Category Archives: Mexican

Mexican Mother’s Day

My mother – Barbara Zuniga – pregnant with me. I think this photo was taken late 1958 or very early 1959.

Today is Mother’s Day…in Mexico!  It’s always on May 10th, unlike in the US where it falls on the 2nd Sunday in May.  Living in the states…we have always celebrated Mother’s Day on the 2nd Sunday but this year I was aware of more posts than usual from my Mexican friends on social media.

It made me think about Mother’s day celebrations in Mexico, so I did a little googling this afternoon to see what I could find out about Mexico’s celebration.  In truth, it’s much identical to the US celebration – children honor their mothers with gifts of flowers and food on this day, much like we will do on Sunday here in the US.  Restaurant reservations are at an all time high – just like here.  Looking back on the origins of the day are rather interesting though.

In 1922 the idea of having Mother’s Day in Mexico was brought into the country from the US with mixed reviews.  However, it is said that the government, media and Catholic Church got involved and set the date as May 10.  In 1940, the wife of Mexico’s President Manuel Avilla Camacho declared May 10th a holiday and made it a state sponsored celebration.  An interesting custom emerged from this too from the government.  Disadvantaged women were invited to stores to pick a free gift.  In 1942, the government did something even more interesting.  They returned the sewing machines to women who had pawned them and then were unable to repay the loans.  This cost the pawn market approximately $160,000!  It was seen as a great gift though since these women used the sewing machines to help provide for their families.  This was reported in Time Magazine.

The box of photos my sister and I went through last fall at her home in North Carolina – many of these photos I had never seen before. I believe the box belonged to my late Aunt Gail – my mother’s sister.

Today though…I’m thinking of my mother and the life she has lived.  I’ll do this again on Sunday when we have lunch together, but today I’m getting a head start if you will.  When I visited my sister, Kanista, last year in North Carolina, she pulled out a box of old pictures to go through together.  There were several photos I had never seen before.  One in particular was of mom at an event in Cambodia – pregnant with me.  She had on a cute two piece maternity outfit with her hair pulled back and wore cute little sandals.  There were people dancing in the background having a good time.  I know my dad took this photo of her.  She’s smiling and looking off  into the distance.  I wish I knew exactly how far along she was in this photo…how soon I would make my appearance.

People always tell me I look like my mother…it’s such a compliment because when I look at photos like this, she is just so beautiful to me.  Still is…  Feliz día de las Madres!

Me and Mom – Mother’s day last year – 2016

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HICA’s Annual Tamale Sale is BACK!

HICA Tamales go on sale Thanksgiving Day!

HICA Tamales go on sale Thanksgiving Day!

I know it’s Thanksgiving Day and you are all probably up to your eyeballs in turkey and dressing…BUT…give some thought to Mexican food too because today is the beginning of the 13th Annual HICA Tamale Sale!!!!!

If you live in the Birmingham area and love tamales, you don’t want to miss out on this fundraiser benefiting the programs of the Hispanic Interest Coalition of Alabama  – HICA.  The sale runs through December 11th and orders are taken online with pick up date on December 16th at the HICA offices.  If you work with a Tamale Captain, you may be able to get them delivered to you.  All this information is on the HICA website so be sure to check it out today and place your order.  Flavors include chicken with green sauce, pork with red sauce and MY favorite, cheese and pepper tamales.

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Tamales have become a tradition for many non-Hispanic people in Birmingham over the years of our sale.  It’s definitely a tradition with Mexican families, mine included!  Friends and family get together to have a tamalada (where you make the tamales) and then after they are all made – dozens and dozens – you eat them together!  Tamales are fairly labor intensive to make so they aren’t necessarily made on a regular basis.  Christmas is one of those special times when they are made and we’ve shared this information with the people who return every year to buy tamales from HICA.  They come back and share their stories of eating Christmas tamales with their own families along with salsa and other fixings!  It’s so fun to hear the stories every year during pick up day.  We may try to record a few this year!

Me and Isabel Rubio after filming our tamale sale video this year in he kitchen.

Me and Isabel Rubio after filming our tamale sale video this year in he kitchen.

This year, HICA’s Executive Director, Isabel Rubio and I made an English video that will run beginning Thanksgiving day.  HICA Staff members, Monica Black and Cindy Garcia were on hand to make a Spanish video to run as well.  We gathered in Isabel’s kitchen to made the videos a few weeks ago with Latino News.  And the best part?  We got to eat the tamales afterward!  YUM!!!

Cindy Garcia, Isabel Rubio, me and Monica Black after the tamale videos wrapped up - thanks to Latino News for filming!

Cindy Garcia, Isabel Rubio, me and Monica Black after the tamale videos wrapped up – thanks to Latino News for filming!

Being a part of the HICA Tamale Sale is one of my favorite things to do each year as a board member!  If you’ve never tried our tamales before, I encourage you to give them a try this year.  They are simply the best and hopefully this will be the beginning of a new holiday tradition for you and your family!

Remembering A Veteran

My dad...in flight training

My dad…in flight training

Today is Veterans Day.  From the time I woke up this morning to just a few minutes ago, every other social media post today has been about Veterans and remembering their contributions to our country.  It has been a welcome diversion from the recent election and with the divisiveness of what has transpired, it really got me thinking about my dad and his brothers and their sacrifice as Mexican-Americans to our great country.

I don’t actually know a lot about what my dad and his brothers went through when they each joined the service but I do know about the time period when they enlisted and served.  I also know what my dad experienced when he was growing up in Carlsbad, New Mexico through letters I received from several of his classmates/football teammates after he passed away in 2001.  I’ll share those remembrances in another post.  But suffice it to say, it wasn’t all fun and acceptance back then.  My dad didn’t talk much about it, choosing to just tell certain stories without any reference to discrimination or unfairness.  I think that was his way of just working hard and getting ahead.  I admire that in him because later in life, it served me well as I grew up overseas and in Puerto Rico during my formative years.

Dad's Air Force pins an his pilot log books.

Dad’s Air Force pins an his pilot log books.

I wish I knew more about dad’s time in service to our country.  I regret that I didn’t talk to him about this but then again, there is no guarantee that he would have shared anything about this time either.  I’ve heard that sentiment from a number of people who I know.  These are memories that have remained locked away to some of those who served.

I love looking in my dad's pilot log books and seeing his handwriting as he documented his training...

I love looking in my dad’s pilot log books and seeing his handwriting as he documented his training…

What I do have are photos, dad’s pilot logs and a few other artifacts from those years.  I also have two yearbooks from his pilot training in Texas.  One in particular is very touching because dad had placed check marks beside the photos of his friends who didn’t make it back during the war.  I didn’t know what these check marks were until my mother shared that with me several years ago.

One of dad's training yearbooks....

One of dad’s training yearbooks….

So as today closes out, I am grateful for the sacrifices of my dad, Praxedis Sotelo Zuniga, his brothers – Felix and Lorenzo Zuniga – and all the faces in the two yearbooks made for our country.  Some paid the ultimate sacrifice and that is humbling to see in my dad’s yearbook, the faces of those brave young men who did this for our freedom.

On this Veterans Day, God Bless the brave men and women who have served this great nation of ours…

 

 

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Mexican Tin Ornaments and Thrift Store Scores!

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A treasure trove of Mexican tin ornaments my mother found for me recently during a thrifting adventure!

Mexican tin art is a mainstay on my Mexican Christmas tree every year.  I love the shapes and colors of these lightweight ornaments.  I’ve collected them since the 1990s and always look for stores that carry the ornaments in particular.  My last big haul was last year when I visited Austin, Texas at a cool store called Tesoros.  They had quite a selection to choose from and wish I could have come away with more but honestly…I had to leave some for the other shoppers too, right?!

Last week my mother paid a visit to my favorite thrift store – The Salvation Army in Hoover.  She confessed she went in only for a few moment and now two hours later she was still roaming around and finding all sorts of goodies!  After a few trips around the knick knacks, she spotted a sandwich bag with something shiny and colorful.  Turned out to be a baggie with 10 Mexican tin ornaments!  For one dollar!!!!!  She brought them to me that very evening and while they look a little worn, they are still so beautiful to me.  I think the wearing of the tin and the color gives them a certain antique character.  And I also think I might need a bigger Mexican Christmas tree this year with all these new ornaments!

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The red color on this ornament is brilliant and this is one design that I didn’t have – happy to add to my collection!

Meanwhile, this past weekend I went to the grand reopening of another favorite thrift store – the Salvation Army store in Homewood, AL.  The place was a madhouse!  I found a few items but nothing that I couldn’t live without, especially with the length of the checkout line!  Then I went to the jewelry counter – which was also packed – and gave it a look.  Loads of beautiful things…still that growing line was a concern.  I turned to walk toward the door when I spotted a long table filled with Christmas pins!  Wow!  I felt like I hit the mother-load of pins – something else I love to collect.    I spotted one vintage Christmas tree pin and then another…and a lady holding one handed hers to me when she saw my interest.  I thought that was nice!  Then a saleslady showed up and said, “let’s put these in a baggie with your name on it and it will be ready for you when you check out.”  I thought – “ok, let’s do this!”  Then the saleslady started suggested pins and earrings to me to help me fill my bag.  It was rather amusing.  I’d say – “sure, put it in the bag!”  And she would!

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Such a unique necklace! This Mexican tin piece is adorned with a nativity scene!

The most unusual item I found in this sea of pins was a necklace.  I wasn’t sure what it was at first all clustered together on the table, but it was made of Mexican tin – I knew that for sure!  The saleslady picked it up and said it was a nativity scene and she thought it was beautiful.  I agreed but then again, the necklace had me at “Mexican tin” and so I told her to add it to the bag!

Well, the line to check out got even longer while I was browsing these pins, earrings and the necklace.  I figured I would leave the store to run some of my errands and come back before 7 p.m. to pick up the jewelry.  Unfortunately, I didn’t make it back and figured it was just as well.  Wasn’t meant to be and all that.  Still, I kept thinking of that Mexican tin necklace and how unique it was…

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So Monday at lunch I decided to take a ride over to the store and look around minus the 250 people who were there on Saturday!  I went right to the jewelry counter and much to my surprise there were no Christmas pins anywhere!  That was puzzling with all that they had on Saturday.  Had someone come in and bought the entire table of pins?  I checked the other jewelry counter and but found nothing there either.  Then I saw several baggies of jewelry on the back of the counter.  Mine was still there!  SCORE!!!  Was I excited?  You bet!  Couldn’t believe my good fortune!

I left the store Monday with a baggie full of vintage pins, the Mexican tin necklace and also a talavera pottery piece that I spotted right before check out!  The colors on this talavera piece are perfect for my kitchen.  It will be a nice addition to the Zuniga-Odom talavera collection!  This is why I love thrift store shopping so much – you never know what you’ll find!

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Birmingham’s Dia de los Muertos 2016

A look at the skyline of Bare Hands Inc.'s Dia de los Muertos festival in its new venue - Cahaba Brewery this year.

A look at the skyline of Bare Hands Inc.’s Dia de los Muertos festival in its new venue – Cahaba Brewery this year. Murals of Spider Martin and Guillermo Castro are displayed at the start of the altar displays.

I’ve said this before – aside from my beloved Fiesta, Bare Hands Inc.’s Dia de los Muertos festival is one of my favorites of the year.  Both just celebrated year 14 and both will celebrate their 15th – or Quinceanera – next year.  For a festival to make it that long is impressive and this year was even more so for DOTD Alabama.

Early in the year, I heard the festival had been cancelled.  They had lost their long time location due to some changes in the geographic region and had also gone through some leadership changes with the retirement of long time ED Wendy Jarvis and installation of new ED, Robert Hernandez.  But like any organization with volunteers who have a passion for what they do – they persevered and several months into 2016, they decided the show would go on (as they say) and partnered with Cahaba Brewery to move the festival to Avondale.

Roll Call of the dead is a time honored tradition at the festival - as names are called, if family/friends are in attendance, they call out "present" in the audience...

Roll Call of the dead is a time honored tradition at the festival – as names are called, if family/friends are in attendance, they call out “present” in the audience…

And what a move!  The festival drew over 6,000 people this year!  As I was leaving at 8:30 I ran into Robert and Festival Director-Jennifer Gowers and their faces said it all… Jennifer grabbed me and said “where are all these people coming from?!”  We looked at the entrance and people were still streaming in and the festival opened at 4 p.m.  After a group hug, we talked about the incredible turnout and all the hard work it took to pull the event together in a shorter period of time.  Incredible is the only word I could think of at that moment.  Labor of love is the phrase I choose now.

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Day of the Dead is not your ordinary festival, after all.  It is a way for people to honor and celebrate the memory of loved ones who have left us.  The altar installations and tributes are always very moving and I find myself lingering in front of several because of the unique ways in which people are honored and remembered.  I met a young woman from Mexico who described in detail the altar that she and her family pulled together to honor her family.  Every single item on that altar had a unique significance and as she pointed them out to me, along with the stories, I felt myself tearing up.  What a tribute!  What  beautiful stories…and I was so appreciate that she was sharing these with me.  But then again, that is what this festival is all about…sharing your family stories, sharing the stories of your friends and others you love and cherish so that they are always remembered…

A portion of the altar that had so many interesting details recounted to me by a family member.  Very traditional...

A portion of the altar that had so many interesting details recounted to me by a family member. Very traditional…

That’s what Day of the Dead/Dia de los Muertos means…that’s what Robert, Jennifer and the rest of the board members and volunteers accomplished this past November 2nd.  Viva la Vida!!!

Artist Julianna Jackson poses with her incredible headpiece in the DOD Market.  The creations at her booth were exquisite!

Artist Julianna Jackson poses with her incredible headpiece in the DOD Market. The creations at her booth were exquisite!

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Zuniga-Odom Family Altars

img_2148I started working on my Day of the Dead altars this weekend.  It’s always a special time deciding on the perfect way to display the memories of loved ones who have left us.  Then I head to the basement to pull out my DOD boxes which takes a bit more time these days with all the new items I’ve added to my collection over the years!  But I do love going through the boxes and seeing what will work to enhance the beauty of the altars and memories.

This year, I made just a few tweaks to my altars.  I picked up some very colorful papel picado tin buckets at Target in  the “One Spot” section of the store last year and thought they would be the perfect addition to my altars.  The turquoise, yellow and orange colors go perfectly with the other décor and in particular, the marigolds that I use to adorn all the altars.  I’ve added tea light candles to each bucket and I know the light reflecting through the bucket will be beautiful tomorrow night…

Papel picado tins from Target will hold tealight candles for Day of the Dead

Papel picado tins from Target will hold tealight candles for Day of the Dead. The blue bottle was hand painted by my daughter Emily – the other side sports a sugar skull. The photo on the bottom is of my dad and his niece Christie.

Mariachi hats were another addition this year.  I found to child mariachi hats at the Alabama Thrift store earlier this year.  I couldn’t believe my good fortune.  These hats are not cheap and they are in excellent condition.  I knew I would use them for something and when I started pulling my altars together, they just worked.  In addition, my mother gave me three miniature mariachi hats for my birthday in February, so those were also added.   One day I hope to add a full size mariachi hat to my altar.  I can already envision what it will look like!

One of the mariachi hats I found this year during one of my thirfting adventures.  Made a perfect backdrop for family photos on my DOD altar...

One of the mariachi hats I found this year during one of my thirfting adventures. Made a perfect backdrop for family photos on my DOD altar…

Finally, while I was in At Home a few weeks ago, I spotted a terra-cotta sugar skull as I was about to leave the store.  So many of the DOD items you see these days are a little too mass-produced looking.  I guess that’s why you can find them everywhere.  But this one was different…and so if there was one, there had to be another!  So I set out to search the store for one and I spotted it – out of sight in the Halloween section.  Perfect!  They look great on my dining room table!

Terra cotta sugar skull found at At Home a few weeks ago...

Terra cotta sugar skull found at At Home a few weeks ago…

As for photographs of loved ones who have passed…I remember a scene from the movie “Book of Life” about remembering all your ancestors to keep their memory alive.  As I’ve been getting photos organized this year, I came across several from my mother’s side – the Weavers and the Vansants.  My great-great-grandfather Levi Weaver is pictured in one photo with his young wife Bessie Vansant Weaver along with his grown children and a few of their own.  With the photo of Mary and Rufus Vansant I’m trying to recall the relationship.  I think they were my great-great-grandmother’s parents and I know I have this written down somewhere but I have several boxes of photos and family tree information that I need to go through and sort and identify.  My Aunt Gail gave me this photo many years ago and it has always spoken to me because of their clothing and where they are sitting.  They look like sharecroppers to me but that’s just my impression so I’m not sure.  And I imagine that life wasn’t very easy for them either.  These are additions to my altar this year…

Photos on the Stone and Weaver family altar...these old photos are additions this year of my great-great-grandfather and his family!

Photos on the Stone and Weaver family altar…these old photos are additions this year of my great-great-grandfather and his family!

Tomorrow night, I will light the candles and photograph the glow of the altars.  Then I will sit in my living room and reflect on the lives represented on these altars and give thanks for each and every life.

Viva la vida!

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Day of the Dead Décor – It’s Everywhere!

img_1320-1Every fall I look forward to discovering new Day of the Dead/Dia de los Muertos items to add to my growing collection.  This year it seems stores had their items out even earlier than usual.

The first place I always hit is World Market.  Usually, they have quite a huge spread of items but this year the collection wasn’t as large.  Mind you, this is always my “go-to” place for DOD items so in fairness, it could be that I’ve collected most of their items already!  At any rate, over the course of 3 visits, I picked up some cute things including a Mariachi skeleton pillow, sugar skull measuring cups, sugar skull measuring spoons, 2 sugar skull nutcrackers and two ornaments – one sugar skull and one hot sauce bottle!  I haven’t checked other stores in my area to see if they have a more robust collection in their stores…there is still time and I may do that, but I really do love the things I’ve picked up so far.

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Sugar skull measuring spoons and measuring “skulls” from World Market.

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Mariachi pillow from World Market! So cute!

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img_1317 img_1316 img_1315Target is another place to pick up cute DOD items.  This year, their selection was also a little limited.  Again, I think I bought everything they had last year, including a door wreath which will go up on my front door the last weekend in October.  I bought a sugar skull vinyl tablecloth along with a DOD banner and a sugar skull dog statue.  The tablecloth reminds me of the beautiful colorful Mexican vinyl tablecloths that my cousins always use in their decorating.  On another trip, I found a sugar skull cup and a kit to make sugar skull pumpkins.  I bought two pumpkins over the weekend for Halloween decorating so I’ll convert those using the kits this weekend.

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img_1313 img_1312Finally, last week I was in Michaels and saw an adorable DOD door wreath.  I considered buying it as I walked through the store and then I turned down an aisle and found an entire display of DOD items!  It would have been easy to go nuts and add everything to my cart but I took a deep breath and selected just a few things – a DOD “coffin”, 6 small sugar skull plates and a Catrina statue – an iconic DOD item that is seen every year at the local DOD Festival in downtown Birmingham!

Honestly…it seems as though you can find DOD and Sugar Skull items all over the place these days.  I always look forward to pulling out all my stored items as I prepare to make my annual altars and decorate my house.  I think this year I’ll need to add another storage container for all my new items!

Do you have any favorite DOD items?  If so, please share them with me.  I would love to see them and know what you do to celebrate Day of the Dead!