Tracing the Layers Underneath Me


Honduras-HeritageI‘ve been digging deep into my veins, trying to figure out what flows there. Like an archaeologist scouring for bones, fragments of ancient pottery, and hidden treasures–anything that might reveal something about a place or a person–I’m searching myself, trying to uncover the history that circulates underneath my skin.

What is in the layers that form me and what is under those layers? I’ve been reading about lineage, roots and heritage.

With the slow and gentle passing of time, I’ve set out to trace the layers underneath, to locate the seeds that gave life to my own story. What and who and how was the foundation over which I stand today built?

In her book In the Sanctuary of Women Jan L. Richardson asks, “How does where you are from help you understand who you are? What has carved your path? What holds your roots?”

She writes,

May you know the hidden stories
of your life, your lineage, your tradition.
May you look into the layers
With courage and imagination
Among the gaps and absences,
The traces and fragments,
May you find stories to create anew.

I remember when my mother would say to my brothers and I, “Copy the best of us and ignore the rest.” She wanted us to be ourselves, to take the best of us and the best of them and to build a new layer on top of their foundation–to create anew, write our own stories, and leave behind the fragments that might damage or cause our new tier to crumble.

Our heritage, culture and stories are important to us because we carry them with us wherever we go.

James and I are in transit again, our lives packed into six large hockey bags. When we traveled to Honduras to say goodbye to my family before venturing across the ocean, we received impromptu dancing lessons from cousins and aunts. We learned how to make cheese and ride horses. My mother and I made family recipes together, and I wrote down some of my grandmother’s signature dishes.

This is important because James and I talk a lot about having children, and because we are of so many places–we pull the world together, we spread ourselves out–I want our children to know their lineage, their traditions and roots. I want to teach them about my home in the valley that rests underneath the blue mountains. I want to show them how to make frijoles fritos. I want them to learn the names of those who came before them.

Las-Calles-HeritageTogether we’ll trace the maps with our fingers and mark the places from where we come, and connect the dots. I want them to remember that there are special places for them in this world, places where they belong, where family awaits with a warm embrace and a cup of tea and biscuits, or coffee and rosquillas.

If God blesses me with a daughter, I want her to know the women in her life: those who carved out paths in the wilderness and left behind footprints for her to follow. We come from a strong line of women. We are not imposing, but we do have gentle influence. The women from my father’s side can be passionate and loud when it matters. We find ways to be heard. We know how to celebrate life, and we love ceremonies and tradition.

My mother’s family are nurturers. We show love by acts of service, and we give of ourselves without holding back. We are generous with our time. We are loyal and ready to defend those we love. We enjoy the company of our loved ones. We cherish the moments shared in silence because we value presence. We are soft spoken, but our voices matter. We are determined, strong and opinionated.

Choluteca-Montanas-AzulesAppalachian poet George Ella Lyon invites us to reflect on our roots in her poem “Where I’m From.” I want to paint my own image for the generations that come after me.

In me many different worlds collide
I am from struggle and an inherited provision
From land and cows and cheese.
My roots stretch far across the ocean,
But they are planted in the valley surrounded by the blue mountains
I am from hammocks and rocking chairs in corridors
And afternoon cups of freshly brewed mountain coffee
In Mamaya’s house where we marked and blessed so many new beginnings,
Where we celebrated Christmas and birthdays and I announced my marriage.
I am from pine sol on red tiles, scorching sun, clothes lines,
Layers of orange dust that clings to your skin,
Here jicaro and acacia trees grow
We have frijoles and tortillas for breakfast and supper
And we snack on lemons with salt and pepper.
In me red and blue collide–I am purple.
I am from jungle and dessert and beach
From a place where oceans meet.
I am from a deeply entrenched faith
Of prayer books, maracas, and sisterhood,
Where I don’t walk alone,
I have hands to hold onto and shoulders to lean on–I am of family.
I am from an adobe house
Where my father and brother make cheese
Our home–where there is a symphony of pots and pans during a rainstorm
and we once all shared a squeaky mattress
Where the family gathered during the worst of Hurricane Mitch
And we played cards under the candlelight
I am of women who knock on doors with food baskets
And feed the hungry children on the streets
Who value presence and service,
Who are nurturing and loyal like mother bears,
They are not aggressive, but they have gentle influence,
They are soft spoken, but when together
Their laughter is like the roar of the Pulhapanzak falls.
They have gone before me
These are the footprints that I follow,
These are the layers under my skin.

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