Do you wish you could remember all the words to the childhood songs your grandmother taught you, so you could sing them to your children? Have you ever found yourself repeating the dichos, or proverbs, your parents used to lecture you with? If you are looking for a way to get back in touch with your culture, It's All in the Frijoles is the perfect start. A treasure trove of cherished folktales, lullabies, poems, and dichos, this rich collection of Latino wisdom includes inspiring recollections and anecdotes by well-known and beloved figures, both past and present from actor Edward James Olmos and author Isabel Allende to Nobel laureate Octavio Paz and Saint Teresa de Avila. It's All in the Frijoles is certain to evoke with fondness many a childhood memory of essential teachings learned from parents and grandparents, including:
El hombre debe ser feo, fuerte, y formal.
A man should be homely, hardy, and honorable.
El consejo de la mujer es poco y él que no lo agarra es loco.
The advice of a woman is very scarce and the person who does not heed it is crazy.
Pueblo dividido, pueblo vencido.
A people divided, a people conquered.
It's All in the Frijoles captures and perpetuates the essence of Latino tradition and is destined to become a family treasure that is passed down from generation to generation. This legacy of wisdom provides food for thought not only for Latinos but also for people of all other ethnic backgrounds.
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About the Author
Yolanda Nava is an Emmy Award-winning television journalist, newspaper columnist, educator, consultant, and community leader. The daughter of Mexican immigrants, she has balanced family responsibilities with a career and broad-based community service. She lives in Southern California.
Read an Excerpt
To raise children with strong moral values in today's topsy-turvy world, parents not just Latino parents need all the help they can get. "Blood is inherited," Mamá used to say, "but virtue is acquired." I really didn't fully understand this as a child but, the older I get, the more Mamá's words ring true. My own moral education at my mother's hands was unambiguous and direct. Her lessons for life were delivered firmly but lovingly.
My mother was a woman of tremendous character and spiritual strength. She was graceful and dignified, opinionated yet softspoken. Her wisdom was uttered in both beautiful Spanish dichos, proverbs, and in English, which she worked very hard to perfect. She read widely in her free time, and especially enjoyed the biographies of great men and women. A woman of modest means and limited formal education, she demonstrated that character has nothing to do with titles or wealth.
Born in Chihuahua, Mexico in 1909, Consuelo Chavira Sepulveda grew up in San Buenaventura in the home of her maternal grandfather. Her father was a carpenter and draftsman, a progressive thinker who left the revolution-torn country in 1914 to make a new life for his family in Arizona. There, he built twenty schools in the southern part of the state before moving his growing family to Los Angeles. Mamá survived La Revolución and, on this side of the border, the Great Depression. She worked most of her life as a fine seamstress, became a naturalized United States citizen, and went back to attain her high-school diploma in the evenings at Hollywood High School while in her forties after her seventeen-year marriage to my father ended in divorce. This was a time when she realized my precocious questions outran her eighth-grade education. She was prudent with her money and, as a reward, was able to pay off the mortgage on her home by the time she retired.
Mamá radiated what all Latinos recognize as educación, "good breeding." That quality of behaving in the world with good manners, dignity, and respeto, respect for others, ultimately begins within. Her parents had raised her well and, in turn, she saw it as her responsibility to pass these same teachings on to me, her only child. This she did with a good measure of discipline and love, all of it colored by her Mexican roots.
But it took her death to make me realize just how deeply she had influenced me, and how very important her lessons in living had been in shaping who I am. How appropriate it was that her last lesson should have been so simple on the surface, yet so profound; a final, offhand pronouncement whose real significance would initially elude me, while, at the same time, keeping me close to her even after she was gone.
What do you do when the one who gave you life, who soothed your fevers and dried your tears, who wept at your wedding, and helped welcome your children into the world, is diagnosed with a terminal illness? What do you do when the doctors give the petite woman you love and call Mamá only six weeks to live? I did what I instinctively knew to be the only thing I could do. Out of love and respect for her, I took her back to the home I grew up in and began a long, painful goodbye.
We spent many hours alone, the two of us, even though different family members and friends came and left, each paying their respects. I read her poetry, inspirational passages from the Bible, and the words of her spiritual guide, Mary Baker Eddy. From the moment I opened my eyes in the morning until they closed for what I hoped would be a good night's rest, I felt a compelling need to soak up as much of her as she could give. And I asked her questions which had been with me from childhood. Questions, about her life before I knew her, about her difficult marriage and divorce, about things done and not done. What did she think would happen when she died? About God? And the question that seemed most important: What was the source of her fortitude?
"What makes you so strong?" I asked her one afternoon as she lay in the big bed, the skin of her face pale even against the white of the sheets and of her nightgown. The end was drawing near. Her frailty was obvious now, reminding me daily how our roles had shifted. It was my hand that held the water glass, tucked in the sheets, and, most important, conjured up words of comfort until her dark eyes closed and her thin chest rose and fell in the orderly rhythm of sleep.
"What makes you so strong?" I asked again.
"Beans," she said. "Beans have made me strong."
Beans! ¡Frijoles! Was I to take her words literally? I laughed at her brief response, but I was also somewhat disappointed that she didn't leave me with a stronger message.
It wasn't until several months after her death, as I stood at the kitchen sink preparing frijoles de la olla, beans from a clay pot, that these words came back to me: Mamá took great care in washing and sorting her beans. After running water over the frijoles several times, she would spread the beans on a tray or large dish, then pick out and discard any imperfectly shaped, shriveled, or discolored beans. Each bean for her pot had to be a perfectly flawless pinto.
As I set aside all those less than perfect pintos, just as I had been taught to do as a child, I heard my mother telling me, her finger wagging, "¡Ten cuidado, mija! Pay attention! One bad bean can spoil the pot."
Frijoles de la olla is a simple dish: beans simmered with salt pork, onion, garlic, and bay leaf, seasoned with salt. But Mamá always prepared it with great care. As I prepared the beans in my own kitchen, with her beloved clay olla on the stove, I finally realized that her last lesson was not about the nutritional power of beans. It was about character.
"Character is everything," she always told me, speaking of the moral, ethical, and religious qualities that mold and sculpt who we are. Character traits such as honesty, responsibility, respect, and courage were among the virtues she admired in others and insisted upon in her own daughter, virtues she herself encompassed. From the moment of my birth, she had seen her duty as nothing less than to shape my character, and the virtues she taught me very quickly set me apart from many of my peers. She was saying that the virtuous life is the product of constantly weeding out flaws and weaknesses, and choosing right over wrong, just like preparing a good pot of beans.
Mamá believed perfection was not out of our reach if only we would aim for it, taking a small step each day toward expressing our inherent goodness. "Remember, mijita, God is in the details. God is in the pots and pans. In every small thing we do or say."
As I approach my middle years, with my two children growing into adulthood, I find that it is still my mother's steadfast values, reshaped in part by my own life experience, that I have passed on to my children. It is my mother's voice that I hear, her words that have framed solutions and provided healing during troubled times.
Throughout my working life, first as a teacher and youth counselor, then as a television news reporter/anchor, followed by several years as a communications and family-literacy consultant with the Los Angeles Unified School District, I have seen how the stresses of adjusting to life in this county affect many of the Latino families with whom I have come into contact. Most of these parents want nothing more than to give their children the same kind of moral, ethical, and religious direction they had growing up something to anchor them as they seek a better life. Yet, with each generation, the cultural and moral traditions of their own Hispanic heritage have become more foreign, the stories of elders forgotten. Sometimes, even the language is lost. The emphasis upon the building blocks of character las virtudes, the virtues is often ignored in the struggle to achieve economic security, producing a decline in the civil character of society. What societal factors are responsible for all of this? How is it that we increasingly fail to acknowledge and reinforce the wise teachings that nourish character? For me, the solution is in the symbolism of the frijoles. What I now want to do for other Latino parents is pass on the beautiful gifts my Mamá gave me to help them do the same for their own children.
In 1996, I wrote about my mother's deathbed wisdom in one of my weekly columns for the Eastern Group Publications. The column later became the basis for this book, as I realized that the virtues Mamá emphasized must be preserved as a precious part of our cultural heritage. I knew I needed to share this wisdom with others to nourish the best in all of us.
Like beans, which have been a staple of life for generations, giving nourishment throughout Europe and the Americas, I see las virtudes, the virtues, as part of the collective unconsciousness that has fueled great cultures, Indo-Hispanic and many others, for thousands of years. The riches and truths of this universal collective past are still with us today to give us strength and direction, if only we acknowledge, accept, and incorporate its wisdom into the conscious living of our present lives.
In the lore of our indigenous roots from the Olmecs, Incas, Mayans, Aztecs, and the mestizo peoples of the West and Southwest, I found the roots of our deep kinship with the earth, the ideals of stewardship and caretaking, an appreciation for education, and of a responsibility to something larger and more majestic than any single soul. From Spain came an exquisite language, a rich intellectual tradition, and the Christian religion, particularly Catholicism, which, out of necessity, adapted to and embraced the mysticism of the indigenous peoples of the Americas. Examples from the modern world, songs and poetry, childhood memories, and the words of contemporary leaders have all contributed to the teaching of virtues. This book contains all this and much more.
Perhaps my most comforting discovery in writing this book is that parents who share these concerns have been striving to teach their children to lead virtuous lives for as long as there have been parents and children!
It's All in the Frijoles is part anthology and part first-person recollections from my own experiences, as well as those of such Hispanic luminaries as writers Isabel Allende and Pablo Neruda; actors Hector Elizondo, Edward James Olmos, and Ricardo Montalban; football superstar Joe Kapp; politicians Gloria Molina and Cruz Bustamante; and news anchors María Salinas and Soledad O'Brien.
Each of the fourteen chapters weaves together literature and recollections to explore the various aspects of a single virtue: responsibility, respect, hard work, loyalty, honesty, faith, courage, humility, temperance, prudence, justice, fortitude, charity, and chastity.
While you are reading It's All in the Frijoles I hope you will discover the similarities among different Spanish-speaking countries and appreciate the nuances of uniqueness across geographical boundaries. Somewhere along the way, you may meet a childhood poem or tale your abuelita used to share with you, or "hear" familiar music as you read the words of a song your Mamá sang to you as a child. I believe this book will stimulate other memories as well. You can tell your own stories to your children as you make your way through the book.
It's All in the Frijoles contains examples of those qualities that can sculpt us into more perfect beings, in the same way that Mamá's recipe for the perfect pot of beans is also a lesson for life. It is a book with simple yet profound concepts that you and your children can explore and read together. I hope that you open its pages to look for inspiration when you're demoralized or anxious, or when you're seeking some dicho (saying) you heard as a child but cannot remember. These words these stories, poems, myths, sayings, and recollections spring from thousands of years of tradition. They have survived for the simple reason that they have proven across time and adverse conditions to exemplify the moral, ethical, and religious concepts our ancestors cherished enough to defend, write down, and pass on for future generations. Even what is new carries within it echoes of the old. They remind us of the good within, comfort us as they teach, and help us bring past and present together. I know, as I rediscover these pieces of my past and the virtues they evoke, I can hear my mother's voice more clearly than ever.
South Pasadena, California
Copyright © 2000 by Yolanda Nava
Table of Contents
1 Responsibility Responsabilidad
2 Respect Respeto
3 Hard Work Trabajo Duro
4 Loyalty Lealtad
5 Faith Fe
6 Honesty Integridad
7 Courage Valentía
8 Humility Humildad
9 Temperance Moderación
10 Prudence Prudencia
11 Justice Justicia
12 Fortitude Fortaleza
13 Chastity Castidad
14 Charity Caridad
For Further Reading