Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Moors y Cristianos

She was born in 1892 in a valley in Spain. Her mother died when she was six. She left Spain when she was in her twenties and lived in Argentina and Cuba. She married her childhood sweetheart in 1919. She lived the remainder of her days in the Armpit. Which was a long time. She was 101 when she died -- May 24th -- three days before I graduated from high school.

Dionisia. My great-grandmother.

I am named after her -- Kara Denise.

She was a plump woman with a ready laugh, a shy quiet nature, and an overwhelming need to feed you. Her constant question, "Are you hungry?" was the first thing out of her mouth when she saw you.

Which worked out great for me because I was ALWAYS hungry.

One of my favorite stories about her centers around food. Beans and rice to be specific.

Beans and rice is a staple of the Catholic family during Lent. We don't eat meat on Fridays, so beans is our substitute. My great-grandmother made fantastic beans and rice, or "Moors y Cristianos" as she called it.

Into a bowl would go the rice -- or Cristianos. Then the beans -- or Moors. Separate cultures, a defined people -- which isn't what God intended -- who fought each other relentlessly.

Then she'd mix the beans into the rice -- just like the Moors mixed with the Cristianos. She would hand you the bowl and say, "See? Now you 'no can tell the deeference."

I loved her. Though she came to America and probably missed her home, never once did she expect you to embrace her culture in order for her to feel like she could practice it. She didn't scream her identity or force you to acknowledge the world she loved. She just was. She was an immigrant who had a great deal of respect for structure and opportunity in America. She became American. And loved her country. But...she was Spanish. And respected the people who came before her.

I was astounded by her. Truly impressed with how she risked changing her whole world for future happiness. She lived independently in Argentina, working and going to the opera, waiting for my great-grandfather to establish his business. Her strength humbled and inspired me. Her wisdom was unparalleled.

And there was one more reason to adore her --

My mother couldn't argue with her....

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