Page 25 - The Valley Table - January/February 2021
P. 25

                                Someone had to carry on the tradition. It was very hard work. It would take seven or eight days to make. When it came time to do the grinding, sometimes we’d have seven or eight people working the ingredients on a big metate. People would donate different ingredients, and Tía Chagua would oversee everything.”
She paused as an elderly man walked toward the door with bags of takeout. “Hey, do you remember Tía Chagua?” she asked. “Of course! Her real name was Isaura,” he replied. The man was the Nauhatl teacher in Santa Ines, Maribel told me. She and her childhood friends all learned the language of their Aztec ancestors from him. He had come to get some of her mole.
Maribel continued, “She looked like the lady on the Abuelita chocolate package.” Everyone chuckled. “We were together almost every day, if we weren’t making mole she would be at my house. She was not egotistical and was very generous with teaching me her technique. When I finally started to cook it at home, my mom couldn’t believe it!”
As a teenager, Maribel was in line to be the next town molera. But while the position brought esteem, it did
not bring a living. She was one of many Poblanos and Oaxaceños, like Jiménez, who moved to Newburgh and Poughkeepsie, respectively, during an economic migration between the late ’70s and early ’90s.
“The first generation came for las manzanas — the apple farms that stretch between Newburgh and Poughkeepsie on Route 9,” Maribel explained. José chimed in, “[Recruiters] would come with big speakers and set up in a central location in town. They would announce that anyone who wanted to go to the U.S. for work should come sign up. They would have all of the paperwork ready to go; all
you had to do was sign and you would be headed out, sometimes that same night, on a three-month work visa. The first generation of my family, cousins, came in 1976.”
She explained, “When I first got here, and for most
of those years, I worked in a factory, but I would make
mole on the side. There were no stores selling Mexican products, but I would gather everything and make batches, sometimes as big as 120 pounds, and sell portions to private households around Newburgh. We didn’t start Tacos Uriel until 2009.”
Now, Newburgh is at least half Hispanic, mostly Mexican, and the Mill Street area is home to a thriving Poblano community. Tacos Uriel is an important part of that, a place where Mariel and José might run into her childhood teacher and prepare him a mole that will remind him of Tía Chagua.
As the night went on, Maribel and José’s son joined us at the table. She had him pull out his phone to show pictures of family in Puebla making huge batches of mole in a copper caldera over wood fire on a patio. Other pictures showed picnic tables with smiling men awaiting their food. I asked if he knew how to make mole and he responded in English, “No, but one of my brothers does.” Maribel wrung her hands and smiled. 
*At press time, Jiménez had sold El Paso to a friend. She continues to live in Highland.
  jan – feb 2021 23

   23   24   25   26   27