Make Every Month Our Month!

Posted by, Elizabeth Perez Azerad, MD

RIISE Multicultural Advisor

Contributions by permission of Jessica R. Azerad, Horace Mann School ‘13, Claremont McKenna College ‘17

 

Black History Month is coming to a close. Depending on the calendar that you consult we will begin to celebrate Women’s History Month and/ or Nutrition Month.  Latino Heritage Month is a distant, faint memory and the only thing for certain is that we have several weeks of frigid weather to endure before the warmth of spring returns.  I need some warmth, consistency and familiar structure in my life so I am declaring, MAKE EVERY MONTH OUR MONTH!

Especially in the context of the independent school communities, we as parents have the power to decide that every month is important to our children’s positive identity formation so that they feel secure and valued in our communities. One month of the year just isn’t enough. But how do we know if any of our efforts are having a positive effect? Are we providing a grounded framework to support and balance our children’s academically demanding and socially confusing journey as minorities in an established white world?

 

This is a powerful and likely, anxiety-provoking topic for many of us to ponder.  Recently I received a little assurance that something I have done has stuck, by way of two experiences that I had with my college-aged daughter.  The first came by way of a piece of paper in the recycle bin. This fall, while cleaning the house, I ran across an essay that Jessica had written while in high school. Here is an excerpt.

My great-grandmother passed away when I was young.  My only memories of her are from her time in a nursing home after dementia had set in and she could not remember my name.  She was an honest person who wasn’t afraid to speak her mind and whom everyone agrees, never met a stranger.  She had a dry sense of humor and loved to speak in Spanish idioms or ‘dichos.’  She lived in the kitchen, preparing homemade tortillas and the best chicken tamales in Texas.  Although she was only in my life for a short period of time, her presence is something I feel everyday through my mother.  It is strange for me to think that I was raised using the childrearing guidebook of someone I barely knew, that I owe much of how I turned out as a person to someone I barely remember.  

Reading this warmed my heart; she was writing about the grandmother who raised me and with whom I learned the most about living a good life.  My happiest childhood memories always include her.

I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised when Jessica returned from school in December and asked me to teach her how to make tamales.

getting the masa right

getting the masa right

filling, wrapping, tying

filling, wrapping, tying

Tamales! I haven’t been in a tamale production line since I was 10 years old.  My first emotions were fear: did I remember how to make then, could my mildly demented mother support me with guidance, where was I going to find the special corn meal called masa harina?  Staring into her face I realized how much it meant to Jessica and that I would have to commit to this project and get-my-ducks-in-a-row.

So began the project, one day to find and gather the masa harina, corn husks, spices, another to prepare the fillings, and the final ‘feast’ day to fill and steam the tamales, make side dishes and enjoy our delicious meal.

ready to steam

ready to steam

the plate

the plate

Separated by much time and space from my own family, I initially dreaded the hours of work.  In our modern world, who goes through the trouble to make tamales?  Tamale bars are opening up on every corner of the city.  But, some of us are lucky enough to have a ‘secret’ phone number of a friend’s mother to call who will prepare us dozens, if we call one or two weeks in advance.

My feelings of self-doubt and fear melted away.  As if by some primal knowledge I just knew how to make every step happen.  Jessica and I enjoyed the hours spent, as I told her stories about my grandmother, mother, cousins and aunts.  I shared with her secrets to knowing if the spicing and texture of the masa were correct simply by comparing it to the back of your hand.  Texture, color, smell – all cues that we were on track, relaxed the process for me and gave me the confidence to know that I was contributing to her ‘grounded framework.’

At one humorous moment of confusion, I called my Epicurean cousin, Tacho, 2,000 miles away in Freer, TX, to ask his opinion about how long to steam the tamales over the husk-covered steam bath.  Tacho hunts and field preps his own supply of venison and is an incredible pastry chef, why wouldn’t I call him?  Jessica and I laughed for half an hour afterward when his response over the phone was, “I’m going to pass you to Socorro, she’s the tamale expert in the house.”  Another lesson learned for both Jessica and myself; in most households, tamale making is the sacred domain of women, time spent not only cooking but also catching up, gossiping and bonding.

feasting

feasting

sharing

sharing

These two examples remind me that claiming our month every month will ultimately have the strongest outcome for our children.  They are sponges to our example and we are their guiding mentors and teachers.  I’m sure I will never know at what moment Jessica realized that I was parenting her by an example used on me decades before but it obviously made an impression on her and directs how she sees and interprets the world and her place in it.

So, here is some parting advice for Making Every Month Our Month!

  1. Decide what Our Month means to your family – in our modern world, that may not be as obvious as it seems.  Ponder it, discuss it and decide what feels natural and authentic.
  2. Plan, watch or attend a special event each month – this could be a movie, concert, comedy act or TV show.  Enjoy it as a family and talk about how it reminds you of your connection to family and culture.
  3. Remain connected to family– even at a distance this is made very easy with Social Media.  Let your children meet or connect with family from all walks of life.
  4. Find a beloved family member who will be a non-parent mentor to your children
  5. Share your childhood and family stories with your children
  6. Build a community of friends and family that value Making Every Month Our Month! – we don’t all have to have the same definition of what Our Month looks like, we just have to respect and celebrate each of our families’ unique qualities and histories.

 

Tacho, Raphael, Daddy, Zachary, Jessica, Me, & Socorro - 2011

Tacho, Raphael, Daddy, Zachary, Jessica, Me, & Socorro – 2011

 

 

 

 

 

 

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