Every time Mariachis would play, or a Mexican song would come on, my dad would get that distant look in his eyes as though he were being taken to a far-away place where he had not a worry in the world. I never thought about it until this very moment, when I walked into Arriba Mexican Grill after a long, busy week. Walking in was like entering a time machine, back to a place with fond memories. And for the first time, I understood. I realized how very important my heritage is. The moment I heard the music playing and saw the Mariachi statues surrounded by bright colors with the smell of green chile permeating the air – I too, even if only momentarily, got that distant look in my eyes. I was, for a brief moment, taken to a far-away place, where not a worry in the world existed.
I was briefly reminded of the culture of my upbringing. A place in my past place where people gathered to celebrate – just because. Whether it was the burning of Zozobra at the Santa Fe Fiestas, or to meet up with friends on a Friday night at the Plaza de Santa Fe, or to just be with family – we always seemed to find a way to use food, music and fellowship to bring joy.
I grew up with extremely large extended families, my Mom and Dad both having 7 siblings each. Most of us lived in Santa Fe or northern NM, so it was common to partake in large family gatherings where beans, chile and sopapillas flowed like milk and honey.
As an introvert, you would think these large family gatherings would have been uncomfortable for me, but it was quite the opposite. I looked forward to this time of community. I’m not sure I was aware then of the love and support that constantly enveloped me. I had my tribe. I knew, without a shadow of a doubt, that every person in my family had my back. Castellano’s Vivir!
My High School experience became more diverse. I started meeting more non-natives and started realizing the tourist appeal of Santa Fe. But I was still immersed. I still frequented The Plaza and Santa Fe staples like Tomasitas. I maintained close ties with my prima, DeAnna, who to this day, remains my “no matter what” person. That one I can always call, no matter what.
Although I stayed in Nuevo Mexico for college to attend the University of New Mexico, I strayed a bit further from my roots. Teaching summer cheer camps across the western U.S. afforded me the opportunity to meet all kinds of people outside of my native Hispanic heritage. And even in college, my closest relationships tended to be with people from other States. I was eager and curious to learn about different cultures.
As an adult, I’ve spent the last 15 years in Phoenix which is somewhat a melting pot of many cultures. Although I am not fully immersed in my native demographic any longer, I find little pockets of familiarity and comfort when I enter a place like Arriba Mexican Grill.
And as I sit here eating my tamale smothered in green chile, I find myself in a moment of bliss. A moment where I am taken back to a simpler time where my tribe was defined for me. I didn’t have to choose or wonder if they would accept me or if I was making the right choice. And although I’m grateful for the life experiences I’ve had and the opportunity to actually choose my tribe, I find brief moments, when I enter a New Mexican stratosphere, that I am content. I feel at home and am able to savor every bite of green chile and simply enjoy the ambiance. I have not a worry in the world because I feel like I am with my people.
And I now fully understand that distant look in my Father’s eyes. He was at home…..with our people.
Te amo, papá.
Viva Nuevo Mexico!