Photo Commentary: It Was the Fashion

Photo Commentary: It Was the Fashion

Recently I was lucky enough to visit my Grandma Dora in El Paso, Texas. While I was there, we went through multiple photo albums and my abuela told me to take whatever photos I wanted. I’ll probably write more about my time in El Paso later because there is a lot to say. But for now, I pulled out some of my favorite photos of my family. Enjoy my commentary about some of the women I’m lucky enough to call my Abuelas.

Dora, 1955

We start off strong with a photo shoot. My Grandma Dora and her friends went out & took these pictures just for fun. There were way more than this too! I just took my favorites. Honestly, even at 15 years old my Abuela was way cooler than me. But my love for my cat eye glasses makes more sense now.

Dora, 1955

When I saw this picture, all my feminist ‘women can wear whatever they want’ energy left my brain and I said “Abuela! Who do you think you are with your short shorts and legs all out! Don’t you know you are someone’s grandmother!” To which, she laughed and said “well I wasn’t then.” She’s got me there.

Dora & Libby, 1957

This picture is of my Grandma Dora and her mother-in-law, my Great-Grandma Libby. You may remember Libby as the one who may or may not have hexed my great-grandfather Chico (read more here). I asked my Grandma Dora if she thought Abuela Libby really was a bruja who hexed Grandpa Chico. She responded something along the lines of “people are scared over nothing.” I guess you could say jury’s still out because that’s what I call not an answer.

1957

These are my great Tias (Cha-Cha & Bona) and my great grandma Libby. As if I didn’t already feel especially connected to my Abuela Libby–do you see that there seems to be a monstera plant in the background? I do not care to know if that was actually her plant or not. She has a picture with it. Close enough for me.

My Abuela Andrea. I love the joy in this picture. I’m pretty sure this was post Tequila Teeth (read that here).

My Grandma Dora, my great grandma Andrea, and then someone we can’t remember who it is–we think maybe a neighbor or friend. My Grandma Dora is already pretty petite like me, but this picture makes it so clear just how petite–no small, my Abuela Andrea was.

My Tia & Grandma Dora, 1988

Remember the not someone’s grandmother yet comment from window sill short shorts not yet-Grandma Dora? Well when this picture was taken, my abuela was someone’s grandmother. But she’s still looking good in a tube top. “It was the fashion,” she said.

My Tia, grandma Dora, & my Dad, 1988

Me: “Dad, who do you think you are wearing those hoochie daddy shorts??”
My Dad: “It was the fashion.”
Sound familiar? I know where he got that reasoning from. My Tia was an actual model. No matter what she wears in a picture, I never question it. It was quite literally the fashion.

Are You a Good Witch or a Bad Witch?

Are You a Good Witch or a Bad Witch?

My great-grandmother Librada (Abuela Libby) was my Dad’s paternal grandmother. I’ve always found her intriguing and she left me wanting to know more about her than I could have answered on this side of humanity. Abuela Libby was (is) deeply connected to the spiritual world and I have a few stories of my own of feeling her presence guiding me that I’ll share one day. But this story isn’t about my personal connection with Abuela Libby.  

Abuela Libby

My Abuela Libby read tarot cards and she had a big following for doing this. When my Dad would visit her, there would often be cars in front of the house with 5-10 people waiting in the living room to have their cards read by her. She must have been gifted to always have people wanting her readings. To some people, this practice makes her a witch. A bruja. But I know that descriptor makes some people uncomfortable–and some of my family members may not like me calling Abuela Libby a bruja. All I’m saying is that she read tarot cards… among other things that brujas might do.

My Dad had started to learn from Abuela Libby the art of being spiritually connected in order to read tarot cards. However, my grandparents didn’t really approve of this. Witchcraft or brujería can carry negative connotations for people. Often, this understanding is less because someone doesn’t believe in it, but rather, because they do. They know that brujeria has the ability to hold and wield power. That is what this story is actually about. 

My great-grandfather Chico was married to Abuela Libby. They were divorced and he remarried. After Abuelo Chico and Abuela Libby divorced, Abuelo Chico was scared of Abuela Libby. Like reading tarot cards, hexing was also among other things that brujas might do that my Abuela Libby also did… allegedly. Abuela Chico said she had put a hex on him. You know–like a curse. He never really explain the specifics around the hex but there were a lot of things he wouldn’t do because of it apparently. It must have held at least some power to him. 

Abuelo Chico’s new wife, Angie, was also afraid of this hex. Angie worried about her daughter, my Dad’s Tía Cecelia. They thought Cecelia would get taken by Libby in the middle of the night. No information was provided on how or what the hex would do that would make this possible, but the potential of my Abuela Libby’s brujería was believed deeply. Angie would sleep during the day and stay up at night just to ensure the hex couldn’t be fulfilled and Cecelia wouldn’t be taken by Libby. 

This hold of the hex lasted until Abuela Libby’s death, twenty two years after the birth of Tía Cecelia. The day that Abuela Libby died, Abuelo Chico said he felt a sense of relief wash over him. Like something was gone. Something had been lifted. They could now sleep. 

Is Abuela Libby a good witch or a bad witch? The most correct answer to this is that Abuela Libby is my great-grandmother.

Friend or Foe: Fire Ants

Friend or Foe: Fire Ants

My Dad and one of his younger sisters, my Tia Betty, are about 4 years apart. She always wanted to be where he was—as a little sister does. One day, when my Dad was about 8 years old and my Tia Betty was about 4 years old, he decided he would convince her to give him some space by playing what he thought would be a small prank.

They were playing around an irrigation ditch where there was also a mound of dirt. Just your average child’s playground.

Manny (my Dad), Patsy, & Betty, circa 1966

My Dad decided that they would play a follow-the-leader type game, and he convinced my Tia Betty to stand practically on top of this mound of dirt. First, he had her clap. Easy game and my Tia Betty was just happy to be included. Next, he told her to stomp. 

What my Dad left out of his explanation of this game was that this mound of dirt also was home to a fire ant colony. So, when my Tia Betty started to stomp, she disturbed the now-very-angry fire ants. They stormed out of their ant colony and did not hold back their anger at her. 

By the time my Tia Betty realized what was happening, she was already covered in fire ants biting every surface of her skin. Trapped in her clothes. Head to toe. Fire ants. Biting. 

Around this same time my Dad realized just exactly what he had caused. But it was too late. He didn’t mean for her to be covered in fire ants. He thought just a few would come out to scare her. He didn’t anticipate that the entire ant colony would be participating in his prank.

My Abuela Dora came out when she heard my Tia Betty’s screams of pain. Thinking quickly, she grabbed her daughter and threw her in the shower to get all the ants off and soothe her bites. Needless to say, my Dad got in a lot of trouble. So much trouble, he didn’t even remember this story until years later. 

Fire ants show up more than once in my family’s history though. While my dad used fire ants to try to get rid of a little sister, his Abuelo Nicholas used them to survive. 

Nicholas (left) & friend

Abuelo Nicholas was originally born in Chihuahua, Mexico in 1898. When he was 17, he made the journey to El Paso, Texas. He hitchhiked and he walked, which meant that part of this journey required him to walk through the desert. My great Tia told my dad that these trips could be extremely dangerous for many reasons, one reason being the coyotes. They’d be hard to avoid if you were traveling across the desert at night without a place to stay and they could certainly attack. But Abuelo Nicholas was never attacked. Instead of using fire ants to get rid of a little sister, Abuelo Nicholas befriended the fire ants. Well, he at least had an understanding with them. 

Coyotes won’t go near fire ant colonies. Apparently, Abuelo Nicholas knew this too. So at night, Abuelo Nicholas would gently lay on or very close to a fire ant colony. They wouldn’t bother him at night–at least that’s how the story goes. Then, in the morning, Abuelo Nicholas would know to wake up when a few of those fire ants would bite him awake. They could only have an understanding with each other until morning. 

Throughout my family’s history, something as small as fire ants have continued to shape us. Whether by allowing my great Abuelo Nicholas to sleep on his journey to Texas or by teaching my Dad to be a little nicer to his sister, they have found a way to be in our story.

Abuela’s Advice: Curing Serrano Hands

Abuela’s Advice: Curing Serrano Hands

In the summer of 2020, I was making enchiladas like I often do. I went through my normal methods to prepare them which included cutting serrano peppers. I know you’re supposed to wear gloves when cutting peppers, but I’m Mexican-American. You know that stereotype about Mexican women flipping tortillas with their bare hands? It’s rooted in truth. I stir vegetables cooking on a hot pan with my fingertips. So why would I need gloves to cut peppers? Sure, I’ll wash my hands after cutting peppers, but gloves? That’s for the weak. But on this summer day in 2020, I was weaker than the serrano peppers. 

While I was cooking, my hands started to burn. I had cut the serranos a few minutes prior and at first, I thought maybe my hands burned from touching the hot pan so I didn’t think much of it. Eventually though, it became unbearable and I had already washed my hands multiple times. So, I did what any normal twenty-something would do. I called my Dad. 

But he didn’t know what to do either. He probably told me I should have worn gloves. Too late. He did suggest that I should probably call my Grandma Dora though. And as any good Tejana Abuela would do, she first kindly scolded me for not being more careful. Then she made it very clear that I was under no circumstances to use butter. That would make everything worse. I didn’t tell her that I had already used milk. They’re both dairy products so maybe the reason I wasn’t supposed to use butter applies to milk too. I didn’t want to risk the lecture. 

Abuela’s cure

Her advice was to soak my hands in water and ice. This at the very least felt good, but when I’d take my hands out of the water, they’d still burn. So it didn’t actually take away the burning completely. I tried a lot of different suggestions but various methods only made the burning less painful for a few minutes and didn’t cure my burning hands. It took over 6 hours for my hands to not need an ice bath to function. The burning didn’t stop completely until the next day.

In case you ever burn your hands with serrano peppers, here’s my review on all the various methods that my Dad, Abuela, & the internet suggested from least helpful to most helpful:

5. Vegetable oil: It did nothing and honestly my hands just felt worse after

4. Baking soda & water paste: This probably did help the most in the long run, but there was no instant relief so I struggled to actually keep it on my hands

3. Rubbing alcohol: A bit of a disclaimer. The rubbing alcohol I used had been expired for 4 years. It may have helped, but there was no instant relief

2. Milk: This was the first thing I tried so admittedly, it may have set the pepper oils in my hands and therefore could be the reason my hands burned for so long… but neither here no there, it was cold so it felt good. 

1. Ice water: This felt the best. Your hands can’t hurt if they’re numb.

As it turns out, my grandma Dora misunderstood how I had burned my hands. She thought I burned them on the stove while cooking the peppers, not from cutting the peppers themselves. Despite the misunderstanding, water and ice still did work the best. So, Abuela was right. Even when Abuela’s aren’t right… they are right.

I still don’t wear gloves while cutting serranos. I think this experience helped build up my tolerance honestly. I’ll be stronger than the serrano. And if I’m not… I’ll just call my Abuela again.

My Abuela Dora, 1957
The Science Experiment

The Science Experiment

In 1973, my Dad lived in a more rural area outside of El Paso, Texas. This meant some people had outhouses rather than indoor plumbing. My Dad and his friend Roberto were always told that people shouldn’t smoke when they’re near the outhouse. This was because if you smoke, it’ll make all the farts in the outhouse explode. To these early teen boys, this was enough to pique their interest. 

How could farts make an outhouse explode? Was it just an old folklore like La Llorona made to scare them or would something actually happen if there was a fire near an outhouse? The best way to determine if this was fact or fiction was to try it for themselves. So, they conducted a science experiment. 

Roberto made sure to eat a lot of beans the day before and that day. Around noon they were ready to test out this folklore. Roberto felt that particular rumble in his stomach, so he bent over, looking back between his legs while my Dad lit the match and held it close to Roberto’s butt. Roberto let out a big fart and sure enough, a huge flame came out. My Dad jumped back and probably would have had his eyebrows burned off if he hadn’t. Roberto and my Dad laughed harder and longer than they could have imagined. 

Manuel Patiño, my dad, 1976. Two years after this science experiment

Their science experiment was complete. Farts will, in fact, catch on fire.

Surprisingly, Roberto did not end up becoming a scientist. Instead, he became a priest.