes from each one as you bit into it’s tough fried skin graces your tongue with an indescribable sweetness that always takes me back to Homestead/Florida City on a blindingly bright Saturday afternoon. Now it takes me to Tybee Island, Georgia where we shared maduros sitting on our sandy knees under the shade of a small joint that served “Mexican, Cuban, Spanish and American Favorites” after a day of making waves.
Fresh mangoes take me to a special place that I often try to tuck away in the pit of my stomach. Not heart because it will bring tears. Not mind because it will paralyze my thoughts for far too long. Stomach. . .because, well, that’s just easiest. As soon as I take my knife and slide it into the thick, yet soft sunburst orange, red and yellow skin, I inhale the hypnotic aroma of how the brilliant sunshine in South Florida smells.
As the nectar drips through my fingers, I am again a small, eager child watching my Bella slice a mango for me and my abuela. My abuela sits in her faded green lawn chair under the full shade of her avocado tree. She’s examining her garden and contemplating giving her plants water because it’s just so hot out today. To say that we are surrounded by greenery is an understatement. There are tropical trees, bushes I still don’t know the names of, and vividly colored flowers that you can only find in a sub-tropical climate like that of Homestead. The air is thick with humidity, but somehow under that avocado tree the air is cool and if it weren’t for my hair sticking to the back of my neck, I could swear it was just 85 degrees, not 97 like the weather man said earlier. Bella is taking much too long to slice the mango, so I walk over to the bright green hose and turn it on. I let the warm water run out of it and over my toes for a few seconds before kissing the stream. Bella finally looks at me with a slice in her hand and I turn the faucet off and walk back over to her. As she gives abuela an “mhmm” about some friend’s news, I take the slice and finally bite into the sweetest gift to man from God. The slice seems to melt in my mouth and it takes everything in me not to take the rest of what is left in Bella’s hands and run with it. Abuela takes a piece and continues her story about the latest news between bites. Oh, how just the site of a mango can replace my current reality with a memory of an innocent time in my life.