Miriam is from Mexico but lives here in Sofia. She gladly responded to my invitation to be a guest on this blog and opened the doors of her home to me, something which is very personal and which I immensely appreciate. Our meeting began with this conversation, after which we carried on chatting about countless topics in her kitchen and this unforgettable morning on which I had the feeling that I was in Mexico concluded with the preparation and consumption of a magical Mexican taco.
Miriam, many, many thanks to you for acquainting me in a single day with the colours, flavours and aromas of Mexico.
This is part of my meeting with her: Miriam and her home:
Miriam, you’re from Mexico. Tell me more about your childhood. Which city did you grow up in? What games did you play with other children?
Yes, I think that my childhood as a whole was a little different in comparison with that of other children. My father was in the military and because of his work we didn’t live in one particular place but moved to a new city every two or at the most three years, which determined my fate. I was born in the state of Veracruz, but when they ask me where I’m from I answer: from Mexico.
Thanks to all these changes, I got to know different people and cultural and culinary traditions in each city and many things happened to me. I felt best in the cities on the coast, I adore the sea and being near to it makes me happy. With Nadia, my younger sister, who was also one of my best friends, we went outside to play games like for example ‘el avioncito’ (literally translated: ‘the little aeroplane’), which in Bulgarian is the game ‘Checkers on the Ground ’(similar to ‘hopscotch’ in English: translator’s note) ; apart from that we made cakes with everything we found in the fridge and we didn’t miss the chance to play a bit of football too, ‘cascarita’, in Mexico this game is very popular both amongst boys and with girls too.
What do you miss most about your country?
The people, most of all my family as well as my friends. To see my parents, to sit together at the table, to cook together with my mother and my sisters at Christmas and New Year, these are the important moments in life.
Sometimes I miss the food but not that much because I’m also fond of the food in Bulgaria.
What makes you feel proud to be a Mexican?
When I think of my country, it’s the people who spring to mind: our nation is big, every part of it is different, we Mexicans are also very different. If you go to the North, you can encounter the Tarahumara tribe, in the South there are the Mayans, on the Pacific coast are the Huichols and the Zapotecs; that’s an enormous cultural diversity with different traditions and history.
We celebrate Death by commemorating the Day of the Dead with great joy, but we carry pain within us, we may have many problems, but we always seek out the positive side of things.
We stand up for our values and fight for things in which we believe; we have done a lot in the past to procure our Independence and we will continue to do so in future, to build a better Mexico.
I am proud of my roots, of the culture and traditions of Mexico, no matter where in the world I am, I strive to adhere to what I learnt in my native land.
They say that it doesn’t matter which country in Latin America you’re from, you all feel like Latin-Americans. Is this true for you? What unites you so strongly?
I think that we have a lot in common between us, but at the same time we are very different, every nation in Latin America has its own history and customs, but when it comes to music, food, traditions I think that we are very alike; we call the exact same things by different names.
When I am with friends in Colombia, Venezuela, Peru we can sing and dance to the same music, some of the programmes we’ve watched on TV as children are the same, our food is very similar. When we are outside our home countries, we feel more connected.
Tell me a legend or traditional tale from your region:
In Mexico City there is a legend about love, the legend of Popocatepetl and Iztaccíhuatl.
The legend tells of an emperor who had a daughter by the name of Iztaccíhuatl. She fell in love with Popocatepetl, a young, brave, wise and fearless warrior. Popocatepetl and Iztaccíhuatl were just about to celebrate their wedding when the tribe declared war on the Aztecs. The emperor gathered all his soldiers and ordered that Popocatepetl lead them into battle.
Popocatepetl went to war and after several months managed to defeat the enemy. Before the emperor learnt of his victory, however, envious soldiers reported to him that Popocatepetl had died in battle. Iztaccíhuatl heard the false news and wept bitterly. She stopped eating and fell into a deep slumber from which no-one could wake her.
Her beloved soon returned victoriously and found out what had happened to Iztaccíhuatl. He found her, took her in his arms, grabbed a torch and left the palace. He wandered for days and nights until he reached the summit of a mountain. He lit the torch next to Her and cared for her as if she had not fallen asleep. Popocatepetl remained tight by Her side until his death.
She turned into ‘the sleeping woman’ Iztaccíhuatl and he into ‘the smoking mountain’, Popocatepetl.
And today, in Mexico City, depending on where you stand, you can see both volcanoes. Popocatepetl or ‘Popo’, which we lovingly call it for short, is the active volcano and every morning you can see it smoking.
People often connect Cuba with music and dance, Argentina with literature, theatre and the tango, but when it comes to Mexico and its culture I think that one of the first associations is with the art-works of Frida Kahlo. Or maybe that’s just how it seems to me. Do you agree with that? Which art-form would you identify your country with?
Mexico is very vivacious, full of colour and music: the boleros of Agustin Lara and Armando Manzanero, two of the best composers in my view, plus we have the Mariachi, which we all love, and no wedding passes without them. In Mexico City there is a square called Garibaldi on which you can see Mariachi in traditional costume.
We also have many famous artists like Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera who have been and will be great figures in the history of Mexico. But we can also add the art of Rufino Tamayo, David Alfaro Siqueiros and Jose Clemente Orozco.
Could you list 5 names which in your view are a starting point for getting to know the culture of Mexico?
Octavio Paz-a poet and writer, Nobel Prize for literature. He is one of the most influential writers and his work has reached many corners of the world.
Agustin Lara: a composer and performer of songs and boleros, born in Veracruz, he is one of the most important composers in the country. His hits Maria bonita, Solamente una vez, Veracruz etc are known by Mexicans and we often sing them.
Alejandro González Iñárritu: a cinema director who, along with his colleagues in film circles, gave new life to Mexican cinema and opened the door for it in many other countries. His first films like ‘Amores Perros’ for example, garnered great success in the country.
Laura Esquivel: a writer, in Mexico we have other talented writers but I consider Laura to be amongst those who have enjoyed the greatest recognition internationally because of her work ‘Like Water for Chocolate’; this book reveals some of the traditions of Mexican cuisine.
Mario Moreno, ‘Cantinflas’: an actor and comedian, known in all of Latin America, his films show the daily life of the average Mexican; he expresses his ideas in a highly original manner.
If I have only a few hours at my disposal in Mexico City, what would you recommend that I do to feel the true spirit of the city?
Take a walk in the old centre, have lunch in La Opera (a restaurant), drink a tequila in Salón Tenampa on Garibaldi Square, take a walk around the Alameda district and from there get to the neighbouring Bellas Artes, go down along Madera St to the old centre of the city or, as we call it, ‘Zocalo’; the Cathedral, the Great Temple ‘Templo Mayor’ and the National Palace are there.
This will give you an idea of the food, music and atmosphere of the City. If you have some more time, go to the Bohemian quarter, Coyoacán,
What is your favourite dish?
There are several but I like Pozole most of all, that’s a combination of corn with meat, vegetables and a little hot spice. We can eat it all year round but it’s especially made in the month of September for the celebration of our Independence.
What brought you to Bulgaria?
Love brought me here, I got to know Boyan (my husband) when we were students in Holland, we spent an unforgettable year together. After we’d finished our Masters degrees, Boyan came back to Bulgaria and I to Mexico. A year went by, we got married and decided to stay and live in Sofia.
Why here and not elsewhere?
At the beginning, we took the decision on the basis of what would be best for us both. I thought that in the course of a year I’d find work and would manage to adapt to the local culture. The first months weren’t easy, the administrative matters took time, I found myself in one of the longest and coldest winters but once everything was ready things started to fall into place of their own accord. At first I didn’t expect much, but Bulgaria has turned out to be really generous towards me. Here I’ve found love, family, friends, work. Sofia is my home, here I have everything I want to have and which I need.
Have you learnt anything new about yourself here?
Yes, definitely. I’d never thought that I could get through something like this and be able to adapt to such a change. In my country the winters are not like the ones here, your language is different, I still haven’t mastered it, but I’m on the way to doing so; every day I learn something new. My family and friends in Bulgaria have really supported me and helped me to feel good. At the start, they didn’t let me be alone and now everything is different. I think that I know Sofia better than Mexico City.
Being a long way from Mexico has helped me appreciate the things I had there and I’m grateful for what I have at the moment.
How do you envisage your life in 5 years’ time?
I’m not sure, we might be here in Sofia or we might return to Mexico too, if things in my country sort themselves out, since at the moment we’re going through difficult times in terms of security, or we might go to another country. Both Boyan and I believe that since we’re together, the place doesn’t matter, we can live in Bulgaria, Mexico or somewhere else.
I don’t know what life or fate has in store for us in 5 years’ time but for now we’ll concentrate on the present in order to take pleasure in each and every day.
Translated by Neil Scarth. *eng