When I was in Panama, feeling the hot sun on my skin, the cool breeze on my face, lying on the hammock reading and taking in her easeful ways, I thought about my own experiences growing up in Hacienda Heights, California.
The purple and pink Bougainvillea blooming wild in Panama made me nostalgic. The rich colors of this South American plant evoked memories of my childhood where my mother and father brought Argentina (their native country) into our own home.
As a family, not a day would go by that we didn’t share in a hot yerba mate, a traditional Latin American drink that gathered us together in the afternoons to “matear and hablar” about our daily lives. On special occasions, my mother cooked my abuela’s homemade Gnocchi and served Dulce de Leche, a caramel like pudding, for dessert. When the mood was right, we watched my parents dance the tango, true poetry in motion in our living room. I even remember a time when we played Truco a popular, Latin American trick-taking card game together as a family. Spanish was spoken in our home, allowing me to speak it to my own children today.
Yesterday, my son Nicolas turned 14 years of age. When I asked him what he would like for his birthday dinner, he told me, “abuela’s Gnocchi and meatballs.” Anyone who has tasted my mother’s delicious, perfectly textured Gnocchi knows this is no trivial feat. I put my fear aside and made my mother’s Gnocchi (which was my grandmother’s recipe) by myself for the very first time. I felt my mother by my side in the kitchen, watching. I have to say the Gnocchi turned out delicious, just like my mother makes it.
I had arrived. These experiences are pearls of tradition that serve as metaphor for something very rare, fine, admirable, and valuable.