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December 28, 2011

My family story begins like that of a many Shakespearean drama or Roman trilogy. It is filled with tales of love, romance, greed and deception. Cousins marrying cousins (though not knowing they were cousins), revenge, mayhem, compelling decisions and repercussions. It also involves death, though unlike love, death is always inevitable.
The story begins with my great-great-grandmother Carmen. Well I’ll begin the story with Carmen.
It was in Cadereyta, Mexico. The year is unknown. Carmen leaves her 3 children with her sister to head for greener pastures in America (i.e. marry another man).
These were times when people made difficult choices and had names of substance. Names with weight. And names of Spanish Saints.

Carmen marries Espinoza, a man of unknown origin. Carmen went on to have 3 more children with Espinoza: Carmela, Lupe and Trina. Incidentally none of these sound like Spanish Saints. These would be the half-siblings of my great-grandmother Lucita.

Christmas eve night, I sat with my mother in my kitchen and she told me this fascinating story of her mother’s family. In between bites of Posole, I took notes on a page of the New York Times. I might add my mother cooked the Posole. I might also add that this was her first ever (yes, really) time making Posole and that the Posole consisted of ground turkey and not pork. At this point you might be asking your self what kind of Mexican are you? And what kind of Mexican is your mother?

“Spanish and Indian produce: Mestizo

We are Mexican, yes. As the saying goes: “Our fathers were the Spaniards, but our grandfathers were the Arabs”. We might also have some German in us, maybe some French, we definitely have Spanish blood.
In a land before time, there was a woman they call La Malinche. Depending on who you ask she was either a heroine, a traitor and possibly the mother of the “first Mexican”.

I’m not quite sure why my Mother never got around to making Posole until this year. It’s not as though she didn’t grow up eating it. According to she, my great-grandmother Lucita (Luz) was the one who made it every year for Christmas. And here is my Mom, finally making it for the first time and using ground turkey instead of the traditional pork. Posole is a bit like the Mestizo of Mexican food. Rooted in indigenous background (corn and chili) but swimming with Spanish and European flavors (pork and spices). My mother’s version turned out to be very, very good. I was impressed. Very. I couldn’t help think of Lucita and her estranged mother Carmen and what they’d think of this “healthy” modern-day version of Posole.

I thought of Carmen and the new family she began with Espinoza. One of their daughters Carmela, went on to marry a man called Wenceslao. When my mother told me this I couldn’t help repeating, who? what? And what kind of Spanish name is that? Naturally I was compelled to investigate such a name: Wenceslao.

Wenceslao is derived from Vaclav, which is Slavic in background.

My great-grandmother’s half-sister Carmela went on to produce 8 children with Wenceslao. They also had original names like: Carmelita, Waterio, Wilfredo (Wifi), Christela, Colida, Christiana, Clemen, and Wenceslao Jr. And there you were thinking every Mexican was name Jose or Maria. Not to worry, I have a few of those in my family as well.

Christmas morning I woke up craving Mom’s “steamed apples” (applesauce), sweet German sausage and potato latkes, which I made using sweet potatoes. I don’t know why I wanted any of it. I had the sausage, I was thinking of latkes and there was the applesauce from the previous night. It all sounded good together. We drank strong coffee, mine splashed with egg nog. A few hours later we gathered back in the kitchen for more tamales and left-over Posole.

I’m intrigued (as you know) by the history of food. Food, like life, can bring us great pleasure and great pain. It promotes intrigue, mystery and can be thought-provoking. Food can define us, bring us together and warm us to the core. I hope to one day visit Cadereyta.

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