Flour feels like playdough in my hands as I roll it into a little ball and my grandmother inspects it. I place my testal (ball of flour tortilla dough) into the bowl and think of how simple this is. I’ve been doing this all my life; being a little assistant in the kitchen to my grandmother as she made tortillas, carne con papas, menudo, buñuelos and tamales (just to name a few).
She’s been cooking for her siblings, her kids, and finally for me, her granddaughter, for almost 90 years. Watching my grandmother make tortillas fills my heart with pride and joy. When I sheepishly show her my tortilla, exclaiming in embarrassed dismay,
“Grandma, se ve como bota. Ayudame!”
She just quietly comes over, looks at it and fixes it like there was never anything wrong. She turns my Texas two-stepper into a nice, round floury disc and just says, “It takes practice. That’s all. You’re getting better.”
My grandmother is feisty and she imparts wisdom while watching me change and grow, but this year I had to watch her change and my mind still has a hard time wrapping around the fact that one day… I won’t smell her flour tortillas in the morning. That there will be an empty space that I will have to fill with all the stories, food, and wisdom that I’ve gained over my short lifetime in comparison. But unlike the tortillas my grandma makes, I won't be starting from scratch.
Authenticity comes from being able to be exactly who you are. It comes from accepting where you’re from and embracing your culture in a way that fits best for you. In this last year, I have had time to sit with my thoughts and reflect on how I want to interact with the world from this point on. I shied away from my culture, from expressing it in a way that wasn’t ‘acceptable’ by other’s standards.
Watching my hands knead the dough into shape in the exact same way that my grandma’s hands knead the same dough, it is a primal reminder of our ancestry.
The recipes and techniques tie us back to her mother, grandmother and their ancestors before them. It is a line stretching back far enough that it helps me figure out who I am. Knowing that we all started from the same place, attempting to make our own way down a strange and ever evolving landscape. Like myself, my grandmother, and all those before us, we all work our ingredients in the same way to fashion the same tortillas. Well, almost. Theirs probably didn’t look like a boot.