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“Meals Are Important, Maybe It’s Love” Mexicano Meals and Family When Janice DeHerrera said, “Meals are important, maybe it’s love,” she got to the heart of the meaning of Mexicano meals in Antonito— their role in fostering family attachments and values. Meals have long been recognized as significant spaces for the reproduction of family and culture. Several recent studies have noted a decline in U.S. family meals and significant negative correlations, particularly for children and adolescents, including poor nutrition, increased risk of substance abuse, lowered academic performance, and increased behavioral problems.1 The nineteen women I interviewed in Antonito did not give evidence of waning family meals but on the contrary asserted their continuing prevalence and offered interesting reasons for their importance. Meals were a significant forum for constructing family and gender, socializing children, expressing emotions, and enacting ideals of behavior for the changing world. 7 Counihan_2PP.indd 137 Counihan_2PP.indd 137 8/20/09 10:15:25 AM 8/20/09 10:15:25 AM A T O R T I L L A I S L I K E L I F E 138 Family in Antonito JANICE DEHERRERA ON FAMILY TIES VERSUS INDIVIDUAL AMBITION For Mexicanas in Antonito, the family was an extremely important social unit and the center of social relations in their small town. Forty-fiveyear -old Janice DeHerrera opined: Family is super-important because there’s nothing to do here. Everything is centered on raising your children. OK, in the white world, ambition is a very important thing; in this community it’s not, because family is important. So, for instance, you might say this kid has no ambition, he’s lazy, and you don’t understand why the parents don’t get this kid to work. Our reality is that if you push your kids to be geniuses and to work and to do things that are outstanding, that means that kid is going to leave, is going to leave the community. And family is so important that they don’t want their kids to leave, because what’s more important is to be around, to be close by, maybe working in Denver. But they’re not going to say, “H’ito, we want you to be a microbiologist and discover a cure for cancer, and we want you to live in Washington, DC, where we will only see you every two years, and we want you to marry someone from over there, and live your life over there.” We want you to be here; it’s really important, family is so important. Families in Antonito faced many of the stresses noted for Mexican American families across the United States, particularly poor educational opportunities, high unemployment, domestic strife, and lack of jobs.2 Most of my subjects lived in nuclear family households, but when they talked about family, they included paternal and maternal near and distant relatives across generations. Like those described by Vélez-Ibáñez (1996), Antonito families were important and flexible units of help with home repair, jobs, loans, and all kinds of problems. People cultivated broader affinal and consanguineal ties through food exchanges and ritual commensal events such as birthday parties, anniversaries, funeral dinners, and holidays. In these collective meals, women’s food preparation and distribution gave them an important role in preserving and transmitting Mexicano culture. Family was the basis of identification in Antonito, and countless times I heard adults address children immediately on meeting them, “Who are your parents? Who are your grandparents?” I heard many long converCounihan_2PP .indd 138 Counihan_2PP.indd 138 8/20/09 10:15:25 AM 8/20/09 10:15:25 AM 139 Mexicano Meals and Family sations between people defining their kin networks and relation to each other that went back several generations and included scores of named people. Janice said that on meeting someone new, people in Antonito proceeded as follows: “‘Have you met Janice?’ “‘Whose family is she from?’ That’s the first question. So they have your judgments about whether you are an OK family, and they always have that outlook.” Family signified people’s place in the community, their kin alliances, their heritage, and their value. Teddy Madrid said, “Family means security not just in the past and present but also in the future.” But families could also be sources of stress or conflict, as Ramona Valdez said: “There is more envy than unity in a lot of families.” TEDDY MADRID ON HER FATHER...


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MARC Record
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