The smell of the blue colored Mistolin reminds me of Saturday morning cartoons, dry frosted flakes in my bowl, legs up as my cousins and I sat on the couch for what seemed like an eternity. Abuela was cleaning the floor and we needed to wait until it was dry before our feet could touch the ground again. She would not allow us to ruin her work and she was not waiting until our parents picked us up so that she could do her work. We respected when our grandmother cleaned because she took it very seriously. Her floors were pristine; we could eat our dry ‘confle’ off of it, practice our moonwalk in our bleached white socks (which we did often) and still not disappoint Mami, slide across the floor “surfing” in California like Zack Morris and crew did. She never stopped us because number 1, we were entertaining ourselves and staying out of her hair as she made 12 o’ clock feast, and number 2 she was confident her house was clean. She created the perfect situation for us and our mamas. It has always been her joy to teach us how to start cleaning and she believed that people would maintain their lives in tune with the upkeep of their private space (…and vice versa). Needless to say, spring cleaning happens 4 times a year in my house because we need to create a new positive space at the change of every season. That is the finest piece of psychology that has ever been worked on me.
I am a 23-yr old woman now. I identify as feminist and Latina, and cleaning is certainly not against my religion. It’s the talent I’m learning to perfect as I mold myself into a woman that respects herself, her morals and values, her spirituality, her ancestry, and her home. Contrary to popular belief, feminists are indeed women who want to be women. There is this huge misconception that feminists are only women, and that feminists put down men. I am a self-proclaimed feminist not because I witnessed men disrespect the women in my family, or because I refuse to play a woman’s “role” but rather because I was taught to respect the labor of creating home as equal to the work that brings money home. My grandmother never expressed disdain to being attached to the kitchen. She enjoyed cooking for her family, I enjoy the art of cooking for myself.
We are women who are proud of this domestic space that allows us to be innovative, and sometimes we are celebrated for it, in this place. I started cooking when I was 12 years old and it was not by choice or admiration of my grandmother. It was because my grandmother decided it was time I learned the craft of being a woman: white rice, red beans, sazon, and meat. She made me cook it all by myself and it was horrible, but it was worse for the rest of my family who had to eat my meal because she wasn’t saving anyone.
I recognize this rule as one my grandfather upheld. I do not recall ever hearing my grandfather disrespect my grandmother’s work; he would always make us eat what was placed on the table because it was the food she made. Even when she started cooking with less salt and cut rice and red meat from their diet, I don’t remember him fighting her. Abuela’s cooking bettered them, and they now enjoy great-grandchildren together. They taught me a marriage is partnership; man and woman recognize and respect each others contributions daily through their actions. In her eyes, women were in charge of keeping the family alive and creating harmony at home. Now this is an extremely large feat and I don’t think she is being too fair, but whether in the kitchen or not the mother ‘nurturer’ is an innate feature.
It is an art to exemplify nurture through domestic traits well, and I do not believe every woman has to perform these traits nor do I agree men are exempt from these talents. I write this piece to highlight that domestic work is neither demeaning nor subordinate work. I use the example of my family Matriarch because she is my inspiration. Because that was my example, I enjoy cooking for others (so long as they don’t insist I do it their way) and I enjoy cleaning my home. I want it to be a place of love, comfort, and peace …much like Abuela’s house was for me. She and I both share the same love and understanding of art. Where she had boleros blasting, I jam to the likes of Jill Scott and Ms. Keys for peace. Where she plays psychologist and shares her wisdom, I read books. Where she makes her infamous tea that cures every disease (as far as I’m convinced), I get inspired to write and bake pies. The kitchen is our meditation room. Every meal she made was to feed everyone she could, every time she cleaned it was so that her family could live comfortably in the confines of their home. She was in charge of creating home. When my grandfather and all my uncles came home from work, it was her pride to present them with café bustelo, seasoned with a hint of cinnamon; her added twist furthered her family’s enjoyment of her creations.
I sing the Spanish spirituals learned in church, just as she does when she cooks and cleans, and I have a slight obsession with mopping my floor. I share my art with myself and my roommate for now, but she has always taught me there is greatness in tradition and innumerable strength in a nurturer’s role.