I have always appreciated being born of a Puerto Rican mother and an American father. It’s been wonderful to experience and learn from their cultural differences, although I’ve always felt closer to my mother’s side of the family. We spent most of our holidays with them. Their apartment was tiny, yet there was always room for everyone. On the other hand I remember my paternal grandmother often saying of her bigger place, “the house is too small for all of us to fit”.
The level of cariño given by each side of the family was different—let me explain how. My American grandmother’s kisses were always “air kisses”, with her cheek pressed against ours, while my abuelita showered us with besitos and she always gave us her bendición. And her cuentos were the best. They weren’t stories she read out of some book; they were “our” stories, passed on from generation to generation. These life-changing lessons served as examples to us not repeat the same mistakes as our elders, and they taught us to appreciate what we had, instead of focusing on what we lacked in life.
Of the many cuentos my abuelita shared, one that really stuck with me was about her being a young woman enduring difficult times. She had to work in a factory alongside my abuelito. The little money they earned allowed them to eat meat for dinner on Saturdays, as a special treat. Looking up at her face as she told her cuento, I knew she was reliving it. She explained that when she grew older and was able to eat meat regularly, she grew even more appreciative of what she had and better understood her hardships as a young woman. In her old age, she didn’t take any meal for granted. She would only serve herself the amount she knew she was going to eat. Nothing was ever wasted.
By sharing her life through cuentos, my abuelita’s past became a part of my present. I’ve always been grateful for what I have, but her stories made me realize that I grew up with so many more opportunities than she did. Life wasn’t always so kind to her, but she was a fighter.
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Now I am a mother of two boys, and my life is different from my abuelita’s. I still keep her cuentos close to my heart. My family is blessed to have a meal on the table every night. Our kids know that many others are not as fortunate as they are. Holidays come and go, and I am thankful that my boys don’t get caught up in begging for toys or focusing on how many presents they get. They know there are children who don’t get any presents. Children who don’t have enough to eat. Children who can’t buy new clothes.
My abuelita’s cuentos helped me get through the toughest times of my life and also celebrate my proudest moments. Now, I tell her stories to my sons, as I hope they in turn will tell them to their children. Abuelita’s voice and legacy will live on, through her cuentos long after I, too, am gone.