Story- Gumamela

07/22/2013

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"We had a lot of hibiscus plants when I was growing up in the Philippines.The flowers bloom so beautifully here at our house. Your mama and I, we are excited by the hibiscus because it reminds us of our childhood."
Collected by Christian Alfaro
Interview with my dad 


My parents have always had an interest in maintaining and beautifying the interior and exterior of the homes we have occupied. At our old single family house in Bartlett, I remember spending most of my summer days outside and seeing both my parents planning out what flowers to get and where the flowers should take root. My papa himself planted, morning glory, magnolia, star gazers, pink and red roses, hydrangea, rhododendron, marigold, hibiscus and more varieties. To be honest, if our block had a contest for best landscaping, our landscape would definitely win. It wasn't just about the aesthetics of the placement of flowers, but about the labor, love, and diversity it brought to our home and its immediate surrounding.

When we moved to our newest home just a suburb over, my papa worked extensively on the landscaping. My mama made sure to always state that a hibiscus be planted. I questioned my papa about why out of all the varieties we had at our previous house, the hibiscus was so favored.

"We had a lot of hibiscus plants when I was growing up in the Philippines. Ang ganda naman ng bloom dito sa bahay. Ako at iyong mama mo, natutuwa kami sa gumamela dahil it reminds us of our pagkabata."

Translates to: The flowers bloom so beautifully here at our house. Your mama and I, we are excited by the hibiscus because it reminds us of our childhood.

Through taglish, Tagalog and English, my papa explained how the hibiscus or gumamela has such a close tie to their lives back in the Philippines. Both my parents came from working class families in the Philippines. Their family's meager incomes did provide them with education, but at times their childhood lacked leisure. He (my papa) mentioned that any kind of ball was enough to fill children in the streets with joy and they could play soccer for hours and hours.

Often, the ball would deflate and through multiple use would create tears and soccer was no longer an option. The children would play with sticks, capture spiders and make them fight each other, or taunt the water buffalo. Around his house they had multiple hibiscus plants. His mom, my grandmother, would make gumamela tea and taught my dad how to make gumamela bubbles. She would grind the flower petals and leaves with a pestel in a mortar bowl until it became a slimy substance. In a another bowl she mixed water, dishsoap, and sugar. Into that bowl she added a few drops of slimy gumamela. She would take a papaya stalk from the plant that they had and gave it to my papa to blow bubbles.

When my papa told me this, it gave me so much insight to the privileges I had growing up in the United States. It also revealed to me how sometimes we are seemingly so removed from the flowers and trees around us when in fact we are strongly intertwined. I knew beforehand that planting these specific flowers on our lawn wasn't just to make our house pretty, but to invite beneficial insects and create welcoming spaces for friends who visit our house. Along with those, the flowers can bring joy and special memories as it does for my parents, especially for my papa.

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Recipe - Chinta’s Flan

07/22/2013

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Collected by Sarah Hernandez

1 8oz. pack of Philadelphia cream cheese
1 12oz. can of evaporated milk
4 Large eggs
1/2 cup Sugar
1 14oz. can of sweetened condensed milk
1 Tbs Vanilla extract
14oz. Milk


1. Cook 1/2 cup of sugar on stove. Add 1 teaspoon of water. Cook on medium-high.
2. Pour carameled sugar into greased flan pan(s) and let cool.
3. Put 14oz. can of sweetened condensed milk in blender.
4. Fill empty 14oz. can with milk and add to blender.
5. Add 4 eggs to blender.
6. Add 1 Tbs vanilla extract to blender.
7. Blend at low speed.
8. Add 8oz. pack of cream cheese to blender.(cut into small cubes)
9. Add 12oz. can of evaporated milk + 6oz. of milk to blender.
10. Blend at low speed.
11. Pour into flan pot(s).
12.  Cook in a large pot with 1/2 – 3/4 inch of water at 350˚ for an 11/2 hours.
13.  Flip when cool.

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Gardening story

07/22/2013

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"The main "plant" that carries a significant message is: coffee." 
Collected by Sarah Hernandez 

I interviewed my dad to talk about heritage plants and practices related to food. I asked about one particular practice he could talk about.

When I was young, I would always be give a mixture of hot honey, lemon and tea for colds and sickness. I don't think it's much of a cultural thing, but I keep tea and honey in my kitchen for colds to this day.

This is interesting to me, because our family values Cuban coffee so much that tea is not considered something to drink for enjoyment. Growing up, like my father, tea has always been associated with honey and lemon for sickness.

The main "plant" that carries a significant message is: coffee. Since birth, I have been exposed to Cuban Coffee (espresso), and I have seen how all visitors and family gatherings are simply not complete without coffee. All Cuban visitations begin with the preparation of coffee - and then conversation. This is a tradition few Latin people can live without. Most non–Latins who try Cuban Coffee for the first time are usually overwhelmed by its jolt, but few will ever turn down a future offering, and find themselves hopelessly connected to this one aspect of the culture. In part – many of today's famous coffee shops were literally created more for the social part of the beverage as much as its taste. Both Italian and Cuban cultures were the inspiration for Starbucks; these are places to connect and converse with people.

When I was little, before Starbucks existed, my father would take me to the mall to the little coffee stand. I was very young, under the age of 10, and he would give me the foam of his cappuccino. He started my coffee addiction quite early, but to this day, I have to have a cups worth of Cuban espresso every day. Even though I know it’s technically an addiction, I think of it more as a cultural thing. I don’t get excited or jittery from it either – for me, coffee time is a time of relaxation. At the end of every major family dinners, everyone has a little cup of Cuban coffee, to socialize, relax, and keep ourselves awake after eating so much delicious food!

The United States has very little to zero original foods other than clam chowder and key lime pie. Most of the foods in the USA are not from the USA. In the Latin culture, family is the only thing that is more important than the food, but the two coexist equally. Fried plantains of all sorts are important. A roasted pig is a big cause of celebration, as it requires hours to cook, and the way in which it is cooked is unique. Family and friends enjoy this pastime, and the spices used are unique: Garlic, Sour oranges, Olives, Lime, Onions, etc. Also important is Guava, Papaya, and Mango. A roasted pig (puerco asado) is usually prepared during the Christmas Holiday. Many families will actually go and select the pig at a farm, and have it prepared for roasting. This is a social event, and while many people might see this as cruel, Latin people use these traditions to bring everyone together. Yuca (a root) is also an important side dish. Also at Christmas and holiday events, many dessert dishes are served to accompany the main course. These desserts are staples of the Latin culture: Flan, Turron, Dulce de Leche, Rice Pudding, Natilla.

I think one thing that continually comes up in conversation with family members, community members, gardeners, and really anyone is that the one thing that brings different people together is our connection to food. I think this is really important and my dad spoke about that, when he said that family and food coexist equally. I think it can go a bit further to say, that it’s not just family, but everyone. To me, gardening and food is a social thing, it’s a language and practice that connects everyone.



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My Grandmother's Gardening Experience

07/04/2013

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"When gardening, you make do with what you have. "
Story collected by Karl Novak

Name: Marilyn Bailes
Relationship: My Grandmother


After interviewing my grandmother for “green” cultural practices she participates in or organizes herself (particularly in a garden setting), I was astonished at the amount of different stories she had to share with me.  I chose to interview my grandmother because she tends a garden in her backyard that is unbelievably colorful and vibrant, like something out of a magazine. My grandmother volunteered at the Chicago Botanic Garden in Highland Park, Illinois, typically for a day per week.  At the garden she mentioned how volunteers, including herself, went around “dead heading” – removing dead flowers to promote growth – the plants found throughout the landscape. The volunteers also checked for insect infestations and reported to the proper authorities if they noticed anything. Finally, she mentioned how the Botanic Gardens offer a class on botany and horticulture for the aspiring gardeners, providing useful tips and nifty tricks to the public interested in such topics.

My grandmother informed me that she had learned many of her outdoor garden practices from her mother, who was from a poor background in Sweden. Because my grandmother’s mom came from a family with meager funds, she learned to “make do with what she had”, and spent a lot of time outdoors tending the garden. My great grandmother first began the growing season in early spring (around late April or early May) with tomato seedlings she grew indoors to avoid an overnight frost. After the threat of frost had surpassed, my grandma’s mom would move them into the garden in the freshly turned soil.  Throughout the growing season, all the yard waste was collected and put into a pit at the edge of the yard that was lined with bricks. The pit my grandma’s family used was described as a compost bin, but my grandmother took pride in the fact that her family composted before it even became a well known thing to do for a garden. My grandmother said that they would put grass clippings, unwanted weeds, rotted vegetables, and even fish guts in the compost bin, and the deep bin would be filled by the end of the season. Over winter, the waste would produce heat and keep “cooking” to prevent freeze, and would be ready for use the next season. My great grandmother would spread the compost over the turned soil. Between the naturally healthy earth and the compost they spread, the soil was “so light and fluffy, the vegetables would grow like the dickens”. The light fluffy soil would promote good drainage for the plants so that water near the plants’ roots would not be stagnant. Stagnant water near the roots would actually rot the roots and ultimately hurt or kill the plant.

In the early 1960s, my great grandmother visited her brother in Sweden after moving to America and collected two plants: a geranium and another called “The Star of Bethlehem”. Although it was illegal to transport the flowers back to America, my grandmother’s mom smuggled them in her bra and placed the twig in water back at home. The plants established roots in the water and eventually grew into several more sections. My grandma obtained a portion of these plants from her mother and kept them alive since the 1960s, and these carried a special meaning to her and consequently my mother as well. Unfortunately, the Star of Bethlehem contracted a virus about 3 years ago and died, but the geraniums received from her mom are still doing very well to this day. My grandmother shared that the geraniums help her remember her mother and liked to share with both my mother and I how it became a special family plant in that way. My grandmother moves the geraniums inside during the winter and takes especially good care of them.

My grandmother gardens to attract golden finches, blue jays, cardinals, and other migratory birds to her yard as a source of entertainment for herself. As an additional benefit, the birds eat bugs that would otherwise damage the plants in her garden. On a particular occasion, my grandmother was looking out the window and noticed a group of sparrows that seemed to be very interested in the beans growing in her garden. After watching some time, she found out why when a sparrow flew to the beans and grabbed a Japanese beetle from the leaf. All of the stories my grandmother shared in the interview were very interesting to me and I learned a lot from interviewing her. It also gave me a greater sense of connection for me with that side of my family and my ancestors. It made me very happy to have the time to talk with her about something she was so passionate about and it in turn made me even more excited.

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