|Caporales San Simon Dancers from Bolivia|
What a sight for sore eyes and hearts it was this weekend to revel in the celebration of the multitudes of international cultures that come together to live, work, and play in Houston. After a week of being glued to the news in the aftermath of the Boston bombing, the process of soul searching and deeper understanding of the troubles affecting our world are clearly necessary.
After a tough week of wondering why the fabric of our country seems to be fraying at its edges...comes the...
International Festival of Houston, Texas...this year celebrating the food and highlighting the culture of...BRAZIL!
|Brazilian Carnivale Dancer from Austin Samba: Banh Mi Vietnamese Sandwich: Festival onlooker; Ari-rang Korean Folk Dancers|
Every year in the cool breezes of April, Houston brings together and assembles a multitude of nationalities into the hub of its cosmopolitan city to gather, celebrate, dance, sing, and taste the flavors of its multi-ethnic residents.
This is an event that has, over the past 3 years, never failed to renew my belief that humanity is at its heart, genuinely "good". And with the entire country mourning, reflecting, and realizing that we need to look deep into our hearts in order to understand the troubles of not only our country but issues of the world that are influencing the direction of our country.
When I look deep into the eyes of so many faces of diversity all sharing, caring, and enjoying the fruits of this country at an event like the International Festival... my heart swells with happiness as well as hope for this world of ours.
To celebrate the Brazilian love of beef, a big bold beef recipe that calls for a medley of fresh herbs makes this simple steak dish an easy dinner option for relaxed weekend grilling.
I have my rosemary pot doing well...tarragon, thyme, and oregano made it through the Texas winter too. Chopping the fresh herbs and mixing them with olive oil is a sensory experience that is so lovely. The aromas are fresh and a clear indication that spring is definitely here to stay.
So here where I live, the city comes together for two weekends in Houston, holds hands, and shows that humanity is not lost. No, not lost at all... but can always be re-inforced, reinvigorated, and renewed through shared music, food, and time together.
As the Brazilian Carnivale Parade wound its way through the festival grounds this weekend, Brazilian dancers shimmied, twisted, and sashayed while drums beat out festive sounds and tambourines jiggled with jocular rhythms.
One by one people of all ethnicities joined in, twisted their hips and clapped their hands, and encouraged each other to celebrate...
...to move to the music of life renewing itself after a weary week of worry.
|Festival Mask of Caporales San Simon (Bolivia)|
The dancing and celebrating at the festival, however, was different than the dancing and celebrating on the streets of Boston this weekend. After the suspected bomber from the marathon was captured, it made me very sad to see footage of celebrations in the street and chants of "we won". I love Boston. It is a fabulous city and I think what we are seeing could be the embodiment of a flood of relief from fear and gratitude towards the law enforcement of the city.
While I cannot imagine what being sequestered inside my home is like for fear there may be a bomber on the loose who desires to kill as many Americans as possible, I cringed when I saw people chanting, "USA, USA, USA!"
I'm sure that we, as a country, would love to believe that we are invincible, number one, and the leader of the world, but I suspect that it is that emboldened attitude that may only foster more ill will in many parts of the world.
I don't see this as an "us against them" situation.
I don't see this is as an event that we "won".
I don't see this as a situation that calls for "celebrating" in the streets of our country.
Relief was felt and warranted, to be sure...and safely tucked away in my home I cannot relate to what was going through the homes of so many Bostonians, who were afraid to go out to walk their dogs, for a bite to eat, or a jog to the park.
|Oriental Arts Dance Group of Houston|
As I walked through the crowds at this festival, saw the twinkling eyes of so many cultures, eating, laughing, singing, and enjoying their revelry together...my mind runs through the history of each country's relationship to the other.
As I sampled the bold and hearty foods from Brazil...I tasted the flavors of influence from their colonization by Portugal, tasted the spices brought by slaves to work the land, and tasted the indigenous ingredients grown long before when the country was untouched by outside influences.
Could it be so hard to realize or acknowledge that we all eventually dine at the same table with one another?
The more I assemble one recipe after another, read one list of ingredients from one country and compare it to another, the revelation to me is always the same...we enjoy variations of the same flavors and ingredients that are consistent from one country to another, one culture to another...regardless of who we pray to, or what color is on our skin, or what constitutes the relationships that define the word "love".
So if there isn't necessarily an "us versus them" or a "good versus evil" at the heart of our human nature, then why are there evil events that take place in this world and what can we do to stop them?
|Austin Samba Dancer dancing in the Brazilian Parade|
I wandered around the festival wondering how many people might have that question on their minds too. Dedications could be heard to the victims of the bombing in Boston. Pleas for increased humanity and understanding sounded in between each group of performers.
|Bottom Left: Picanho à Brazileira, stewed beans, and Pork Sausage from Tradicao Restaurant in Houston, TX|
In my mind, the answer seems to stem from the need for "resources". What resources I have beneath my soil may be different from that found under your soil. It may be better or worse...it may be plentiful or scarce, it may be easily retrieved or buried deeply within the earth.
The color of skin, the religious history, the cultural differences we perceive as obstacles to peace are actually of no profound importance but become excuses used in order to level the playing field in this world for the constant need for resources.
|Bottom Left: Fried Catfish, Hushpuppies and French Fries Cajun Dinner|
I am certainly no politician, sociologist, or psychologist. But, it seems that the age-old adage, "with age comes wisdom" might have some value to it. With each new turning of generations, how many lessons that should have been learned from history...are not passed down to the next?
As we theorize the reasons for the events of Boston this past week it will inevitably lead us to journey to unknown parts of Eastern Europe. We'll try to unravel the angst, turmoil, and confusion that resulted after the devastation of WWII, the collapse of the Soviet Union, the ensuing Cold War with the U.S., and the many ethnic and religious groups overlapping in that part of the world.
|Roasted Fennel and Artichoke Hearts in Olive Oil|
Whereas, my outlook may seem a simplistic one, I am realizing as I get older, that even though the events of history may be complicated and are filled with names, dates, battles, boundary lines, trade agreements, incidences after incidences recorded in history that make the multitudes of problems seem unsolvable, the core heart of the issue could be far more simplistic than the work it took to unravel the facts.
The years of intertwining struggle between groups of people whose ethnic names we can barely pronounce, seems so remotely related to us, to our iconic marathon, or a city like Boston, that embodies the soul of America. What does this have to do with our country? How are their struggles related to the U.S?
But, we must not cast the reasons for their anger aside and adopt an "us versus them" mentality. We must not chant to each other "we will win" or "go U.S.A.".
These chants may make us feel safe and secure for the moment but they will only secure and encourage a more imminent danger to us in the long run.
|Dancers from Mixteco Ballet Folklorica|
So, what are we to do? What can each and every seemingly insignificant one of us do? Do we, as individuals, have the power to change the greater world?
We must, first of all, understand our own history. We realize and accept that we have made historical mistakes that have left waves of discontent that have been embedded in others' outlook towards us.
We must know the histories of other parts of the world in relation to our own. We must understand that resources, or lack thereof, shape the historical events of our grandparents and will shape future events of our future grandchildren.
The histories of most other countries are much longer and deeply rooted, uprooted, and planted over again and again than in the U.S.
During the 1800 and 1900's, we were geographically separated from the consequences of WWI and WWII. We were able and capable of prospering and benefiting economically.
|Dancers from Oriental Arts group in Houston, Texas|
The fragile structure of the world's economy is inextricably linked in today's world and from now on...what happens "over there" will affect us "over here".
I don't have any answers. I'm just an average daughter, an average mom, an average mother, sister, and aunt.
But, what I do know, is when I bring a freshly made loaf of bread to a neighbor, it makes them smile. When I wave to a group of walkers in the neighborhood, it softens their face. When I stop to pick up something someone has dropped, their eyes begin to twinkle.
|Owners of Farafinya: Beads and African Crafts|
And little by little by little...a community has the potential to come together. Someone who is unhappy in this country may have a moment of pause. Someone who is confused about the world, may see a sliver of hope. Someone who is angry at our culture, may have a glimmer of understanding.
It is very easy to come to this country but still grow up very divided from the culture that is considered "American". I see it every day. On my block, alone, there must be 10 to 15 different nationalities all living one house apart from one another.
On one hand, families want to hold on to their histories, their cultures, their ways. They want to pass on their traditions, festivities, and stories down to the next gum-chewing, sneaker-wearing, skateboard-pushing generation that is melting into the great pot of America.
Hardly any of our forefathers decided to pick up and come to America because they just needed a change of scenery.
And this is all good. It is as it should be. Out of strife and adversity come better understanding than if we all remained separate.
|Top Right: Brazilian Beef, Pasteis, and Potato Fritters|
But, when so many people are walking side by side at the International Festival, out in the open, sharing and caring about one another, the scene, the laughter, the food, and the sounds are so transforming.
It is very easy to not reach across the street and offer that loaf of bread. It is very easy to live within the confines of a home, that provide electronic entertainment far surpassing anything a bike, park, or playground might deliver.
Most of us just call ourselves common folk. We are moms, or accountants, or teachers and we don't have the knowledge or power or ability to negotiate a safer future for our country in the grand scheme of things.
We do, however, have the ability to understand the history of our country as it relates to the histories and experiences of others. And we must.
We do have the ability to smile at a stranger and make their day just that teeny weeny bit brighter.
We do have the ability to wave to a neighbor and ask if they are alright, query how was their day, point out their flowers out front look pretty.
We do have the ability to bring over a freshly baked loaf of bread without much hassle.
We do this because the past has shown us that through overlapping quests for resources, overlapping ideals and goals, intermixing of alliances as well as barriers, we all sit down around the same table eventually.
We all can trace ingredients in almost every dish that we make that can touch its origins from multiple ethnic groups of people.
It is what gives food flavor, makes dishes become traditional, and brings people together even if they don't realize that the table around which they are gathering...
...is a global table.
|A weekend's close...a sweet treat...key lime cupcakes from our bakery|