La Mariposa en la Pared

The everyday experiences of latino immigrants through the eyes of an outsider. Las vidas típicas de unos inmigrantes latinos a través de los ojos de una forastera.

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Location: Upstate NY, United States

"To me it’s always interesting when you get accepted somewhere you don’t really belong. It’s interesting when people open up and let you in their world." - Gilles Mingasson

Sunday, November 18, 2007

En La Cocina

I spent last Sunday evening making pupusas with my friend Mari and our daughters, ages 2 and 15. It seemed strange for me to be teaching Mari how to make them, but she's from Mexico, and they don't have pupusas there. She made the refried black beans, and my daughter and I brought the cheese and maseca. Hers turned out much prettier than mine, because she smoothed the edges with water to get rid of the cracks in the masa. Our tortilla making skills were similar, though. We could pat them out in our hands until they were about 4 inches in diameter, at which point we put the torillita on a little 6 inch plate between sheets of plastic wrap, pressed down with another plate, and in this way turned out over 70 lovely pupusas.

In one of my previous posts I described the pupusas served in a little cafe in upstate New York (sadly, the Café Chapín is now closed). However, I first tried them last year in San Salvador. Days later when I went up to Guatemala, I had trouble finding any. Luckily, a man I met on the bus from San Salvador to Guatemala City took me to a pupuseria for dinner for one last treat before I left to come back home.

It's not easy for Mari to make the food she's used to. When she lived in Chicago, the ingredients for real Mexican meals were easy to find. Here, the Goya section in the "ethnic" food aisle at the supermarket is a joke. As a result, she cooks less than she would like, and her family's diet consists mostly of the readily-available fried chicken from across the street.

Fresh tropical fruit is the thing she misses the most. Last night, she brought over a pomegranate. I had no idea what it was, mystified by the little red pearls packed within the red skin. She and Jaime lamented how expensive fruit is here, compared to back home where the most exquisite delicacies grew literally right outside their front doors. They tried to outdo each other with their descriptions of the bounty borne by the various fruit trees in their yards back home - for Mari, home is Michoacan, Mexico, and for Jaime, Chiquimula, Guatemala.

Mari smiled as she described the enormous duraznos (peaches) that grew in her yard, and the limes and mangoes. Jaime boasted of trees laden with coconuts, bananas, and foot-long papayas. In the home videos sent to him from his family, there is always extensive footage of his father's garden. There is no grass, but lots of roses and other flowers, bushes, and the incredible fruit trees. Chickens keep the ground clean and roost in the bushes. My heart aches with the beauty of Don David's garden, and I know that ache is only a hint of what Jaime feels at having left it.

So we pass the evenings eating pupusas and overpriced, less-than-fresh tropical fruit, watching the snow mix with rain. We've made plans to cook a feast for Christmas - tamales, stacks of tortillas, and a big fruit salad.

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