Pollo guisado. Tender chicken. Creamy potatoes and carrots. Cooked low and slow. Served alongside rice and avocados. A warmth that sticks to your bones on a cold winter night. A classic Puerto Rican meal that I crave on these kinds of nights. A taste of home that is not confined to a place, but a feeling. A feeling a love in every bite.
The only COVID wedding I attended in 2020 was the wedding of two friends — one who is Colombian and one who is Mexirican or Borimex (as he always says in his intros). My friend who is Colombian is on a mission to learn to cook Puerto Rican food. So, last week we did a cooking lesson of sofrito (peppers, onions, garlic, and culantro or cilantro — the essential base of all Puerto Rican cooking) and pollo guisado.
As we cooked together, I shared stories of watching my abuela make pollo guisado, of making sofrito with my mom, and of some of my remixes. Each of these stories felt like a teleportation to another time, to other moments of cooking with women who came before me. Each generation adds their own special touches to this essential ingredient and this classic Puerto Rican meal. A meal that regardless of the remixes still tastes like home.
As a 2nd generation Latina Puerto Rican born in Bridgeport, CT, moved to Boston, MA until I was 7, and raised in the suburbs of Florida until I returned back to Boston in 2008, living between generations has come with great complexities. I’m not Latina enough. I’m not Puerto Rican enough. I’m too light-skinned. My last name is French. I grew up playing the violin in a performing arts school. I never spoke Spanish out loud, but could understand every word spoken to me. Or every word spoken about me by those who assumed the blanquita could not understand.
Even before I was fully conscious of this in between — ni de aqui ni de alla — space, I resonated with Edward James Olmos in Selena when he said: “We gotta be more Mexican than the Mexicans and more American than the Americans. It’s exhausting.” In my adolescent years, that phrase replayed in my head like a broken record.
My in-between identity as a 2nd generation Latina Puerto Rican born in Bridgeport, CT, moved to Boston, MA until I was 7, and raised in the suburbs of Florida until I returned back to Boston in 2008 has evolved. There have been moments when I have not fully felt at home in this body — not enough to be contained in what these labels hold.
For so long, I thought I was failing at being Latina. I was in my mid-twenties, standing in an elevator, when someone — who knew I was Puerto Rican — got on to the elevator and said to the person she was with in Spanish: “Look at her shoes, she would wear shoes like that, she’s so white.” I was wearing TOMS. When they got off the elevator, a tear rolled quickly out of my eye, wondering what makes TOMS “so white” and why it felt like I would never be enough.
Living in between generations invites us to deconstruct the ideas that knowingly or unknowingly have been imposed on us as a means to force us to assimilate. Ironically, whether we are assimilating to the colonizers overtly White, patriarchal, and capitalistic constructs or to the colonized subvertly White, patriarchal, and capitalistic constructs, both constructs trap us.
The same comments that led me to believe I was not enough in the colonizer’s spaces were the same comments that led me to believe I was not enough in the colonized spaces. The same tactics used to question where I belonged have been used against me to conform to labels that did not fit me. Labels that did not feel like home.
In 2009, my law school was the most “progressive” and best “social justice” law school in the country. During my second year, I was sitting in a diversity, equity, and inclusion training — nearly a decade before these trainings became commonplace. They separated the group into people of color and White people. Not feeling like I fully belonged in either of these boxes, I went to the people of color group. There were 8 Black folx and 2 Latinx folx. The facilitator pulled me aside and asked me: “Sarah, are you in the right room?” “Yes” “But, wouldn’t you feel more comfortable with the White people group.” “No.”
But something that always feels like home – like I am where I belong – is sofrito and pollo guisado. The taste of sazon. The smell of garlic and oregano. The look of deep yellow orange that coats the white rice. The mixture of chicken falling apart and potatoes and carrots melting in my mouth. Home.
And while from one generation to the next, we have added different ways of pulling these ingredients together, the recipe lives on in our memories. The collective recipe holds us together in between generations.
I am learning to live in between generations as I have shifted from believing that life is a sprint or marathon to see life is a relay race. I’m learning to steward the present, honor the past, and build the future. To see myself as part of a greater story of mixes and remixes. To care for this present moment with all the intersecting parts of myself as a gift. To look with curiosity at the past and those who came before me to gain deeper insights and understanding. And to pull from those learnings and reimagine ways forward carrying the generations with me.
Living in between generations is a relay race. As a 2nd generation Latina, I have the opportunity to run this relay race in a way that leaves it greater for the next generations.
I’m still finding my voice in Spanish. My Spanish sounds more like the Salvadorans and Colombians who surround my present. I am thankful for my present surroundings, because my understanding of Latinidad has extended beyond the boxes that we construct about what being Latina/o enough means.
At these intersections of ethnicity and generations, I’ve been asked to conform more times than I can count. I’ve been asked to leave parts of myself outside the room. I’ve learned how to introduce myself — with my French last name — in ways that ensure people know I am 2nd generation Latina de Puerto Rico. There are moments when just an introduction can feel performative and forced, leaving me exhausted before an event or conversation has even begun.
But then I remember, living in between generations is a relay race. Sometimes stewarding the present means being uncomfortable, being exhausted, and being annoyed. Yet, I’m deeply devoted to the hard work of deconstructing the constructs that try to hold us, so that I can hand the baton to the next generation. So that the ones who run after me can mix and remix recipes for living in between that taste like home. Where home is not a place, but a feeling in these bones, in this body, with this DNA.
I did not realize until a couple days later that cooking Puerto Rican food with my Colombian friend was such a gift. I’ve known her since she was in 7th grade. I was her youth pastor. I have traveled the country with her. I have jumped out of planes with her. I have shared countless moments of highs and lows. She is a first generation immigrant to the U.S. But interestingly as someone younger than me, she is the generation that I run for. She carries a piece of my abuela, my mom, and my second generation Latina Puerto Rican self with her. A remixed recipe of sofrito and pollo guisado that I hope she will continue to cook and remix and share with those who run after her.
- What is a moment when you have felt like you are not enough because of some part of your identity?
- What is a moment you’ve been asked to conform or assimilate some part of your identity to boxes and labels that didn’t fit you?
- What’s one way you can live in between the generations this week?