When I was just four years old my family broke tradition and was charged with keeping tradition alive. We brought both sadness and joy to the hearts of our families. I come from Colombia, a small and beautiful country in South America that has been darkened by the mistakes of many people, still through all the pain the last decades brought my kin, family was the most important aspect of our poor farmer's lives. Food was the way that people came together and remembered all the help and blessings God had given them, now almost a century later it has become one of the most important traditions of my family. The only person that remembers these events clearly enough is my great great grandmother she is 94 and has gone through good and bad alike, she had eleven kids and always claimed that my great-great-grandfather was her 12 child because he behaved like his children. She is old and frail and it is kind of scary visiting her with all the medical equipment, she has many, many grandchildren including me. Just one more amongst the many, but she loves every one of us, and knows we are all different and unique. She has never forgotten my name at all which is surprising when you have over 110 other great-grandchildren. She used to be an artist and she was the one that inspired me to paint, but before that she was a housewife, she never left the house except on the weekend and late afternoons, she would gossip with the other women. She would go and buy the food at the market and would always care for the children and their schooling, walking the two miles to school to pick up their grades every month. Now, this was very hard on a twenty-year-old, so when she started having children she taught them basic thing like how to sew and how to cook, but she always refused to let the boys learn how to make two things tamales and empanadas. She said it was a thing women did and the men did not complain they would go hunting and would go out in the patio and roast the meat they had found. So the tradition was passed on women teaching girls how to make empanadas, but never tamales they were reserved for the firstborn girl when she turned 15.
A year before we said our bittersweet goodbyes we decided to meet one last time, that year many people moved away from Bucaramanga a providence in Colombia from which my family originated from now most of us including my great grandmother lived in Bogota the capital.
A typical girl in my family learned for the first time when they were about two years old, I was no exception, the minute I could hold dough in my hands they taught me the secrets and stories that came along with the almost musical movements and perfect coordination that had been accomplished over decades of practice, trial, and effort. Depending on your age you were assigned a task and were expected to follow all orders from elders. Almost seven years ago I finally felt like part of one of the delicate traditions my family had put much effort into conserving. It was so long ago that it seems almost like a dream but I knew even at that early age the importance and how important I was to this tradition that needed every single one of us to keep it together in good and in bad, in pleasure or pain.
It was a sunny Saturday afternoon, my oldest great aunt had volunteered her kitchen and welcomed us into her home like old times. They lived on the top apartment of their building and therefore had a largely uncovered balcony, everyone chatted and I played with my cousins for a while,and as the heavy afternoon sunlight fell through the white embroidered curtains we began, making pots full of filling and dough, now that I was older, three years old, my 4-year-old cousin and I were in charge of six pots of filling, three bowls of guacamole and two tubs of salsa. it was a lot of responsibility for toddlers but they knew we could handle it, I remember so well every whisper, every story, every song that had been recorded in dusty cassettes. The laughter and the heat coming from the pots of oil I wasn't allowed to go near. The sweet smell of roasted corn and freshly ground flour that spilled into colorful bowls with pictures of fields much like the ones from which the flour came from I remember how everyone mixed in perfect harmony with the music. The sharp smell of salt and pepper coming from outside, making me feel at home one last time, like the last goodbye. After hours of work we finally got rewarded for all our hard work, as the one of the youngest I remember grabbing seven empanadas, gold and crispy perfectly sealed by me and the other small children, nobody told me to take less, for just that one time we made 600 empanadas each one with its own story and memories, wrapped around it in imaginary,and delicate golden threads. I am now older and I'm charged with keeping this tradition alive by teaching my children this tradition one day ,just like I learned when I was in Colombia and how my kids will learn after I spread it here in this new country that needs to learn about such stories, such events, such important memories that connect me and my family and the strangers that read this too. It holds all of us together by the hand, with delicate golden threads once again. Forever and ever, because that is my job as it was my mother's job, my grandmother's job and great grandmothers job, back and back as far as anyone can remember this was the way and it will remain this way, family, forever and ever.