...y me siguen y me siguen las espadas del invierno.
A long time ago, I was afraid of death. From the first moment that I could think, I thought of it and dreamt with it and on my loneliest nights, I crawled to the moon and back, hoping someday, I won’t return. I wondered what it would be like, what it would feel like to take my last breath and turn to dust or lie in the ground forever. Sometimes that sounded beautiful but there were always voices I heard that told me to follow the river instead, where the clouds and the trees meet the wind and become my friends.
Los colores que me han regalado mis viejos are in the mountains where I’ll one day travel to, where I will see this world in the distance as a place where recipes and words are hidden underneath bouquets of roses and paths of Marigolds at sunrise. Me despierto y huelo el copal dónde encuentro el camino que caminaban mis muertos amores. In the sweetness of morning I serve myself chocolate caliente and share some with my difunta abuela Linda y mi querido abuelo Lao. Tengo muertos por todas partes, entre cada pared, entre cada techo. Me dan de comer y me dan de beber con todo el cielo que traen por dentro.
I remember the first time I looked into the eyes and tears of death. My mother came home one day, screaming at the ceiling and asking why. “Why God? Why?” She said over and over again. A few weeks later I found myself staring into the casket where my Tia Nina lied. I caressed her hands slowly. They felt so cold and hard like stone. Her long black hair was braided and pinned onto the top of her head. She wore purple lipstick and her pale skin was painted with blush. Even as she was lying there, she still remained strong and as beautiful as I remembered. I asked her what death looked like from her side and she told me that she finally had met peace. She also said that she hated the white dress they had put her in with all the ruffles around the edges and the stained collar. She said it made her look tacky and I think she was right. Tia Nina wore embroidered gowns of bougainvillea petals and ribbons that made her appear younger than she was. “Are you happy?” I whispered. “Don’t you worry mija. I’ll be up here dancing with Celia Cruz and you know how much I love to dance. I’ll be just fine.” And there she was, looking at me with the same smile she held for years, except this time, it seemed real. We spent the rest of the night resting in her memory.
Josefina Guadalupe Alegria-Suarez was the name she was given. It carried her everywhere, into every room, onto every street. This name of hers was written down in history. Not by old white men but by the people that knew her and I mean, really knew her. From the bigotry to the pain, from the heart to her trumpet sounding laughter. She had a pretty smile but her teeth told the story of age and when Josefina Guadalupe walked, she was the only woman in the world. She would straddle a horse by its neck if she had to just to make things go her way but she was elegant. She was a lady with class. Men would fawn over her but she paid them no mind as she cradled the army of women beside her.
She had a lonely childhood. She was the eldest of seven children. Her father was gone most of the time working in the fields of Arizona to send his kids “moneda Americana” as he would say, only sometimes he would forget about the money and disappear for weeks on end until one day, he disappeared for good. Joesefina’s mother passed away when her youngest brother was only two years old and in that moment, she knew that her life was never going to be her own again. She held wisdom beyond her years and shared every lesson she had ever learned to all of her nieces and to all of her nephews, even to the kids in her neighborhood. One by one, each of her siblings crossed the border over to El Paso, Texas yearning for a life of riches. She was the last one to follow them and with no English on her tongue, she strived to survive. She was stern with every boss she ever worked for, in restaurants, motels, grocery stores. She never did the things she was told to do exactly how she was told to do them because it wasn’t practical, she said. In her second language, she spoke with a base in her throat to let people know that things were to go her way. And they did. Josefina Guadalupe was always smiling and soft with her hands but her eyes always looked so sad. Some people say she was a lesbian and was never able to say it outloud which is why her only love story ever was with her cooking. She told the tale of love through food. With every flavor, lived the elements of earth and she was water. Flowing towards one rhythm and falling closely to the sky. There, she was the light that shines on grass colored feet. She died leaving all of her strength and all of her stories and all of her songs in us.
As the gentle afternoon touches the sun, I begin to help my mother and my father cook Mole in our orange kitchen. I make Mole the traditional way. The way my great-great-great grandmother made it and every year I offer her un tantito on the day she comes to visit. Tia Nina was the one that taught me how to make this plate when I was just ten years old. I feel this recipe all along my veins like I am one with it. Every year that I cook this dish, I hear her cackle in my ear and remember the recipe in her words. “Se muele el chile y también la almendra seca. El ajo y la cebolla should be toasty pa’ que sepas cómo sabe el amor. Bébete un mezcalito mientras, while you wait for the chicken to cook all the way. Add the chile to the boiling frying pan and stand a few steps back para que no te salpique el aceite on your beautiful canela skin. After that, comes the most important step that you should never forget; el chocolate! Add as much as you want but remember, not too much. Now add in the pepper, the clove, the salt and mix, mix, mix. Muele el pan y luego lo hechas. Muele el tomate y luego lo hechas. A fuego bajo se calienta hasta que grite la sartén con sabor a mi tierra! Pour yourself another shot of mezcal para que se disfrute la comida, mejor, mija. And lastly, a comer!”
I never knew how she died but because of her, death isn’t so scary anymore. I hold my breath to try and connect to her and to the rest of my antepasados. I light a candle for each face I once knew and retell memories at the altar in front of a clavera statue. I know that you wait for me and I know that one day I will go and I will look for you. I was right to call death beautiful. When a person dies, they become this land. They are given back to their mother and turned into creation. There is nothing that’s more beautiful than the branches at my ankles calling me home.