Categories


Authors

Defining my Latinx

A Self-Reflection Wandering the Streets of Bushwick, Brooklyn, NY


MISE EN PLACE + BODEGAS

GATHER AND WEIGH INGREDIENTS

2 ½ T     ACTIVE DRY YEAST

360 G   MILK

120 G    WATER

8 EA      EGG YOLKS

200 G   GRANULATED SUGAR

228 G   UNSALTED BUTTER, MELTED

975 G    BREAD FLOUR

1 T         SALT

2 OZ      BUTTER, MELTED, FOR BRUSHING

POWDERED SUGAR FOR DUSTING

I asked Tio Victor, A Brooklyn Native, where did all the Puerto Ricans live in his city. Bushwick, he said without hesitation. Something about Brooklyn draws me to visit. An entire generation of my family’s history lays here. My great abuela raised her nine children in a small 2-bedroom apartment within a large building complex. She survived one son’s death. These stories are foreign to me, but I intentionally journey on little by little to uncover a history that is greater than my 27 years of life. I take the 1 train out of Morningside Heights, then attempt to hop on the M train, but delays and a lost google map service force me to wander beneath concrete. Time was lost but eventually I found myself stepping out of the subway heat onto Gates Avenue. Something felt familiar in this space. I began walking around, exploring the spaces from street to street. Puerto Rican flags raise high, proudly displayed on window sills and poles. A string of them lining the street just above my head. Yes, this is little Puerto Rico, a New York Puerto Rico. I spotted many bodegas, small Spanish- speaking grocery stores. I could not contain myself from striking up a conversation with a group of elders playing dominos just outside of one bodega. An awkward silence as I approach them, “¿Quién estás ganando?” I blurt out in my broken Spanish with some confidence. “Ellos,” A woman replies, cheerily disappointed but focused. The group precariously softens on me and we talk for a few minutes. I look up at the bright yellow 70s’ sign that was showing its age.  It made me think about the bodegas I use to go to as a child in Providence.

Deteriorating sign

Outsiders are wary of these things

They would prefer to walk another block

Just to find something that matches their outsides

But this bodega has what I need

And it matches my insides

A list in my hands as I filter the aisles

No space is wasted

Mamí needs azúcar

¿Señor donde estás la azúcar?

They greet me with so much love

I forget about my fight with my brother

Man leads me to Aisle 4

below the cereal boxes,

Next to the Duncan Hines pineapple Cake Mix,

Above the Flour

¿Cómó te llamas princesa?

Crístal, I answer



DOUGH MIXING + MUSIC

BLAST MUSIC… THE KIND THAT MAKES YOU FEEL ALIVE

WARM MILK AND WATER TOGETHER UNTIL LUKEWARM BY TOUCH

SPRINKLE YEAST

LET SIT UNTIL LARGE BUBBLES APPEAR ABOUT 1 MINUTE

IN A SEPARATE BOWL, COMBINE EGG YOLKS, SUGAR AND BUTTER UNTIL WELL COMBINED WITH WHISK

COMBINE FLOUR AND SALT TOGETHER IN ANOTHER BOWL

ADD YEAST MIXTURE TO EGG MIXTURE, MIX WELL

CUP BY CUP ADD FLOUR TO YEAST-EGG MIXTURE

MIX UNTIL DOUGH COMES TOGETHER

My hands are on my phone, I have the camera app ready to go. I want to take pictures to document this space, this experience, but I hesitate to do so without them spotting me out. I can’t help wondering what they see when they look at me, possibly another crazy gringa trying to claim their city. I keep on with this perspective. Can’t they see I look like them, maybe my shoes are too new. Maybe my outfit looks like one of those gentrifying hipsters. I stop in my tracks because the Salsa is loud. A rhythm transcends me out of my anxious discomfort to a sensation that begins elevating itself within my body. Each step I take finds itself replaced with the steps of the music. There is a joy that is released through my hands as I wave them in the air, no shame because I know that the community here understands.  I feed of the conga drums…

Hands and feet move on the count

Can’t let papi down

He taught me when I was 5

They say papi is King of salsa

Lover of bachata

Merengue master

A dancing legacy

He spins and twirls me,

Around and around.

I miscount a step

But he won’t let me down

His Brown skin dampened by sweat

Strong tattooed arms lift me up

No one can see me

In his arms

My discomfort is hidden

But I won’t let him down

For this is all that we have now



FIRST PROOF + COUNTER-SERVED RESTAURANTS

PLACE DOUGH IN A GREASED BOWL AND COVER WITH A KITCHEN CLOTH

KEEP IN A WARM SPOT

ALLOW DOUGH TO DOUBLE IN SIZE OR FOR ABOUT 2 HOURS

Hunger strikes pain and I turn to google to find a Puerto Rican joint that resembles the pulse of the neighborhood. La Isla on Myrtle Ave, intersecting with Knickerbocker Avenue right below the train’s daily route and disposal of bodies.  The music continues to play inside a counter-served restaurant pigmented with a dark bright hue of blue. This time two different radio stations are battling for dominance. Los Hermanos Rosario singing “La Dueña de Swing” against a current reggaeton song the title I do not know. The old versus the new.  I sit down at a booth and wait my turn to order. Bistec con tostones please, steak with twice-fried plantains, y un jugo de mango. I talk in Spanish to avoid displacing myself and ask to use the restroom. ¡Claro! A young Afro-Boricua woman responds. She opens the locked door to the back and leads me to the single bathroom.

I take a good look at myself and try to piece together what defines me. I am saved from my thoughts as I proceed to wash my hands and laugh out loud with what I see. No hand soap but dish soap for washing. Leaking faucet held together by a rubber band. Perhaps if I was this resilient, I wouldn’t have put my own food business on hold.

Back to the counter. Mouth watering, perfectly roasted chickens come out from the kitchen in the back. A row of juice dispensers line one window. And on the other the hot buffet of freshly cooked meats, rice, beans, tubers and plantains traced back to African and Taíno Roots. People hustle in and out, most food taken to go. I am entranced by the generations that fill this space to eat. A man in his 50s sits next to me and corrects the waitress on her sancocho knowledge. An older man in his 60s comes in with avocados in a paper bag and waits for the waitress to confirm their ripeness. Another server changes her tone to chat with the little five-year-old boy who only eats rice and the juice from the beans. A young cook comes from the back chatting to some others and makes a joke audible for everyone about the 3 languages he speaks, “Spanish, English and bullshit.” He succeeds, and a rumble of laughter joins the background music, both old and new.  

Mamí is in a good mood today

The paycheck must have been great

All four of us line up and manage our behavior

We are going to a Chinese buffet

It’s a privilege

It’s a delicacy

We don’t want her to change her mind

So, we dress in our cleanest of clothing

There’s a thrill to eating more than one plate

There’s a thrill to having an option

There’s a thrill in filling bowls with unlimited ice cream, sprinkles and candies

Mamí is in a good mood

We will not ruin this moment

An unspoken agreement

She counts the last of her bills to pay

I am saddened

Maybe I should have not eaten today

SHAPING + HAIR

PREPARE TWO SHEETS PANS LINED WITH PARCHMENT PAPER

FLOUR YOUR WORK SURFACE

DIVIDE DOUGH INTO 12 EQUAL PORTIONS

WORK WITH ONE PORTION AT A TIME

ROLL PORTION OF DOUGH INTO ½ IN ROPES

THEN SHAPE BY COILING AND TUCKING END PIECE BENEATH BUN.

PLACE ON PARCHMENT AND REPEAT

Sweat and wind both play with my short brown curly fro. I have worked against what has been deemed as beautiful hair to love my own natural frizzy coils. Barbershops and hair salons are scattered around the neighborhood. I see men and children getting line ups and women blowing out their hairs. I can only imagine the conversations that are shared, a space for community and memories. Some good, some bad. I find that these places along with bodegas are crucial to the daily activities of our intertwined lives.

On the windowsill of a beauty shop, I become slightly annoyed looking at three mannequin heads, dressed in straight styles, and blonde low lights. Where are the curly heads? The twists, the dreads, the thickness, the beauty. I pay close attention to the women walking in and out of their homes.  Some have their hair pulled back into ponytails or buns while others have them wrapped, and others out like my own. For the majority, tights curls on the navels of the back of their necks fight the straightness that has gained control of their heads. I want to scream, “Set her Free!” let her reclaim her God- given beauty!”

I wanted to cry

They said I had to look nice

Papí hasn’t seen me in a while

All the women chatter so fast

Understanding el chime, I had no chance

I think they want to burn my scalp

Smells like screeching tires on asphalt

Part by part she dries my hair

With a rolling brush

She pulls my head from side to side

Keep still she repeats

But I jerk as my skin feels the

First-degree burn heat setting

This one is tender headed

As long I am out from under the dryer

I don’t care, I will be fine


SECOND PROOF + PADRE NUESTRO

COVER SHAPED BUNS WITH KITCHEN CLOTH

PREHEAT OVEN TO 350 DEGREES

LET RISE ANOTHER 45 MINUTES IN A WARM SPOT UNTIL BUNS ARE SOFT AND PILLOWY

It is almost four o clock, I must leave to pick up my son on time. There is so much activity on this Wednesday evening and I have been wandering Bushwick for two hours. People are walking with or without final destinations. I observe their faces. I see my mom’s tired expression, tense brows, and eyes that seem to settle somewhere between hope and despair. Through my teenage years, I tried to escape that expression, fantasizing of other worlds of glee that must exist. Just to find myself here in this city, and see this expression of freedom tied down by oppression. I get into a fit with myself, how have they survived? Why do they decide to keep going even when everything feels like it has already ended? I can’t help but notice the many churches I come across, one on every block sometimes three on one. There are murals of Jesus and saints, much needed graffiti adorning the city. I can’t help but stop and stare at these pieces of art. Each with a story of its own pain. Each different but somehow marrying the next. I wonder what the sermons say to the people of this community. Is it faith that keeps us clawing upward away from gravity’s anchor on us?

We are late

Mamí rushes us to service

I am confused for it is not a Holiday

Collectively we pull down the kneeler

And on our knees we close our eyes

I peek mine open and find Mamí crying

My heart is heavy

I proceed to repeat the foreign prayer Papí taught me

“Padre nuestro que estás en los cielos, santificado sea tu nombre,
venga tu reyno, 
hagase tu voluntad,
asì en la tierra como en el cielo.
Danos hoy nuestro pan cotidiano,
Y perdónanos nuestras deudas,
asì como nosotros perdonamos á nuestros deudores.
Y no nos metas en tentación,
mas líbranos de mal.”
Amén.

BAKED MALLORCAS AND MY GREAT ABUELA

BRUSH BUNS WITH MELTED BUTTER

BAKE BUNS FOR APPROXIMATELY 20-25 MINUTES UNTIL JUST GOLDEN BROWN

COOL, THEN DUST WITH LOTS OF POWDERED SUGAR

ENJOY CON UN CAFECITO

I sit at the table with my, straight-out-of-the oven Mallorca and my freshly brewed cafécito. Mallorca is a Puerto Rican sweet bread, popular in San Juan that traces back to the island Mallorca, Spain. In Spain, it is known as ensaïmada, a pastry usually made with lard and a filling coiled within the coils. As I slowly sip on my coffee, I feel what could be the presence of my ancestors through the warmth of my beverage. One bite into my Mallorca and I cry. I imagine my great abuela sitting across from me. White wispy hair, brown wrinkled skin, half dangled, half upright in her wheelchair, too weak to stand on her own. Just like the last time I saw her. She looks at me with her tired stern face, acknowledging my presence and that alone is all I need to claim my Puerto Rican heritage. I open my eyes, and it is my adorable 2 ½ year old son sitting across from me. He loves food as much as I do, both hands on his Mallorca as he tries to fit as much of it as possible in his mouth. I stare at the tiny ringlets of curls coming out of his scalp. His brown skin can easily be unnoticed if he didn’t have us as parents. His beady gleaming eyes speak of his excitement over this moment. I cannot create more memories with the ones that have left me long ago, I will have to swallow the regret I have for not connecting more/ appreciating more my heritage. But I can be better and intentional in creating them with him and teaching him what I have learned about my Latino identity.

Don’t leave me without knowing

Everything that you were

For what you were is

Everything that I am

My identity is entangled

To a Rich Latino Heritage

No need to straighten it out

Make something that it isn’t

If baked Mallorcas

And rich coffee

Is all that it takes

To bring me back to truth

Of how my curls are laid

Then I will eat and drink

A thousand Mallorcas y cafés


Corn, Obesity, and Navigating Healthy Eating Choices as a Parent

0