When I Desperately Wanted Out, They Gave Me A Reason To Come Back.

Mom and Dad standing near a field of corn stock in Cottonwood, New Mexico. It is the land that they labored on and the land that they still love.

Tonight, I share pictures through the eyes of my parents, who have lived and worked in Lake Arthur, New Mexico for over sixty years. The history behind this region in southeastern New Mexico and the roots my parents have planted are deep and complex, yet very close to my parents heart — no matter how hard life has been. I hope I give justice to how much they adore this tiny town and the land that surrounds them. I share this because despite the time I have spent desperately wanting to get out of this place, this is the home that defines me.

I must do it right.

These crosses hang in my childhood home. I see them each time I am headed to my old bedroom and a constant reminder of my mom’s faith.

Across the street is Our Lady of Guadalupe Catholic Church, a space where mom and dad spend a lot of their time.

My mom sits and prays while I walk around this old Catholic church. It had been so long since I had stepped foot in here.

Mom reading her bible, which she has had in her possession since 1986.

Before the tortilla comes the testales.

The ultimate Mexican staple, the tortilla. Courtesy of my sister, Rosy, who made a big batch for our Sunday family dinner. No Jesus discovery here.

 

Funk Road in Cottonwood, New Mexico. The county road where life began for both my mom and dad.

An old cotton gin heading west on Funk Road.

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Corn. Lots of corn.

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Heading west on Fund Road

Old bracero homes, also called, “Rancho Blanco.”

Old bracero barracks.

My parents home used to be here. The space has now been replaced by a water pump.

The old convenience store where my parents used to shop.

The old cotton gin where my dad used to work nights. As he shared his story, I could hear the same anxiety he must have felt during those hard times.

The fields replenished by the purity of water, which is so scarce.

As subtle as they are, you can find real beauty in these trees.

Big red barn in Cottonwood

Irrigation

Wide open spaces.

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I was feeling sad when I took this picture and looking at it now, it reflects a little of that sadness I was feeling at that very moment.

Lake Arthur sunset.

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Bon Jovi’s 1987 “Livin On A Prayer,” Was A Hit. Coincidence? I Think Not!

ABQ Journal Magazine, 1989.

In the article from the Albuquerque Journal Magazine, dated December 22, 1987, it reads:

For Maria, the tortilla will forever be a miracle — not a coincidence. The face of Christ has become a taproot sign, Maria said, in a root system of signs. Two years after she saw the tortilla, Maria became pregnant. It was a difficult pregnancy; she was sick a lot and suffered high blood pressure. Everyone worried. But then Angelica was born, a healthy girl. A sign.

Oh my God, the pressure. I am a miracle. My mother believes that I am a miracle.

I barely have enough faith in the chair that is currently holding me up as I write this and my mom has so much faith to believe that her youngest hija is a miracle? Most parents believe this about their children, right? It’s not just my mom?

Ok…joking aside, there was a lot going on in my mom’s life throughout 1978 and 1979. Right before my birth in May, 1979, mom’s anxiety was just gearing up for a decade long invasion. Her health problems were so severe that her doctor highly recommended that she not move forward with this pregnancy. Her life was in jeopardy and there was no telling how healthy the child would be at birth or even if it would survive.

As my mom says, “ay que dar se lo a Dios.”

My mom standing outside our home before giving birth to me, circa 1978/1979.

My mom once told me the story of going into labor and while at the hospital, her anxiety peaked as the nurse pushed her through the hospital in the wheelchair. Mom was so scared that as she was zoomed down the hallway, approaching an entry way, mom slammed her leg on the side of the entrance in an attempt to get the wheelchair to stop. The nurse had been going so fast that my mom was having a teh-leh-leh (also known in the Rubio household as an anxiety attack) According to my mom, my sister Rosy, may or may not have shared a few words with this nurse. Needless to say, my mom was sick, she was pregnant and she was about to give birth to a miracle.

Fast forward to 2014, thirty-five years after giving birth, my mom still calls me her miracle. Not to take anything away from my older siblings, (because I’m sure they’re miracles too) but I think they might agree with her. It’s not necessarily who I am or what I’ve become that makes me that miracle, but my birth was one of a few signs that my mom needed in order to sustain her already dwindling faith in God.

Me, Mom, Jesus Tortilla

Confession time — I struggle with my own faith and have done so for most of my life. Even as a little kid, growing up across the street from Our Lady of Guadalupe Catholic Church in Lake Arthur, I questioned everything. I remember even telling my Catechism teacher one Wednesday night, that when I envisioned God, I didn’t see her as a loving and merciful God, I pictured Darth Vader and the heavy breathing. But then there were the Sunday’s when I was dragged out of bed that I would stand and look up to my mom, who always sat on the third pew on the left of that very small church, hoping that one day I have even a speck of faith that she does.

The truth is, I do not know what I believe, nor do I pretend to have the answers. I may never have the answers. In fact, I sometimes don’t pray because I know that my mom prays enough for the both of us. I don’t think this makes me a bad person, but it just makes it my journey.

It is hard to live up to my mom’s everlasting faith in God, especially when her faith in the power of prayer gets harder and harder to question.  Perhaps the Jesus tortilla happened to her 37 years ago so that 35 years into her youngest daughter’s life, it would start to mean something more than just a “sign through a bit of baked flour once headed for someone’s stomach.”  (Toby Smith, ABQ Journal Magazine, 1989) 

Oh, the irony.

 

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Forever Your Girl, Signed — The Tortilla Kid.

Over the weekend, one of my favorite people and a great LA friend, Isela, travelled to New Mexico with her 5-year old daughter, Isis, to see me and visit for a couple of days. Although we did a ton of driving all over southern New Mexico, we spent a lot of that time catching up on old times, sharing stories about our present life and openly talking about our hopes and dreams. During one of our drives back to my house, we were listening to some music and one particular song took me back.

Way back.

Now, you must be thinking, “Paula Abdul? Really? Forever your girl? She must have had better songs than this?”

Yes. Paula Abdul. In addition to having anxiety at such a young age, I also had a lot of hopes and dreams which included being an actress, which I shared here, as well as a dancer, singer and choreographer…which I will attribute to the constant repeat of this cassette tape of Paula Abdul’s first album release, particularly this song.  For your information, I am not an actress and I am a horrible dancer. The reason I also bring this up is because this was the song that always reminded me of the first boy I ever liked, Louis C.K.* Not only is he the first boy that I liked a lot (also the first boy I held hands with) but he was also the boy that tormented me, by calling me “the Tortilla Kid.”

Yes. The boy who bullied and tormented me and made my life miserable, was also the boy that I liked a lot. Go figure.

Therapy.

So, it should be no surprise by now, that it has taken me 35 years to fully accept the fact that I am The Tortilla Kid and that it’s ok. Accepting this reality has not always been easy for me. It’s taken this long to not just accept this gift…which it is a gift, in my opinion. But as my friend Isela says, I must also “embrace it.” To talk about it so publicly, even now, while sharing very private stories about my life (some embarrassing and some very scary) and the life of my mom, for example, is something I have feared most, if not all of my life.

For the most part, I managed to ignore the insults throughout my middle and high school years at Lake Arthur because I always figured I’d leave the place forever and I would never have to approach the subject ever again. I just needed to get out of there.

angelica bingaman internshipIt was the summer of 2001, and I was interning for Senator Jeff Bingaman in his Washington, D.C. office and during an evening of conversation with my fellow peers at Onassis Hall on the George Washington University campus, where we lived, someone from the group began to say something about a woman from a small town in New Mexico who discovered Jesus on a tortilla.

First of all, I should not have been shocked by this turn of events. These kids were all from New Mexico and super passionate about the state, not just about its politics, but about history and culture too. But after a night of cocktails, I was not at all prepared for this conversation. It had been years since any stranger had mentioned this or brought it up. How did this happen to me all the way in Washington, DC? What would or could I say? Would I allow them to make fun of my mom like so many people had before them? Would I be able to give in and defend my mom? Would I just go along pretending that I had no idea what they were talking about or who she was, for that matter?

I was screaming out loud, silently. Really, God? Of all the places and times, we’re going to do this now?

I stopped the conversation abruptly, took a sip of my Rolling Rock and said, “guys, before we continue, I must confess something. The woman that we’re speaking of, is my mom.”

The room fell silent for what seemed like a million seconds.

The Tortilla Kid and my mom.

When the silence ended, all I got from my friends was, “awesome!” or “no way?!” I hadn’t felt this relieved in such a long time! It wasn’t that I had fully accepted my role as The Tortilla Kid, but I had received some validation from my peers that I was not entirely crazy and that my family was kind of normal, despite this little thing called, the Jesus tortilla.

In 2001, that was good enough for me, but it would still take another thirteen years for me to embrace the gift of a story I was born into.

That time is now.

 

 

*Names have been changed (for legal reasons) to famous men that I find attractive, in case you would like to set me up on a blind date, you know what my type is.

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La Nena Del Rancho Takes The Big Apple

Some of you may not know this but my mom once travelled to New York City. It’s hard to imagine myself. Not everyone I know, has had the opportunity.

Below is a video I have been searching for for years! We had a copy of the original and because my mom is so nice, she lent it out and it was never returned. You can watch it in its entirety, but if you want to see the good stuff, just scroll to 12 minutes and you will witness my mom, Maria and my older sister, Rosy, as part of a panel on the Phil Donahue Show.

Yes, you read that correctly. My mom and my sister were on Donahue about twenty years ago, talking about the miraculous Jesus tortilla.

(please try not to get distracted by my sister’s hideous vest.)

Thanks to Steve Kane for locating this video.

Ladies and gentlemen, my mom was on Donahue.

I remember exactly when my sister Rosy told me that her and my mom were going to go on Donahue. I was in High School and we had just finished playing a game in Hondo, New Mexico and stopped at the gas station before heading back to Lake Arthur. I called Rosy from the payphone (and who had an 800 number, which I’m just now remembering) to let her know that we had won. (c’mon, it was Hondo) It was during that brief conversation that she tells me that her and mom are flying to New York City to be on Donahue.

I rode the bus home extremely upset.

Quick back story. When I was younger and having challenges with anxiety and not wanting to go to school, (but for some reason I wanted to be an actress) Rosy convinced me that if I graduated from High School, she would take me to New York City for graduation.  I was not yet a Senior at this time, so when I called Rosy on this evening and she informed me of this trip to New York City, two things happened:

1) I didn’t understand the magnitude back then. It was just a tortilla! Why would Donahue want to have my mom on the show? HOW EMBARRASSING!?

2) Why did Rosy and my mom get to be the one’s to go to New York City?! They don’t even know where that is!?

I regret to inform you that I really was a rotten teenager and I’m trying my best to overcome that, hence this blog (therapy)

Back to the story.

Rosy, hideous vest and my mom…all on Donahue.

I don’t remember much leading up to Donahue, but mom and Rosy left, and then there they were, on our television screen, on the Phil Donahue Show. What I do remember is sitting on our living room floor as the show aired in Lake Arthur. Mom looking so nervous and scared. Rosy seemed so confident. (perhaps it was the vest)

For Rosy, it’s always been easy. She was there when the Jesus tortilla appeared to my mom in 1977. Rosy was the person that confirmed the discovery as soon as my mom asked her what she thought it was. If there is anyone in the world who has as much faith in God as my mom, it’s my sister, Rosy. Going on Donahue was a no brainer for her. It was a story that had to be shared with millions and she was prepared to do so.

For me, it’s never been that easy. Until now. Not easy in the sense that I’ve been converted and now know what mom and Rosy must have witnessed on that day on October 5, 1977. Instead, it’s becoming easier to speak publicly because I owe that much to my mom. I look at her, watching this video, and WOW! The bravery she had. Just a decade earlier, my mom couldn’t even leave our house to go to church across the street at Our Lady of Guadalupe and here she was, a woman born in El Barranco outside Ojinaga, Chihuahua, Mexico, who immigrated to New Mexico at such a young age, then, to get on a plane, for the first time at age 55 — to fly to New York City, to be on the Phil Donahue Show!

If you don’t believe that the Jesus tortilla is miraculous, you must at least try to understand that all the things that my mom has experienced can’t be coincidental, at least that is what I’m beginning to believe. Although I still have my own doubts about this whole situation, I can honestly say that I know it’s gotta be something. What that is, I can’t say. But it’s something.

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La Señora De La Tortilla

Sunday night dinner with Dad, mom and Gerardo (grandson)

I took some time off from writing this weekend, so I could go home to Lake Arthur and spend time with my parents, Maria and Eduardo. As usual, it was filled with a lot of great laughter, dad’s slightly, exaggerated storytelling, loud conversations around the dinner table, the reliving of old memories (which seem to never get old) and creating new one’s.

A friend of mine lost her grandmother last week, quite tragically actually, and so for the last few days, I have spent a lot of my time reflecting on my own life, the life of my parents and the great unknown. The great unknown. It seems morbid to think this way, the thought of the end. But to be quite frank, thinking about the end, whatever that may be, has always been a part of my life, for as long as I can remember.

Early on in my childhood, and dealing with my own anxiety, even the simplest of things like, the day turning into evening and then into night, always lead to an unsettling feeling of uncertainty. I can’t really explain it, other than I felt like each night was a reminder that the end was near and I’d freak out. I’d also freak my family out. Fortunately for myself and everyone around me, I would eventually grow out of it and live a pretty independent, anxiety-free life. But it wasn’t that simple.

Which brings me to the smell of old coffee.

Friday afternoon, as I was getting ready to leave my office, I decided to clean up around my desk, which included tossing away an old cup of coffee. As I was pouring out this two-day old, super black, over-caffeinated substance into the tiny sink of my work kitchen, the smell of coffee reminded me of the countless evenings I spent with my mom, as she fulfilled her three hour obligation of cleaning the offices at Yates Petroleum in Artesia, New Mexico.

Picture credit to Menupix

Mom must have started working at Yates around 1989, a little over a decade after her long battle with serious anxiety (and the appearance of the Jesus tortilla) and right around the time my own anxiety was just kicking in. At eight years old, I not only spent a lot of time ditching school (as I have mentioned in previous posts), but I also spent a lot of time putting mom at risk of losing the only job she had come to appreciate.

You see, my mom took me to Yates with her, each and every day for a very long time. At one point, she was even told that she couldn’t take me with her to work or face unemployment. But she didn’t stop.  Instead, we managed to sneak me into the Yates building and we became really good at it. Somehow, even the ladies that my mom cleaned offices with (at least in the team she was working with) became our allies. They didn’t seem to mind my presence and in fact, I kept them rather entertained during those last twenty minutes we spent in the break room before we clocked out.

Take that, mayordoma!

So what does the coffee smell have to do with all of this, you ask? Well, that’s what the offices smelled like, each and every day. As my mom cleaned the building for three straight hours a night, I sat in the big board room of this Yates building, pretending to be the most powerful woman in the world. Despite my anxiety at the time, I somehow managed to day-dream incredible scenarios of being at the helm of this great power. In front of me at the table was a USA Today, 42 ounce Coca-Cola, and several imaginary co-conspirators.

Mom and dad purchased a 1983 Ford Futura from my dad’s former employer, which is also the same car I learned to drive in at the age of 7. Thanks, mom!

The ritual would go like this. Mom and I would get into our 1983 Ford Futura and leave Lake Arthur at 4:30PM, arriving in Artesia around 4:43PM. That’s right. It takes exactly 13 minutes to get to and from (Unless you’re speeding, which is less time, but you’d be stupid to do so because it NEVER fails. There are ALWAYS cops on the Old Dexter Hwy. Even to this day. Trust me.)

As soon as we arrived to Artesia, my mom would stop at Town & Country, at the corner of 1st Street and Main St, she would pull out some change that she had saved and I would get out of the car, walk inside the store, grab me the day’s USA Today and a 48 ounce fountain drink. We would leave the Town & Country and proceed in the direction of Yates Petroleum. As we approached the main building, I would duck onto the floorboard with my drink and paper in hand, until my mom reported to her “mayordoma.” We would then drive to the next block, park in the back of the building my mom was assigned to, and enter through the back door. From there, I would go straight to this board room and sit there. For three hours. Religiously.

Mom always praying, even when things are good.

But then there were the days that I wouldn’t sit in the board room for three hours. When I wasn’t reading the paper and/or saving the world from those imaginary co-conspirators seated with me around the board room table, I was roaming the halls. Looking in and out of offices, I would witness stack of unruly paper stacks, old, noisy clunky computers left powered on, and lights flashing on office phones from calls coming in from who knows who. After countless laps inside this building a turn into a hallway, was the sound of the vacuum cleaner, a sign that we were just about ready to go.

Mom and our compañeras were about to call it a day.

Twenty six years later and the smell of old bitter coffee, reminds me of those days. It’s old bitter coffee that reminds me of that unpleasant anxiety I felt at such a young age and the ugly feeling in the pit of my stomach as our old gold clock, hanging on our dining room wall, approached 4:30PM. What would mom’s last minute decision be? Would I be forced to stay with relatives? Would mom risk her job by bringing along The Tortilla Kid?

If you know “la señora de la tortilla” well enough, then you know what happened next.

My mom is a saint, with or without the Jesus tortilla.

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Will The Real Andrew Gruszewski Please Stand Up?!

Letter Andrew Gruszewski

Letter written to my mom from a gentleman in Paris, France, a year after the Jesus tortilla was discovered by my mom.

Tonight, I skimmed through old pictures of mom, the Jesus tortilla and I, including a number of letters that my mom has saved, written to her by people from all over, in the last 37 years.

Interestingly enough, it’s not the letters from random strangers that gets to me, so much as it’s how a few of these letters were addressed to my mom. For example, this particular letter, pictured on the left, doesn’t even include our real physical address. Instead, the letter is addressed to Mrs. Maria Rubio, Lake Arthur, Southern New Mexico, USA. That’s it. No street number or street name. No P.O. Box. Just like that!

Isn’t that so interesting? I mean, I know Lake Arthur is small but…

(As you can tell, even after 35 years of living alongside a pseudo-famous religious artifact, I’ve managed, instead, to have my mind blown by the way the United State Postal Service functioned in 1978.)

Ok. The letter.  Who did it come from and what did it say?

The letter was written and sent by an Andrew Gruszewski, who in 1978 was residing in Paris, France! (How we managed to get this letter is beyond me) 

Ok…moving on.

Mr. Gruszewski, who was living in Paris, France in 1978, just one year after the discovery of the Jesus tortilla, wrote a letter to my mom, letting her know that he, “totally believed strongly in this miracle.” He does not make mention as to how he found out about my mom and the Jesus tortilla, unfortunately.  However, he does go on to say the following:

“I have one request for you, Mrs. Rubio. Please pray in front of the miraculous image of Jesus on a tortilla and that Jesus Christ helps me in finding a job which could permit me to arrange and to put in order my personal and professional situations. Let Jesus Christ give the health for me and for my family and the possibility to see my closest family in Poland. Please pray for me.”

Incredible. This man, who might possibly be a Polish immigrant living in France, in 1978, has written a letter to my mom asking her to pray for him and his family.

I’d love to locate Mr. Gruszewski. I’d love to talk to him and ask him questions about where he heard about my mom and what compelled him to write to her so long ago. I mean, yes…he needed a job and yes, he wanted to see his family in Poland. But this man, living in Paris, France, heard about my mom who lived in this very small town in little Lake Arthur, New Mexico, and is asking her to pray for him.

What might have happened to Andrew?

My mom, Maria, inside the capilla where the shrine of the Jesus tortilla was kept. In the background, you see pictures and charms left by many who were looking to be healed from whatever illness, difficulty, etc, they were facing.

I do not think that my mom, Maria, clearly understands the magnitude of how important this Jesus tortilla was to a lot of people around the world. Heck, I’m even having a hard time conceptualizing the importance and the Jesus tortilla and I practically grew up together.  I actually started this post more impressed on how United States Postal Service managed to get a piece of mail to us with such a generic address.

But Andrew Gruszewski, a man living 5,209 miles away, took the time to write my mom a letter, to ask her to pray for him.

I don’t know what this means. In fact, depending on who you are, there could be mixed reactions to all of this. Some would call this crazy, some will call it insane and then maybe others will call it…beautiful, interesting, unique.

What I find wonderful is that someone in the world thought my mom was special. I’ve always grown up knowing that my mom was great, but I’m her daughter. I’m supposed to believe this. But there have been countless Andrew Gruszewski’s who have come to learn about my mom, have reached out to her and have come to believe how special she is, sometime without ever meeting her.

The Jesus tortilla, despite it’s reputation of being weird and funny and…well, you name it, has also brought some much needed love to my mom, something she yet has come to comprehend. Although she may not or may never know it or understand it, I am beginning to and maybe that’s the whole point.

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A Night Off Looks Like This.

IMG_1017Check back tomorrow.

I will be returning with more of The Tortilla Kid.

For now, I must do what I do best.

Sleep.

(I take after my dad)

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Please Send Me A Sign. Amen.

Winona Ryder as Charlotte Flax in the 1990 movie, Mermaids.

I love movies. Like a lot. However, I’m not one of those movie snobs who just watches for the purpose of debating about whether the director accomplished what she/he set out to do or if the movie’s theme was a metaphor for something. I watch movies for pure enjoyment and entertainment. A good movie has really great characters, people I can connect with or relate to.

When I was about 12 years old, my mom and I were at the K-mart in Artesia, New Mexico. I was walking the aisles of the movie section when I saw a VHS of Mermaids, up for sale. I had absolutely no idea what this movie was about, other than what I had read on the back of the sleeve. But I knew I had to have it. I begged my mom to buy me this movie, probably to the point of humiliating her in this public space. My poor mom. Here she was already having to deal with cashiers who didn’t speak Spanish and her 12 year old translator is having a meltdown in the middle of K-mart.

She caved.

As soon as I got home, I unwrapped the plastic from the tape, removed that stupid and unnecessary sticky, green label that connected the tape to the sleeve, slid the tape out of the box and popped the VHS into our VCR and pressed play. Sitting on the raggedy, brown coffee table, right in front of our television, I remember the opening credits and the voice of Charlotte Flax,

“My sister Kate learned to swim when most babies were still gnawing the side of their playpens. I adore her, everyone does. The day she was born I wanted to name her after St. Gobnait, the virgin beekeeper, but mother…Mrs. Flax, thought I was a little peculiar. I don’t agree.”

 

Then. It went straight to this song, which I’d sing out loud. Everywhere I went. Even in public. With absolutely no shame.

 

Yeah. I did that. I might still do that.

Sidenote: this may have been an inappropriate movie for a 12 year old, but Charlotte prayed a lot to God, so that cancelled out the bad stuff. 

Winona Ryder’s character, Charlotte Flax, may be the only character I have ever identified with, especially at that young age and heading into my teenage years. Charlotte was confused about a lot of things; including kissing, for example, which she thought led to pregnancy. She struggled with who she was and her identity and seemed to fall in love a lot. That. Was. Me.  Although my mom had absolutely nothing in common with Charlotte’s mom, Cher’s character, Mrs. Flax, there are instances in the movie in which their relationship parallels that of mine and my mom’s back in the day.

Mom and I, circa 1984 maybe? At just 5 years old, it’s apparent that teenage years would be interesting for my mom.

After she returns home, just days after attempting to run away (I never got as far as the capilla of the Jesus tortilla), Mrs. Flax tells Charlotte, “You weren’t born with a book of instructions!” She goes on, urging Charlotte to tell her what is wrong with her so she can help her. Charlotte remains silent.

For much of my early teenage years, I too, was silent. I also wore a lot of black, yet stylish clothes, was super moody and believed that the entire community of Lake Arthur, New Mexico, including my really good friends (who I’d known since I was four), did not understand who I was and never would. I was quite a peculiar person.

Perhaps we’re all like that growing up. But Charlotte’s mom was right. Children aren’t born with a book of instructions and that’s clearly true when it came to my parents, specifically my mom, who worked really hard to try to figure me out. Even at the ripe old age of 35, she’s still trying to figure me out.

Just look at the picture above. She literally had to pull me from my ears.

 

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Don’t Do Anything I Wouldn’t Do! Or Don’t Do Anything I Would!

Mom and I and the capilla

Mom and I, circa 1989. This is the capilla that was built outside, in front of our home, for the Jesus tortilla.

Today was a tough day, personally. I knew it would be as soon as I woke up this morning. Periodically, I can sense when I will have days like this and I’m able to manage it. Then I wonder,

Is this what mom felt back then?  

Although I generally have a cheerful disposition and try to exhume positive energy into the world, there are days like today, that make those characteristics and feelings almost impossible.

Is this what mom felt back then?  

When I found this picture this morning, I realized that I don’t remember those days in which I’m pictured with my mom and the tortilla.  In fact, I’m beginning to realize that perhaps I’m not supposed to remember those days because if they were tough on my mom, they must have been tough on me as well.

Days like today are a constant reminder of what depression may have felt like for my mom back then.  I could be wrong. Last time I checked, I was not a doctor. Maybe people do have off days. This afternoon, I went out and bought some books to read. That always helps. Tonight, I went out to see a movie alone, which is one of my favorite things to do.

I have outlets. My mom did not.

As I end the evening writing this post, I can’t help but stare at the young girl pictured above, wearing that pink dress, blue and white pin striped horizontal stripes above the waist and blue and white pin striped vertical stripes below the waist.

That I do remember.

You can only see the back of my head, looking directly at my mom. My mom’s expression is perhaps a clue to how low she must have been feeling on that particular day.  There I am, such a young kid, staring at her and wanting to take care of her.

 

 

 

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I Don’t Eat Tortilla’s But I’ll Keep An Eye On My Potato Chips.

The title to this blog post is funny, because when my sister, Rosy and my Mom were on Donahue, back in the late 1990s (still trying to find the video) there was always an opportunity for the audience to ask questions at the end of the show. During that time, all you see is Phil Donahue running around the place, trying to give the mic to whomever is about to comment or ask questions to those on stage. There is this moment on the show, that I will always remember where a young woman gets up, grabs the mic from Phil, looks right at my sister and my mom and says, “I don’t eat tortilla’s, but I’ll keep an eye out on my potato chips.” And then, she winks!  I remember watching from home and as a teenager, being completed infuriated and yes, humiliated.

But more on that another time.

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My cousin, Michael, photobombing the Jesus tortilla with his ketchup and cheese quesadilla.

Friday morning as I had breakfast with a friend, she mentioned an unusual love of tortilla’s. Unusual because she’s an Italian young woman from New York, who now lives in New Mexico. The way she described this love affair with the tortilla made my dad’s seem like his didn’t mean anything.

It’s quite remarkable what a staple in Mexican cuisine can do to a person. But then again, the tortilla is pretty versatile. I mean, you can eat it with just about anything. Check out my cousin, Michael, pictured on the right. His love of the tortilla included a large dollop of ketchup and sliced cheese. Ew.

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My dad eating falafel with a tortilla and jalapeño.

Then there is my dad, who has experimented with the tortilla in many ways. As my father becomes more “Americanized,” this fusion of Mexican traditional staples like the tortilla, with meals such as pizza, for example, become rather, well…interesting.

Yes. My dad actually put a slice of pizza inside a tortilla and ate it as the filling.  Here on the left, for example, is one of my favorites. I love to cook and usually treat my parents to some new foreign cuisines.  On this particular evening, I decided to make falafel for the first time. My dad decided to eat the falafel with a flour tortilla…and a jalapeño. Close enough to a wrap, I suppose.

The reason I share all of this is because there was no other food item that Jesus could have possibly appeared, other than a tortilla. The tortilla holds a special place in my family’s cooking. My mom not only made the best tortilla’s, but it was something you grow up having to learn to perfect. Furthermore, the tortilla is such a big part of our culture and who we are as a people.

In an Albuquerque Journal Magazine article from December 22, 1987, Toby Smith writes,

“many guests asked Maria about the face in the tortilla. A solemn-looking woman, dark-haired and hearty, Maria Rubio turned away no questioners, regardless of the hour. Smiling faintly, she explained in Spanish that the face was a message from God that he cared. God had delivered the message, Maria said, on a traditional piece of food so that people in predominantly Hispanic Lake Arthur could relate to the meaning of that message. “

ABQ Journal Magazine 12:22:1987

Mom and Dad, ABQ Journal Magazine, December 22, 1987.

Sharing stories about how my dad, or even my cousin Michael, enjoyed eating tortillas, demonstrates a correlation between the kind of nourishment this staple provides to many in our community and the spiritual nourishment my parents sought during the period of time in which the Jesus tortilla was discovered. I don’t know what would have happened had it appeared in a different form, but it was as if this was meant to be…at least for my mom and dad.

The Jesus tortilla can be a funny and quirky story, told by Hollywood over and over again. I’m happy that it’s brought so much pleasure and laughter to many throughout the years. I mean, sometimes we need a good laugh, right? But my intention is to share with you the many experiences that came from growing up in this family and how blessed we have been, regardless of how embarrassing it might have been for me as a young kid. My mom and dad pictured here, over twenty five years ago, provides me with so much comfort. Because it was a time in which so much good had happened and yet so much more to come.

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