Cocina Feliz (Happy Kitchen)

By Ivett Martinez '18

Artwork by artist Matt Nyce

Artwork by artist Matt Nyce

The intoxicating smell of chile guajillo embraces my senses as I walk through the door. The smoke rises up to be captured by the bubblegum pink ceilings that confine the richness of my culture. On the cast iron I watch years of powerful women rise as the corn dough completes its process and is now a tortilla ready to be eaten. It is not to say that these women are edible, but to highlight the process and work that occur inside her kitchen. My grandmother would never consider herself a “chef” due to the fact that what she creates in the kitchen is not for her own artistic purposes. They are to prevent those around her from experiencing the starvation she experienced as a child. There will never be a place in my life that could ever compare to my grandmother’s kitchen. There were specific smells and colors that I have not been able to successfully recreate.

There comes a time in every person’s life where we experience a moment of an identity crisis. It is challenging to live in-between two identities that have been constantly made to oppose each other. I am the border. My Mexican culture prevents me from truly being the normalized “American,” and my U.S. passport claims my body as a political entity. I would never be able to say truthfully that there is a territorial space that I consider to be home. My body escapes the land through the ideas of what I recognize as home.  As Rushdie states in The Wizard of Oz: “Over the Rainbow is, or out to be, the anthem of all the world’s migrants.” Migration runs through my blood and my ancestors have gone through decades of dreams that they dared to follow. My grandmother’s kitchen is an idea in my conception of reality, my grandmother’s kitchen is my home. A home that only exists in my memory and guides me as I cross new borders and exceed boundaries. In her kitchen she once told me the story about migrating to the U.S. for the sake of her children. She had been disappointed by men far too many times and finally decided to put herself in a state of vulnerability in order to have a better life for her and her children.

This profound story resonated with me when it came to my college search. I had the opportunity to study in a liberal arts college. Although many of the members in my family were against my decision to study across the country, I remembered not to be afraid to put myself in a space of vulnerability. This does not grant me a successful outcome with this form of migration, but now three years later I can say I have not regretted my decision. Being in a liberal arts college in Vermont has made me recognize the absence of my culture in these spaces, and has allowed me to understand it in a way that I would not have otherwise. It starts with the spicy smell of the chile guajillo.

This is an essay the author wrote for the class "The Scriptorium: Borders & Boundaries."