I believe love that enters through the kitchen feeds others with care and compassion.
El amor entra por la cocina (love enters through the kitchen) is a popular saying in Spanish. The process of preparing a meal and sharing it, forges communal bonds that go beyond simply something transactional. It’s more than giving and receiving.
I was very young when I lost both my grandmothers but whenever I think about them, I picture them in the kitchen. I remember the smell and taste of their meals and the stern focus of their gaze while cooking as if they were pouring their intentions over the meal. Feeding others where their love languages.
Theirs were the houses where friends and family members dropped by unannounced almost every day…and they were ready. They always made a little extra, por si viene alguien por ahí, in case someone shows up. Their homes were the hubs of gathering, connection central, and even chisme (gossip) station, as people would come to tell their stories or the stories of others and they were the keepers of these relationships and people’s life tales. It was during these visits that I learned about hospitality, sharing, true parrandas (Puerto Rican carols) and how to pray the rosary.
One afternoon my parents and several of their friends made a quick stop at my grandma’s. She was surprised, because around 10 people had just shown up at her doorstep, and said “ay! I have nothing to offer you! You should have called!”
Even if you arrived with no intention of eating, there was no way you were leaving with an empty stomach. Who am I kidding, even if you had a full stomach you’d be forced to have aunque sea un poquito (at least one bite). Anxious because she said she had nothing to serve, she started pulling out leftovers from the fridge. There were two types of rice, 3 different kinds of meat, arañitas, tostones, stewed beans and budín for dessert. When everyone finished eating there was leftover food from the leftovers.
Thank God she had nothing to give us! I can’t imagine how much more food there would have been if she knew we were coming.
Once my grandmothers passed away, there was no one to make their homes this place of gathering and kinship where you would always be welcome and cared for. I have always longed to build that place where folks could just show up and know they were expected because there is always something to offer. If you ask me now what I want to be when I grow up, I’d have to say, I want to be my grandmother’s house. Where I get to pour out with the utmost seriousness the love and joy in expectation. Where cooking is a ritual of feeding others in ways that address more than a basic need and shows care and compassion por si viene alguien por ahí (in case someone shows up) they know they are welcome and expected.
This I believe.
This piece was part of Yara’s presentation, “El Amor Entra Por La Cocina,” at the Center for Spiritual & Religious Life, Vanderbilt University, November 11, 2021.
Dr. Yara González-Justiniano is Assistant Professor of Religion, Culture, and Psychology with emphasis in Latinx Studies at Vanderbilt University. She is originally from Puerto Rico, completed her doctor of philosophy in practical theology at the School of Theology of Boston University with a concentration in church and society. In addition, she holds a master of divinity with a concentration in community and global engagement, a bachelor of arts in communications, a minor in modern languages, and a minor in theater.