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Monday, April 13, 2009

Easter in El Paso

I am a few hours late with my blog today, because I have been having too much fun in El Paso, Texas, my hometown. Every morning my father, mother, brothers, Laura, Aaron, and Isaac have sampled my parents’ favorite breakfast joints, so far Elmer’s near Bassett Center and the Bronco Restaurant not far from Ysleta High, my alma mater, on Alameda.

Chilaquiles, chile rellenos, huevos rancheros, frijoles con queso, menudo (I prefer to pick out the panzas and just eat the pozole), enchiladas, gorditas. On our first night, my brother Oscar bought fresh, mouthwatering asaderos from Licon’s Dairy in San Elizario. It really is good to be back home.

My sons asked me, “Why is the food in El Paso so much better than the food in New York?” I tried to explain how there are no warm-fresh asaderos in New York, and how Manhattan’s Mexican food, except for Gabriela’s on Columbus and 95th Street, isn’t even close to the real deal. I tried to tell them there’s a world of difference between the tostadas from Las Cruces, and the prepackaged ones from New Jersey at Gristedes in our building on Broadway.

The pastel de tres leches my mother brought for my son Isaac’s birthday celebration was the coup de grâce. My kids adored it. I gave up trying to explain anything anymore, and I just told them, “It’s just better here. What can I say?” Aaron and Isaac glared at me for a second, as if I have been mistreating them for forcing them to live in NYC, and begged their abuelita for seconds of the pastel.

To work off this glorious gluttony, we went to Album Park near Yarbrough for Easter, to walk around, to run, to chat more about how beautiful the weather is this time of the year. The scene at Album brought back many memories and comparisons of how our family spent each Easter in El Paso, and how these get-togethers always brought us closer to each other.

For us, Easter meant, after church, a mega-barbecue. An all-day affair of eating, playing baseball and football with other families in the park, making new friends, searching for Easter eggs, which were painstakingly prepared weeks before, and ambushing everybody and anybody by smashing our confetti-filled ammo on their heads. By nightfall we were dirty and exhausted, and we didn’t want to say goodbye to this little community we had formed for one day in the park.

I noticed that at Album Park Easter today is the same and different than it was when I was a kid. Extended families, from abuelitos to niños, still gather together under the sun and trees. But now a few families had fancy Coleman tents and even gas-powered generators. I also saw many more volleyball nets and soccer games than in my time. All the dogs are on leashes too.

But this unofficial micro-history, what may seem trivial to many, is what we should savor. This history about what families did for Easter, how they stayed together on the Mexican-American border, what this togetherness meant not only for your bonds with your father and mother, but also for the bonds you try to recreate with your family in as far flung locales as New York City, this is what stays with you forever and becomes who you were and who you always will be.

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