Living La Vida Yerba Buena

Alexandra, Good Day Regular PeopleBy Alexandra

I am a first generation American.

What does that mean to you?

If you are an American, you hear, “New to this country.” But, to the child of immigrant parents, you know what this statement truly means. It means you had a childhood full of what more traditional folk call “colorful stories.”

Oh, yes, I have notebooks full of colorful stories.

When you are a child of immigrant parents, you grow up in a home where one foot is in the new country, and the other foot is still living its life in the old country. My two brothers and three sisters didn’t really know how unusual and different life was from the one we knew at home. We thought everyone lived as we did.

My five siblings and I were very close, and did everything together and when we returned home from a day at school, with that first twist of the doorknob to re-enter our home, we would instantly be back in the old country. When that door closed behind us, the United States of America ceased to exist.

In my case, welcome to Colombia, baby!

Like most immigrant families, ours was an extended family under one roof. We lived with my non-English speaking Colombian grandmother. My grandmother never really understood that we were in a new country. She just came along for the plane ride, and kept her suitcase packed, for when her visit here was over.

Yerba Buena, the Good Weed

My grandmother came from a small village where she was one of the revered few who knew the ways of natural plant remedies. She was versed in all the plant remedies for all the plant types that Colombia is known for.

If we had an upset stomach, my grandmother would treat it with “Yerba Buena.” Literal translation: “good weed.” I’d go to school, with a thermos full of “mate,” or “good weed” drink. My schoolmates (I had no friends…Weird wasn’t cool in 1966.) would ask me what I was drinking. Knowing they did not know Spanish, I’d answer “good weed drink.” I can just imagine what my classmates ran home and told their parents about the Colombian children in their school who drank a “good weed” drink during lunch.

Chicha Rica

When my grandmother was living in Colombia, she was entrusted with preparing the town’s “chicha.” Chicha is a drink that is allowed to ferment for a lunar cycle (that’s what the recipe calls for) and includes cannabis or coca leaves. It is drunk in large quantities for celebrations, or in anticipation of a journey of two days or more across the mountains.

Preparing chicha is considered an art, and the person who makes the town’s chicha is respected. It is corked for 28 days and on the 29th day: Uncorked and Happy Days!

I tell you all this to explain the following glimpse of what my childhood days were like, a day in which my five siblings and I became the first known Latino gang in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, in the year 1966:

Citrus Fruit and Headache Cures

We always had headaches as children (tension, anyone?) and my grandmother would remedy this in the following manner: she would take an orange, peel it, place the orange peelings inside one of her brightly colored Andean scarves, and then tie the blazing colored bandana around our heads, tightly, just barely above our eyelids. I still can feel the pull of the scarf across my forehead as she secured the knot in the front.

Something in the orange peels was supposed to act on the headache by shrinking the swollen blood vessels in our throbbing heads…but what really happened instead was that we would all go outside to play looking like little gang bangers.

Innocently, we would knock on neighbor’s doors, with our heads tilted up so that we could somehow manage to see something from out under our red and orange bandanas. We would stand on the neighbor’s front porches, orange peelings slipping down, the smell of citrus fruit attracting all the gnats and wasps around our heads, and eagerly ask if their children could come to play with us.

No one was ever available. Each time we’d knock, we’d be told that they were busy, or getting ready to go somewhere else. “Maybe another time,” their mothers would tell us.

Now, I see we were the neighborhood oddity. I didn’t know it then. I remember a mother’s reply when a typical American child asked her who we were and why we had scarves with oranges tied around our heads. She replied, “Migrant workers from somewhere.”

Choose Laughter

I have so many funny stories from my childhood. I tell them to our three children, and they laugh. I can either paint a picture to my children of me feeling lost and alone and rejected, or I can laugh with them and be thankful that the childhood I had was one that has enabled me to fill notebooks with my writings, and I’m not even close to being out of stories.

In my life, when given a choice between laughter or tears, I always choose laughter.

But, I no longer choose orange-filled bandanas.

Update

November 16, 2011: This essay was mentioned in the CNN food blog, Eatocracy, in a post titled The Kid With the Stinky Lunch, a humorous collection of recollections by the children of immigrants and their own elementary cafeteria experiences.

Alexandra is a first-generation American raising three boys full time, while she caters part time. She lives with her husband and children in a small Wisconsin town and writes of the sweet and the funny at her humor site, Good Day, Regular People.

Share, por favor!

By Contributor on March 21, 2011 · Posted in headline, the habla habla

41 Comments | Post Comment

Alexandra says:

Thank you, TikiTiki, for the honor of being part of this outstanding Latina community.

I feel so happy knowing that sharing these memories, will bring the laughter of recognition from other latinas.

It’s a genuine joy for me to be here today!
Alexandra´s last [fabulousness] ..Friday Funny – Anne Flournoy

Posted on March 21st, 2011

FranceRants says:

Bahahaha.

I feel your pain!

Great story.
FranceRants´s last [fabulousness] ..High School Yearbook Rant

Posted on March 21st, 2011

Frelle says:

I so enjoyed learning more about you, about your childhood and extended family, and to peek into traditional columbian cultural aspects. thank you so much for posting here!
Frelle´s last [fabulousness] ..Sing To Me

Posted on March 21st, 2011

Shell says:

Choosing laughter seems like the easier choice, doesn’t it? It’s not wonder you, dear Empress, are so kind to others.

Posted on March 21st, 2011

julie says:

Oh, Alexandra – this post made me smile and nod and laugh. The “good weed” drink? Priceless.

My father moved to the US from Mexico when he was 8. He spent his first two years in California eating bologna sandwiches and watching The Lone Ranger. Just like an American. (Except for his mother in the background speaking Spanish.)

While I was growing up, friends would come over and ask what was for dinner. My dad would never say the word “normally” – he’d roll his r’s and bust out the accent hard to say “burritos” or “chalupas” or “enchiladas”.

I would roll my eyes and blush frantically. Jeez, Dad. Really?

We never ate a meal without a bowl of chilis on the table, our noses sweating from the heat.

Loved this post. Now, I’m going to call my dad.

Posted on March 21st, 2011

Lydia says:

I Love this! Good Weed drink. I make it for me and 3 year old she’s the only one in the house who’ll have it with me. I have it warm with milk and she has it cold and plain. I always have to smile because I remember calling it good weed drink myself when I was younger and the weird looks that answer would get. And now I’m happy to have your memories to make me smile too. Very cool.

Posted on March 21st, 2011

Melanie says:

Alexandra,

So am loving this. So wonderful to find out even more about you! Makes me appreciate you that much more. Your story resembles that of Latina friends of mine’s who I grew up with — the cafe Bustelo w/ a lump of sugar given to them (and me) as children, the Maltas they drank, the arroz & habichuelas w/ plantanos they ate, you name it! Good stuff!

Posted on March 21st, 2011

Carrie says:

Hurrah for the Empress and her great stories! Thank you for sharing it with us on the Tiki Tiki and for bringing your cool friends.

We hope you’ll stick around and tiki tiki with us some more!

Posted on March 21st, 2011

class factotum says:

I think there is something about all dads that makes them want to embarrass their kids!
class factotum´s last [fabulousness] ..Marriage 301- Lecture 310- On the schedule

Posted on March 21st, 2011

dg at diaryofamadbathroom says:

Empress, any thoughts around starting your own herbal pharmacy? ;)
dg at diaryofamadbathroom´s last [fabulousness] ..I EAT Your Cereal!

Posted on March 21st, 2011

JennyBean says:

Great post, Alex! I like you because you do choose laughter!

Posted on March 21st, 2011

Tracy says:

This is hilarious, and somewhat of a relief. I love to hear what it was like for children of immigrants growing up in the U.S. — because my children will have similar stories. I’m a gringa but my husband is Salvadoran, and the non-English speaking grandmother lives with us. When the kids come home from school, they are in El Salvador just as you were in Colombia in your own home. I know they think our household is normal – though it’s very NOT normal. lol…

I hope my kids will have a similar sense of humor as they grow up and realize just how different and special their childhood was. They will have plenty of stories for their children, too.
Tracy´s last [fabulousness] ..Empacho

Posted on March 21st, 2011

Sherri says:

Oh Alexandra, I love this! Your sense of weaving humor with reality and warmth is a gift, my friend…pure joy.
Sherri´s last [fabulousness] ..Guest Post- I am Not My Hair

Posted on March 21st, 2011

The Flying Chalupa says:

Alexandra, this is one of my favorite posts of yours. Your childhood seems so rich – I love the stories of your grandmother’s wisdom. It must be nice to mine nuggets of gold like that when the need arises.

Posted on March 21st, 2011

Sue Valencia says:

So funny and what a great post Alexandra!
Choosing laughter over tears, that´s beautiful! And so true… same stories, but completely different perspectives, no? We can choose any one we want. :)
The orange peels in the bandana story is hilarious! I remember my Abuelita doing something similar, but instead of orange peels she placed some leaves on the sides of her head… she called them “chiquiadores”, and then place the bandana. She looked like a mean ass Abuelita! Hahahaha!
All righty, time for some Good Weed tea! LOL!!!! (loved that!)
Sue Valencia´s last [fabulousness] ..Mercurio Retrocuckoo en Aries round 1 de 3

Posted on March 22nd, 2011

Tonya says:

This is amazing!!! My (German) mom’s second marriage was into a Hispanic family (from Mexico) so my experience was the complete opposite of yours. It’s so incredible how different cultures can be! And very funny!
I LOVE the citrus gang!!! And the fact that you choose to be so positive about being an outsider. Very inspiring!!

Posted on March 22nd, 2011

Suniverse says:

I love this post. I’m also first generation, and was raised Muslim, to boot, so I can completely relate to the separation between the outside world and our home.

Posted on March 22nd, 2011

Alexandra says:

Thank you, France, I’d love to see some of your stories of growig up with your Italian Nona, too…I know you have them!

Thank you for stopping by today, I am so excited to be at tikitiki.
Alexandra´s last [fabulousness] ..Friday Funny – Anne Flournoy

Posted on March 22nd, 2011

Alexandra says:

Thank you, Frelle, you are always such an encourager to everybody. These stories are fun to write for me, and bring back memories of my well meaning abuela.
Alexandra´s last [fabulousness] ..Friday Funny – Anne Flournoy

Posted on March 22nd, 2011

Alexandra says:

Thank you, Shell. Glad I made you smile today.
Alexandra´s last [fabulousness] ..Friday Funny – Anne Flournoy

Posted on March 22nd, 2011

Alexandra says:

Thank you, Julie….I love your comment. The way our perspective changes as we become adults…
Alexandra´s last [fabulousness] ..Friday Funny – Anne Flournoy

Posted on March 22nd, 2011

Alexandra says:

Lydia, we’ve talked…I KNOW you have and can match me story per story.

Where are yours, of growing up with your Bruja Buena?
Alexandra´s last [fabulousness] ..Friday Funny – Anne Flournoy

Posted on March 22nd, 2011

Alexandra says:

Oh, the memories you just brought back for me!! Of course, the Bustelo! the Maltas!
Alexandra´s last [fabulousness] ..Friday Funny – Anne Flournoy

Posted on March 22nd, 2011

Alexandra says:

You won’t be able to get rid of me now, Carrie… (;

Posted on March 22nd, 2011

Alexandra says:

Diary: you are one of my fave funny ladies. Thank you for coming here to visit. It means so much to me.

Posted on March 22nd, 2011

Alexandra says:

Thank you!

Posted on March 22nd, 2011

Alexandra says:

What is normal, right? Normal for us, felt..normal to us.

Thank you for your wonderful comment!

Posted on March 22nd, 2011

Alexandra says:

Sherri: thank you so much for coming here. It’s much easier to laugh, than to remember feeling rejected.

I hope my children learn to see life that way.

Thank you for visiting here, Sherri. You’re the best.

Posted on March 22nd, 2011

Alexandra says:

Tarja: you must have some Finnish weirdosity stories, no? Some?
Thank you for being such a good friend, Tarj.

Posted on March 22nd, 2011

Alexandra says:

Sue: I just visited your fantastic blog. WOW.

I am humbled that you like my post. It is a wonderful thing, when our writing creates such instant intimacy with someone.

A shortcut to friendship. What a joy!

Posted on March 22nd, 2011

Alexandra says:

The Citrus GANG!

No fair when the commenters are funnier than the author!

50 lashes!

Posted on March 22nd, 2011

Maria de los Angeles says:

What poignant and funny memories! Thanks for sharing. I also lived with one foot in Miami and the other in Cuba.

By the way, your grandma wasn’t far off …I learned that bandana cure from one of my yoga mentors who in turn learned it from master BKS Iyengar in India. (Minus the oranges.) Tightening the bandana around the forehead acts as a vasoconstrictor. I suspect the oranges were a kind of pleasant-smelling placebo to keep your mind off the headache.
Maria de los Angeles´s last [fabulousness] ..A Saturday on South Beach

Posted on March 22nd, 2011

Marcela says:

I love to hear Latino home remedies… I will seriously try this next time the kids have a headache… I know they will get a kick out of it ( :

What great stories to share with your children…

and with us!
Marcela´s last [fabulousness] ..for Japan

Posted on March 22nd, 2011

Roxana A. Soto says:

The good weed drink? That is way tooo funny! Thanks for sharing such an awesome insight into your childhood, Alexandra! I truly enjoyed reading it!

Just curious, what do your children think about all your stories and how much do you share with them about your Colombian culture?
Roxana A. Soto´s last [fabulousness] ..Tangled Activity and Coloring Sheets

Posted on March 22nd, 2011

Alexandra says:

Always nice to run into you on the internet, Spanglish baby.

I tell my children a story a day, as we drive…they love them!!
Alexandra´s last [fabulousness] ..Friday Funny – Anne Flournoy

Posted on March 22nd, 2011

Alexandra says:

Thank you for the encouragement, Marcela. I’m glad you enjoyed this little snapshot of life, in my world.
Alexandra´s last [fabulousness] ..Friday Funny – Anne Flournoy

Posted on March 22nd, 2011

Alexandra says:

Oh, and we looked like some kids that meant business, too!
Alexandra´s last [fabulousness] ..Friday Funny – Anne Flournoy

Posted on March 22nd, 2011

Alexandra says:

We just live what we’re shown, isn’t that the truth?

And then we go to other’s homes, and our eyes widen as we think, “what the heck?”
Alexandra´s last [fabulousness] ..Friday Funny – Anne Flournoy

Posted on March 22nd, 2011

Empacho, Patatu and other Ailments says:

[...] it doesn’t seem well documented.And, of course,  Alexandra just wrote an awesome post about her Colombian grandmother curing stomach aches with Yerba Buena and headaches with tight bandanas stuffed with orange [...]

Posted on March 23rd, 2011

Colombian Bandana Cure-all says:

[...] peelings, tied excruciatingly tight around our temples. I’ve written before of what a hit this remedy made us in our middle class American [...]

Posted on August 22nd, 2011

The kid with the stinky lunch « Heptanews * Entertainment * Politics * Opinions * U.S. * Technology * Health * Leisure * World * Sports says:

[...] Alexandra Rosas, the benefits of a traditional health drink were lost in translation. On the Tiki Tiki Blog, she recalls her Colombian grandmother sending her to school in the mid-1960s with a thermos of [...]

Posted on November 19th, 2011