Martha Yañez de Orta de Iñiguez. Mi mamá. Loving, kind, misunderstood, and mistreated. Too tired to be emotionally present as a mother after her day job of slaughtering pigs at a meat-packing plant, supplemented by evenings and weekends at our family restaurant, King Taco in Sioux City, Iowa. Back then, I resented her for pushing me away when I needed love and wisdom. I wanted a mother who would teach me how to play the trumpet and French horn, instead of telling me to stop making noise so she could rest. Now I understand her better, and love her more than anything. A sweet soul with a tough life.
My father, his seven siblings, and their mother crossed the Mexican border to southern California when he was 16. My grandfather had left them for another woman; my dad and his brothers supported their family at restaurant jobs. At age 25, he went back to Mexico, married my 16-year-old mother, and brought her to the United States. I was their first child.
We were living in a garage in Baldwin Park, California, when my father went to the Midwest, looking for a better, less expensive life. When he found a job, my mother and I joined him in the heartland. I'm 27 now. At my age, my momma had already given birth to the first three of her six children—the original three musketeers, as our little trio of hooligans was named.
My mother was, and is, a wiz with food, and the restaurant business was a way out of poverty. As we grew up, my siblings and I all took turns slinging burritos at the restaurant after school. We considered it torture, even though it taught us the value of hard work, tenacity, and perseverance. But with all that my mother had to do, in many ways I took on maternal responsibilities. I learned to cook fairly young, albeit unwillingly, usually under the wrath of my grandmother, who lived with us and remained embittered by her husband’s betrayal, often unleashing her unhappiness on my mother.
I moved away from home, mostly Des Moines, for almost a decade, creating my own life, trying to be physically and emotionally healthy, with a sense of humor and long-distance, Iowa-arctic running. The city was so different from the town I’d left. It was Iowa-nice, but it was also judgmental, with a superiority complex—people going to church on Sunday but gossiping or rolling their eyes about someone’s problems.
I married. He was a horticulturist and seemed classy, compared to my background. His own family was diverse but close-minded, listening but not hearing. We had to go our separate ways to flourish and pursue our different dreams, to live in harmony instead of regret and anger over what could’ve been. Our friendship is still there, along with a deep respect for each other.
Staying healthy became a huge challenge. A diagnosis of Crohn’s disease meant giving up many foods of my culture, but my mother soothes my battered insides with her healing chicken soup that only she makes oh-so-perfectly. And although King Taco is now closed, she still enjoys cooking classic Mexican dishes for the community. The word gets around when she decides to make a few dozen tamales, tortas de camaron (shrimp fritters), buñuelos (crispy fried sweets), pozole, or whatever inspires her. I don’t know what else she would do, or should do.
Bertha Iñiguez is a writer and singer currently in Sioux City, Iowa. She can be found @ladybirdeye007 and https://sirdukecreative.weebly.com/.
Iñiguez Red Pozole
2 heads of garlic
1 - 2 onions, peeled
5 lbs. boneless pork butt, cut into chunks
5 or 6 plum tomatoes or tomatillos
6 ancho and/or pasilla chilies
2 15-oz. cans hominy, rinsed and drained
Knorr Suiza bouillon cubes or salt to taste
1 small head of cabbage, shredded
In a large pot, add garlic, onions, pork, and enough water to cover the meat.
Bring to a boil, reduce heat, and cook about 1 1/2 hours, until meat is tender.
Remove onions and garlic.
Squeeze out softened garlic cloves, and blend with onions, tomatoes or tomatillos, and salt to taste. Set sauce aside.
In a smaller pot, add chilies and enough water to cover.
Cook chilies until softened, then press through a colander, straining out seeds and skins. Set aside.
Rinse and drain the hominy, and add to the meat.
Cook for about 30 minutes, adding bouillon cubes or salt to taste.
Add reserved chilies to the pot.
Serve with sauce, and garnish with oregano, shredded cabbage, sliced radishes, limes, cilantro, and tortilla chips.