In 1985, my mother received a call from a wrong number. When she answered, she had no idea that the man on the other end would be her husband and the father of her two daughters. It was that phone call that led to 33 years of marriage and a household full of culture.
The man on the other end of the line was from Kingston, Jamaica. When he was 16, he immigrated to the United States alone to attend college. He received a scholarship to run track at USC and ended up in LA
My parents are very proud of their culture. Since I was born, they have introduced me to traditional music, dishes and customs of their respective cultures. We might have rice and peas with curried chicken one night and tacos dorados de papa the next.
The holidays are always special because my family has had traditions for years. One of the most important traditions is eating and cooking together.
One of the most vivid memories I have of the holidays is making tamales with my mom and sister. The kitchen has always been a place of comfort where everyone can meet and feel comfortable. We were making our usual holiday tamales a few years ago when my mom ran out of chicken guisado. She found some leftover jerk chicken and started using it in the tamales.
It was one of the first times I saw my two cultures combined in one dish.
Jamaican and Mexican food are very different. The way the food is prepared is different, the spices are different and the flavors are not similar. But with these jerk chicken tamales, both cultures harmonized so well.
It got me thinking about how many parents have built households where both of their cultures and experiences are equally represented. As my mother prepared these new tamales, I felt a greater appreciation for my multicultural household and made me reflect on the obstacles that had to be overcome for it to exist.
It was a false call that led to months of phone conversations. This led to me secretly dating my mother’s family for five years.
My mother was the first person in her family to date someone who wasn’t also Latino. My grandparents did not accept my black father.
My grandparents often commented that my mother’s children would look different if she married a black man and that we wouldn’t fit in. They judged me even before I was born.
On Thanksgiving Day 1990, my mother and father were married. Although my mother was not supported by some family members, she walked down the aisle in a pink dress and exchanged vows with my father. Eventually my grandparents came around and changed their minds about their relationship.
As my mother made jerk chicken tamales, I thought about how I grew up in two very different cultures that always seemed to coexist so seamlessly at home.
Growing up, I was teased about my hair, the food I took to school, and the color of my skin. But being Mexican and Jamaican is one of my superpowers. When I was little and people would always ask me what ethnicity I was, I would say “JamMexican.”
I know it wasn’t always easy raising biracial children, but my parents always taught me to be proud of my ethnic background and the different heritages they have.
I don’t have to choose a side dish for the jerk chicken tamales since both cultures are equally represented.