It had been way too long, probably 7 years since I had last heard or spoken to my Chilean grandfather. I believe a lot of the reason I cook and am what I am, is a result of everything I saw and learned growing up. When people find out that I am half Chilean and half Mexican, they are quite confused. I am sometimes confused myself. How much culture can someone have in their lives? Apparently I am influenced by so much and here I am, in my late 30s, and I am still trying to fit in one culture.
The facts are these. I am influenced by both and therefore I am at an advantage. I am a mother of three young little girls, and I struggle to find a happy medium and even introducing my children to the world I lived in. I struggle teaching them Spanish and telling them stories about any of their grandparents.
When I look at what I yearn to share with others and the legacy I want to leave my girls with at the end of my life, is something in between both worlds. It is true that a mother’s influence can go very far if used wisely, so it is evident that my mother’s family and her heritage is more of an influence in my life. I grew up going to Mexico much more often and not even to Chile at all.
I lived near my Chilean grandparents in Texas, but most of my earlier years were spent apart from them due to family disputes and what not. I heard about the political unrest and trauma my dad and his family endured while living in Chile, but happier years and how life was spent in Chile was not shared.
The closest I got to Chile was in the cuisine. My grandmother was an excellent cook and even now I can remember her in the kitchen making delicious tortas or cakes for our birthdays. I remember asking what measurements were used for ingredients and being told that all I had to do was watch in order to learn. I remember smells, laughter, loud talking, and my grandfather bellowing laughter.
After I married my husband, I decided I needed to reconnect with my grandfather because after all, I had many regrets not being at my grandmother’s death-bed because of MANY reasons. Now, I was not living my life with regrets, just sadness that I did not get to see her one last time. So when I made a choice that I wanted to reconnect with my grandfather, who now had moved back from Chile, I was afraid and hesitant.
My parents had divorced after 25 years of marriage, my Chilean grandmother died, my father moved out, and we were suddenly estranged from everything Chilean. My grandfather then moved back to Chile because it was always his dream to go back and now he had no reason to stay in Texas.
Back to calling my grandfather. In 2012, I decided to call and was greeted with the same bellow of a laugh I remembered. It was a New Years Eve and after I had made a traditional Chilean New Year’s Eve spiked coffee cocktail, I knew I had to call him.
See, while I was making and learning to make traditional Mexican dishes on my own, I was really trying to remember all the dishes my grandmother had made in her kitchen. It made me think of her and the great times we had. Is it not the times that we dine that we remember the best memories? I know I sure do! Sunday nights were kept for English tea and pan amasado, freshly baked bread the Chilean way, and jam, cold cuts, pate and more!
While I kept in touch with my grandfather over 3 years, I only chatted once each year, still very tentative on how close I could keep in touch but enough to be able to let him know that I missed him and cared about him. In December 2015, after making more pan de pascua, a Chilean fruitcake, I knew I had to chat a little more with my grandfather. I share with him how our lives were doing and he teased me on how my Spanish sounded so broken. I shared with him all the cooking I had been doing and how I still kept the memory of all that I knew to be Chilean.
Last month, my husband surprised me with a trip to Chile to visit my grandfather and I was so surprised that I started bawling. He had contacted my father who had then contacted my grandfather to find out the best dates to go visit him and my ticket was booked. I was nervous and excited.
Just a little over three weeks ago, I learned my grandfather died. It was unexpected and all of a sudden and just like that he was gone. My father called bearing the news and I lost it. My plans of connecting with him after 20 years of not seeing him were shot. It was strange because two days prior I had chatted with him telling him I was looking forward seeing him and how he was excited as well.
I do not understand why this happened but I know that everything happens for a reason, I just do not want to dwell on it. Both my Chilean grandparents are gone and my chances of really knowing who they were growing up are shot and I know that in part it is some of my fault but there is a reason why things end the way they do but I just do not want to understand them now.
I am thankful for the recipes I have now created in my life and I am going to purpose myself to learn more Chilean recipes and share them with you. Tonight I am thankful for Chilean bread in memory of my grandfather, despite the gluten, and tomorrow I start a new day. I leave you with a recording of Ravel’s Bolero, one of the pieces I remember my grandfather loving.