Today, in Northfield, MN, I led our multicultural cooking club and taught everyone how to make a Costa Rican “casado” (the national plate consisting of rice, beans, salad, fried plantains, and a meat choice – today we had fish). The group was small (lots of parents were chaperoning end-of-the-year school field trips), but it allowed those of us who were there to really spend some quality time together.
A year ago at this time, I was living in Costa Rica with my family -midway through the 5th month of our six-month stay. The experience was different for me than it was for my children and my husband. The kids were in school everyday, interacting with other kids and making lots of friends. My husband was working – and while he spent much of his time learning Spanish, he had natural opportunities to meet other scientists and academics. I was a stay-at-home, immigrant mom. It’s taken me nearly a year to really reflect on that experience and figure out just what it meant.
I think one of the major things it meant for me was that I felt somewhat isolated. I didn’t really have a natural way to meet other people. Yes, there were lots of parent meetings at the school (and I went – and while I speak Spanish I had no idea what was going on half the time), but they were not social gatherings. I did meet a few people through the baseball team my husband played on, but I was craving a connection based on my own interests – not his.
The two women I met with whom I felt the strongest connection, were completely different from each other. One was the mother of two classmates of my own kids. She was also an immigrant (from Guatemala) and was missing her own home. But we connected less about missing home and more about wanting to feel valued. She had an important job back in Guatemala – helping disabled children succeed in education – and missed having that as a part of her identity. The other woman I connected with was a domestic worker – cook, maid, etc. She spent many hours in our home cleaning for us, and then always took extra time to not only cook us a meal, but also teach me how to make it. We laughed through all of my mistakes and learned from each other with each new experience.
I certainly can’t speak to the immigrant experience here in the US, nor can I really claim to have a solid understanding of what it’s like to be an immigrant in Costa Rica (I knew I was only there temporarily). But I can speak to the experience of being somewhere new and feeling a little bit isolated. And for me, those feelings of isolation dissipated just a little when I was sharing good food or in the company of someone who valued me for me – or both!
My hope is that our work through Growing Up Healthy does the same kind of thing for those in our community who might be feeling isolated. The cooking club is specifically designed to help people connect over good food. And while helping someone feel valued – giving someone the opportunity to share a bit of who they really are – doesn’t have to happen in any formal setting (it can be over a cup of coffee, while pushing kids on swings at the park, or sharing a seat on the public bus), sometimes having a venue for connecting over common interests can be really helpful. Stay tuned for some opportunities to do just that over the summer.
In the mean time, I plan to enjoy the leftover black beans from today’s cooking club. Buen provecho!