In my Jamaican Mexican household we make jerk chicken tamales

In 1985 my mom received a phone call from a wrong number. When she picked up she had no idea that the man on the other end would end up being her husband and father of her two daughters. It was that phone call that turned into 33 years of marriage and a household full of culture.

The man on the other end of the call was from Kingston, Jamaica. He migrated to the U.S. by himself when he was 16 years old to attend college. He earned a scholarship to run track at USC, and that’s how he landed in L.A.

My parents are very proud of their cultures. Since I was born they have introduced me to music, traditional dishes and customs from their respective cultures. One night we might eat rice and peas with curry chicken and the next, tacos dorados de papa.

The holidays are always a special time since there are traditions that have been happening with my family for years. Some of the main traditions involve food and cooking together.

One of the most vivid memories I have during the holidays is making tamales with my mom and sister. The kitchen has always felt like a place of comfort where everyone can congregate and feel at home. We were making our usual holiday tamales a few years ago when my mom ran out of her chicken guisado. She found some leftover jerk chicken and started using it in the tamales.

It was one of the first times I saw my two cultures combined into the same dish.

Jamaican and Mexican food are very different. The way the food is prepared is different, the spices are different and the flavors are not similar. But with these jerk chicken tamales, both of the cultures blended so well.

It made me think about how many parents have built a household where both of their cultures and experiences are equally represented. When my mom made these new tamales, I felt a greater appreciation for my multicultural household and it made me reflect on the obstacles that had to be overcome for it to exist.

It was a wrong phone call that turned into months of long phone conversations. That led to five years of dating in secret because of my mom’s family.

My mom was the first person in her family to date someone who wasn’t also Latino. My grandparents were not accepting of my Black dad.

My grandparents would make comments about how my mom’s children would look different if she married a Black man and how we would not fit in. Before I was even born, they were already condemning me.

On Thanksgiving Day in 1990, my mom and dad got married. Despite not being supported by some in her family, my mom walked down the aisle in a pink dress and exchanged vows with my dad. Eventually, my grandparents came around and changed their opinions about their relationship.

It was when my mom made jerk chicken tamales that I reflected on how I was raised by two very different cultures that always seemed to coexist so seamlessly at home.

Growing up, I was teased about my hair, the food I took to school and the color of my skin. But being Mexican and Jamaican is one of my superpowers. When I was little and people used to ask what ethnicity I was I would say “JamMexican.”

I know that raising biracial children has not always been easy but my parents have always taught me to be proud of my ethnic background and the distinct heritages that they have.

With the jerk chicken tamales, I don’t have to choose a side because I have both cultures represented equally.

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