Carry On Tradition
I could hear the knife slice thinly into the peeled potato I was holding with my left hand, over a beautifully patterned ceramic bowl that brought me memories of living near Barcelona. As I carefully, without putting too much pressure on myself to perfect each strip, kept slicing away until the whole potato had broken down into perfectly imperfect slices. I picked up the next potato and zoned out into a meditative nostalgia.
I was making Tortilla de Patata for the first time, a traditional Spanish dish that every Spaniard knows and reveres for it’s simplistic but delicately created taste. There was a method, a process if you will, of trial and error that even the most seasoned cook would have to put in the same amount of effort as a beginner such as I was in this moment. I found reverence in how innately it gave me permission to simply do my best and be imperfect. Giving me space to learn and grow without expecting anything of me.
As I zoned out slicing away, hearing the whisper of each cut, I noticed with Meek Mill and Ella Mai in the background how this exact moment I was experiencing was a definition of who I was. Mixing timeless Spanish tradition with my present day Blackness. What a combination of elements, I thought to myself as I sat in my trance absorbing the perfection of the moment. I noticed that my mind and body felt at ease and waves of good vibrations were lifting me up from a place deep within.
I thought about the countless times I had peeled the potatoes for my mother to help her prepare this anticipated dish. The times she made it for my school events and it was the first dish to disappear. I watched her sit on the couch, in the same meditative trance I had in that moment, she carefully and precisely cut each slice, filling the bowl with enough potatoes to make two tortillas…because not only was one never enough, but because it embodied much more than a meal, it was somehow a reminder of great memories of what seemed like a completely different life and a distant past of our time in Spain.
As an immigrant child born into a biracial Air Force family (though a natural born citizen of both Spain and the U.S.) few things and places in my life have ever felt like home. A place that I actually felt so rooted and connected to that I could call them my own. That I would feel like they were mine.
In Spain, I was the cute “morenita” brown skinned girl, in the U.S. I was mistaken for a number of different races but I certainly wasn’t black enough for black people and too black for white people. The struggles of being biracial, though seldom discussed due to the belief that we have it easier because of light skin, (which can be true) still exist and don’t devalue the challenge of the experience. This made it imperative in my life to know who I was and connect with the cultures that created me, finding parts of myself in them to identify with.
In that moment, peeling potatoes to make a traditional Spanish dish while listening to rap music, felt like home. I felt identified and in sync with the two parts of myself that mostly lived in isolation and separate of one another. Here, they were fusing in a seamless way and I got to notice it — I reveled in a peaceful delight by myself that night, knowing that I didn’t have to explain who I was.
I stepped into the kitchen to move into the next phase of preparation and interrupted Meek and Ella, who had been on repeat the entire time with the airy but powerful serenading vocals of a Beyonce sample layered over the track. My mom’s voice rang through the Bluetooth speaker giving me a 4-minute step-by-step instructional voice note on Watsapp to ensure I succeeded in my attempt to carry on tradition. I nodded my head in agreement as I flashed back to watching her beat the eggs in a large bowl and strain the potatoes from the oil that fried them, being careful not to cook the egg by folding the potatoes in to air out the heat. A few dashes of salt and sometimes parsley would be added.
Meek, Ella and Beyonce came back through after my mom’s instructions. I could’t help but chuckle inwardly and grin about how modern communication had so seamlessly intertwined with a recipe that was probably passed down in the quaint and rustic kitchens of Spanish women so many years before me.
I followed the rest of the recipe and glanced happily at my final product. I took a picture I would later send to my mom to show off the recipe she recited and my ability to follow it.
As I sat down to eat, there was a moment of hesitation. I looked at the tortilla de patata I had created for myself and perhaps in retrospect, it felt weird because I was eating it alone. There was no one watching me anticipating it’s completion so much that a premature bite might burn their mouth. It was just me, and in Spain one rarely eats alone — that too, is part of the tradition woven into the fabric of our way of living. Something that was foreign to me nowadays and also what I looked forward to when returning “home” to see family.
Another part of me felt a bit of disbelief. There is something about tradition that feels like it has a mark and place in time that can’t exactly be replicated. That it’s an experience more than an act. When I was ready to dig my fork in, I took in the moment of what felt like passing on a special dialect to your children or telling the stories of your grandparents. I was carrying on a tradition that I felt so distant from most of my life, and in that moment, I had in right in front of me. And that felt so good.
I cut the customary triangle out of the perfect circle that was my first Tortilla de Patata. I took the first bite and realized I had some perfecting to do, but that it was a great start. I took mental notes of what I would do different next time knowing this was an experience I wanted to recreate, something that connected me to the most hidden parts of who I am. I got to express a part of me that the world doesn’t see in me when they pass me on the street or come to my yoga class. I created the experience of legacy and continuity of culture, something I desperately wanted to hold onto, not realizing it until that moment.