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Does my guipil still fit?: A Reflection on observing Hispanic Heritage Month

Hispanic Heritage Month. I should write about it, but could I write about it? What should I write about it because what could I write about it?

I wrote a poem instead. I was supposed to edit that poem yesterday. What happened yesterday that deviated my words from the poem? I opened the closet door and looked more closely at boxes in the closet I began to clean a month ago. I had avoided the boxes and shifted towards washing old bedding and donating textbooks. My dad thoroughly enjoyed sifting through the plastic tubs of our childhood when given the opportunity. Somehow, I had still strained to deftly pick up the fondness and throw away the sharp, broken pieces that no longer serve me to make space for my own histories yet to uncover.

The boxes were the last vestige of clutter. Even inside the boxes, there’s scattered plastic and order. Discarded foot warmers and old school bags with holes. Religious artifacts and stuffed animals won at carnivals. Objects that still hold memory, but just as often the chaff of discarded parts, nails and melted Halloween masks amid Legos, naked dolls and board game pieces.

My one official recognition of Hispanic Heritage Month 2021 was a program I partnered to present at the local library. I spent the afternoon traveling to Latino owned businesses to gather prizes for a family program at a local library today. I paused too long to say thank you and take care. I switched into Spanish to explain my request with more detail and the boxes spilled from the closet all over the floor. I felt the warmth of instant coffee and my Quetzal of bread on a rainy Saturday afternoon. I inhaled the herbs of manzanilla tea sipped when things, inside and out, weren’t right. I sucked the chocolate from between my teeth put there by the choki cookie splurge. I stretched my cheeks around the fruits and vegetable roundness of tamarind and chayote unknown before adventures.

I remove my guipil from its place amid my sweaters and turn it right side out. The strings would curl and knot. I stored it inside out to protect from dust and sun, but those might be the least of its worries. I could never wash it in Wisconsin because the washing machine would wreck the woven figures. I pulled the opening over my head, remembering the dear man who sewed the three sections of woven cloth together.

As I drove to the event, I notice the tightness around my upper arms. I was ‘in shape’ while I was Guatemala, or at least I convinced myself that I watched my carbohydrate caloric intake enough to remain thin. Considering the stretch of the felt design around my biceps, and the stretch across my upper back, maybe my choices never made me particularly strong. Perhaps, pieces were missing.

Through the buzz of summer cracked car windows, I sensed my inhale of the reason I questioned writing about Hispanic Heritage Month. I quickly sneezed the answer in rapid fire, irritation. An allergic reaction to a tipping point of layered dust. I hadn’t sorted out my Guatemalan ‘closet’. I put everything inside, in boxes. The boxes were labeled things like, “What did you do there?” and “What did you like about living there?” But, inside the boxes, pieces for the varying playsets were incomplete.

Today, the day after the Hispanic Heritage Month program, I skimmed the final resource I had checked out for my current novel about lost Jewish identity in the American West. During the Inquisition, Sephardi Jews were often identified through their meal choices and cooking habits.

When I had recently visited my brother in Israel, he shared another question. “One of the relatives I talked to thought maybe Poppop came from Spain.”

“Not Austria nor Germany?”

“You know, he was very dark complected.”

Before I left the library program, my colleague had informed me of her tradition. “You know, when I do these multicultural programs, I go home and eat the food of the celebration.”

The interlibrary loan that I read last was a cookbook. “A Drizzle of Honey” professed its own difficulty translating past practice to a modern kitchen. Cooking too, was a struggle of overflowing boxes, inconvenient gaps. Forgetting. Omission. Leaving and coming home.

I turned my guipil inside out, trading the clipped ends for stars, flowers, and butterflies gifted to me by a friend’s always listening hands. I saw the brightly colored cement block facades along the streets and the stars of David painted in white. I had assumed them evangelical, Old Testament references as I had associated my grandfather’s tan I with Florida pools. The pasts could be the same past, one worn, but not unraveled narrative. Flavors and words caught on welcoming tongues.


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