by Isabell Retamoza

Published Winter 2017

Making whole pinto beans makes me feel like the part of a ribbon that is closest to the edge.

Gently wash beans with warm water.

When I lived at home, to me, beans were comfort food. Warm, brown beans with bits of meat and onions mixed in. My father smiled a little bigger; my mother laughed a little harder; and we all sat a little closer at the table.

Pour beans in a large pot with twice as much water.

Like coins in a box—tithing to my ancestry.

Let beans soak until the beans touch the surface.

My mother taught me to make beans before I moved out. It was the last thing I needed to learn. I asked her to write the instructions down. She shook her head no. Why? I asked. Because, she sighed, making beans is a knowledge that is experienced and taught. Watch and listen, she said.

Once the beans rise to the surface, turn the pot to a low simmer.

Making beans grounds me. I feel my toes stretch out through the tile, concrete, and soil. I feel the women before me, who labored for my existence, who hold my feet, who run their hands up my legs and rest their hands gently on my hips and shoulders. I feel their small, tender fingers pull my hair down to my hips in braids with red and green ribbons.

Spoon out the foam that floats to the top.

I spent my childhood in Oaxaca. Our house had a warm orange light that swarmed through the cracks in the curtains that shined in people’s brilliant golden eyes. I walked to school everyday by myself in a navy blue skirt with a coarse button up shirt. I would scour the dirt looking for colorful bottle caps and use them to handcraft necklaces for all the women in my house.

Leave the lid off the pot.

Everything that was done in that house was loud; cooking, cleaning, talking, gossiping, dancing, eating, sleeping, fighting, drinking. The women rousted in the kitchen with their bright, ornate aprons and drank coffee out of miniature red mugs. We moved to Minneapolis when I was eight and everything got quiet.

Add hot water as needed.

Everyday I lose my language more and more. I feel counterfeit. I feel the fire from my ancestors kicking at my throat when I can’t find the words to communicate. I meet white people who speak better Spanish than me. My parents stopped speaking Spanish when we moved to the states. I lost it.

Add lard.

My father used to have long, thick, black hair. I remember breaking hair bands trying to wrap his hair more than twice. He cut his hair when we moved to the states. My mother used to wear chunky, gold earrings that shined through her hair. She stopped wearing those earrings when we moved to the states.

Add salt.

Being both Mexican and Native manifests a reflex of anger. Not anger in the traditional sense but a severe loyalty; an intense love. It is a red, hot aggression to be alive, to love, and to prove myself worthy of such blood. Blood that has been shed, shared, and consumed.

Test beans for color and tenderness.

Last summer, my father called me on my way home from work in San Diego. His words stumbled out quickly and loud. He hung up. His instructions were to head to the Jack in the Box a mile from the border fence between San Ysidro and Mexicali and find Manuel. I felt my hands slide and slip on the steering wheel from sweat. My father picked people up all the time. Our home was a safe house for many years. But I was never directly involved.  I took the twenty minute drive from downtown to the border and pulled into the Jack in the Box parking lot. I walked inside. Manuel and his wife Lucy were huddled in a corner with backpacks and orange dirt on their legs. I walked to the table and barely whispered, Estás Manuel? They barely nodded. I sat down. Dónde tienes que ir? I asked. Manuel handed me a torn piece of notebook paper, crumpled over and over again that it rubbed soft on my hands. I stood and turned to my car, motioning for them to do the same. Manuel grabbed his hat off the table and took hold of Lucy’s hand. I felt the little girl in the school uniform, the shades of women between her, and the woman with long braids interwoven with red and green ribbons. I felt all these women beat through me in full form like an exorcism. I want to go home, I thought. So do they, I said.