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  • Kahlo's Eyes

Peru: A longing for the embodied, through Kahlo's Eyes (Part 1)

A street in Mancos, Peru with festive flags
Mancos, Ancash, Peru - Aug 2023

This is going to be a very different blog post. This one will be less about food and more about memory and much more wordy. I have been wanting to write this piece since our trip to Peru last August and I finally feel ready, though much has changed since then. This was the first trip I took with my child in which we both were old enough to have retained memories. Peru is the country from which our bloodlines come; It is the place that at once feels incredibly far away in miles, and in contrasting culture (when compared to New England, where we live), and yet always within reach through our family stories, my career and business, and our connections. Peru is fantasy: past, present, and future. Peru is real: touch, taste, smell, sound, and sight.

How does a second generation immigrant teach her child about embracing embodied knowledge of their Peru? What does that even mean?


Kahlo's Eyes logo of Kahlo as a smiling 8 month old and the text "Kahlos Eyes"

I also want to acknowledge that today, March 15th, is the 6th anniversary of the day this blog became live. And while the initial intent for this blog was to follow a food journey with my child, I had to take notice that my child did not share my same interest in this content. Ha! Over time this blog became a way for me to view food, culture, and identity as if through Kahlo's Eyes, the eyes of my child. This is with the hopes that one day they can look back at my posts, recipes, and stories, and be reminded of the path we walked together. Thank you to those who have followed us for all this time!



Female born child, seated, in split photo. Left side is child at age 2, right side is child at age 11 in Mancos, Peru
Kahlo - Ages 2 and 11 in Mancos

Now, back to our trip to Peru. It had been 9 years since we had last traveled to this special place. We traveled, then, with my parents. My mother had not been back to Peru since 1978. My parents, though up in years, still quite agile. Kahlo was only 2, so traveling around was pretty easy, with just the 4 of us. Kahlo was a happy toddler who would eat anything, loved to dance to any kind of music, ran towards any small animal without fear (yikes!), and was drawn to other children no matter if they were familiar or not or could speak English or not. Kahlo was always a curious kid and it took us far during this trip. We went everywhere, talked to everyone, and stayed up until the wee hours so not to miss a thing.

This recent August trip in 2023, Kahlo was now 11. A pre-teen in all sense of the word, and what you might imagine; It was both a trip in which I dragged K around willingly and dragged K around unwillingly. I heard a lot of "I don't want to's" and "Why I can't I just stay in the hotel?'s" If you are unfamiliar with another country -- the sounds, the smells, the crowds, the pace -- it can feel overwhelming. I know this and knew this to be true and it wasn't always easy for Kahlo. But it didn't mean I didn't want to push my kid to experience the most. We began in Lima, traveled to Nuevo Chimbote to visit with my cousin, then traveled together to Mancos (the town from where my family-line begins), off to Trujillo, and then back to Lima before heading home to Boston. The "we" in "we" would change composition. Sometimes it was me and Kahlo and my brother, Chris. Sometimes it was the three of us plus cousins and other extended family. But it was rarely just me and K.

When I was a young girl, I longed for this mythical place from which the Inca came. I longed to know the abuelos, the grandparents, I never got know. I longed for the family recipes and jokes and histories that might have been told around kitchen tables, Christmas trees, or while harvesting some tomatoes from the family garden. I would grow up, not knowing almost any other Peruvians, and feeling as if I were both hiding a guarded secret fantasy paradise and also having to convince people I was "from there" and that it really existed.

"Are you Spanish? You are? Are you Puerto Rican? No? You're Peruvian? Is that in Mexico?" These questions from other young children became more complicated as we all grew older into young adults. "You're Peruvian? Wow. I never would have guessed that." "You're Peruvian? You don't look Peruvian at all." And so, my journey into my own Peruvianness began as an act of self-love when I was a child and blossomed into seeking the embodiment of knowledge that would not only enrich my brain and my heart but also my hands, my feet, and my voice.

It began first with my father's Peruvian restaurant. Then learning about Peruvian music. That led to learning about dance. Which lead to learning about Quechua and Afro-Peruvian and Asian Peruvian culture. Which led to learning more about the food. Which led to learning more about the land. Which led me to learning more about Quechua, the people and the family of languages. Which led to wanting to know deeply about my family history. Which led me back to the food. It was the one place where I thought I could feel the echo of my abuela's touch in my own hands. It is this embodied knowledge I sought and found and now share with my Kahlo.

Bringing my child to Peru, then, is about healing old wounds, insecurities, and answering questions that I had as a child. I did not want Kahlo to think of Peru as a mythical place but as one they can access whenever they want. Sharing Peru with them is about creating memory, creating tactile sensations of what their feet feel like when they walk down cobble streets in between adobe houses in the mountains, what it smells like when descending from the highest point in the Andes we traveled through in that crazy car ride to lower ground and how the eucalyptus tickles their nostrils, what it feels like to wait crouching in Parque Kennedy and waiting for the shy ferrel cat to finally trust and approach them to be touched, what it sounds like when the picarones dough ring hits the hot oil and watching it sizzle, or what it tastes like to guzzle some chicha morada from a paper cup to quell the excitement and stop your mouth from watering while your picarones, dripping with miel, are plated for you on a paper boat.

My worldview was forever altered when I became a mother. And my time spent raising my child has been so much about giving them the things I never had. These are not material possessions, but spiritual ones, embodied ones, that we can sense and feel and can connect us to our ancestors and to our future descendants. This trip was meant to be the first of many that we take together so that Peru never feels as far away to them as it did to me. It is the beginning for Kahlo that I hoped they would also get experience with the rest of our extended family and especially the tías they grew up with here in the U.S. This last trip, however, would be the last trip in which our Peruvian family was still all intact. Our first elder left us, our tía, the historykeeper and teacher among us. We were making plans about our future family trips, the one in August 2024 when she left. While those trips will never now be realized (in blood but perhaps they will be in spirit), for me it is now more important that, through Kahlo's Eyes, we continue to honor our family lineage by never losing touch with each other and the land and creating more opportunity for that knowledge of place and time and smell and taste to become embodied even more deeply. That is my spirit and heart wish.

Just this last week my tia Bertha's ashes were laid to rest at the same family burial site we have visited many times before. This last trip I tried to visit my grandparents grave when we were in Mancos but we never made it. Somehow it feels as if we weren't supposed to go at that time. While I am disappointed that I was unable to join the family to commit her ashes to this sacred place last weekend, I know there is a reason I was not supposed to be there and it motivates me that much more to visit the next time we are there. Hopefully, we will visit our ancestors' resting place this August of 2024. Embodied knowledge is not only about how to make dough from scratch, how to tell when your potatoes are ready to harvest, or when it is time to take the tamales out of the steamer but it also about knowing how to accept death, when to celebrate life, and how to never stop telling the stories. For as long as we tell the stories, our ancestors spirits live on forever and their gifts will echo through us, if we remain open and listen.

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