Preserving Family Traditions While Forging a New Path in a New Country


The author’s sister, Julieta, making memelas for the family.

By Maricruz Cabrera, Coachella Unincorporated

The sides of my thumbs feel the burning sting as I gently dig through the soft dough of the homemade memelas. It is Sunday and as tradition follows; my mother wakes me and my sister up early in the morning. Tired, and sometimes complaining, we use our bare hands to cook for our entire family. Memelas are a fried sope, made with corn masa and pinched at the borders in order for it to be filled with sour cream, queso fresco, and salsa among other ingredients.

Making memelas is one of the many traditions my family has preserved since our departure from Mexico 11 years ago. While we keep many of our Mexican traditions, we are very much driven by the American Dream, like so many others in this country.

In the year 2000, according to the California Department of Finance, 217,576 immigrants were admitted as legal residents. We are part of that number.

My siblings and I have faced many challenges, from learning a new language to letting go of our agricultural customs and learning to cope with the American lifestyle.

Like many of the families that immigrated to the United States from Mexico, my family moved back and forth constantly in search of agricultural labor. In fact, every single family member older than 16 has worked as a grape picker. My two older siblings, now 25 and 28, gave up the opportunity to obtain an education that this country offers. My two siblings, Erika and Jaime, began to work intensively in their teens, all due to our family’s lack of economic stability. Nothing comes easy in life, not even in a land of freedom, such as the United States.

Learning English was the primary challenge for my siblings and me; integrating into a school was extremely difficult. I was unfamiliar with the language and had no prior knowledge on anything other than agricultural matters. Education was deceptive at first. I was discouraged due to the cultural and language barriers.

I remember clearly that after a day at a Fresno public school, my first grade teacher commented on my intelligence in Spanish: “Uy, esa niña no sabe nada!,” which translates to, “That little girl does not know anything.” She perceived me as ignorant, and she completely gave up on helping me reach the academic standards.

In our 10-member family, there are only two life paths to follow. The first, and more promising one, is to attend school and go to college, and as my parents always recommend, become doctors, lawyers, teachers, or even engineers. The second, however, is to repeat the same vicious cycle of a labor-packed life.

Most will try and achieve the first, but in modern times with recent budget cuts it is becoming more difficult to achieve that. Currently three of my older siblings are currently or have attended a four-year university. Three are on their way there, including myself. The remainder of our family is continually committing to labor work.

Every Sunday morning, I continue to make memelas. The making of memelas is important because it is a reminder of our lives and culture in Mexico. But there are some things I wish to change. I have set goals for myself for a different life in this country. My status as an immigrant motivates me further to accomplish my goals.

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