My grandmother was diagnosed with dementia in 2020, I remember her through memories we shared years ago, and I wrote about these memories, by continuing to remember her as she would want me to.
Recalling memory comes in many forms, it comes from the scent, feels, and distant details one remembers vividly. My favorite memory ties back to years ago when I used to visit my grandmother in Mexico. When I was younger, my grandmother’s kitchen used to be the most sacred place I could ever know. In the city heart of Zacatelco, my grandmother’s soft and wrinkled hands would leave the strongest person crying at the stories of her youth. I was lucky enough to experience the feelings of her kitchen, and the aromas that left me with a growling stomach. I would leave the kitchen with satisfaction and pure happiness. Her stories ranged from the scariest encounters she’d had with a bull to having made a lot of sacrifices for her children.
Even today, her kitchen, which is now over 2,400 miles away from me, still calls to me. When the occasional aroma of cilantro with roasted tomatoes, or the smell of burnt chocolate for the process of mole, arrives in my nose, I tear at the nostalgic childhood I once had. Instead of hearing stories from my grandmother, I now tell the stories. I was lucky enough to be around and experience the strong feminine power my grandmother had. I am lucky to be able to tell them with such pride and courage she once had, I now embody that solace feeling of nostalgia rather than experiencing it. My grandmother, who is my hero, trained me to become my sister’s role model and hero.
My younger sisters, who now sit around the kitchen table, listen to me, while I tell them the stories that have been carried through several generations, from my great-grandmother to me. I tell them by making the same foods my grandmother once made.
When I chop the onions and garlic I start off with my favorite stories of our mother’s most daring choice of fleeing her country to achieve her dreams, because it gives me enough time to tell it through with such enthusiasm. Until the onions and garlic start to simmer in the butter, I go on with a joyful story, one about when I once ran through the mountains of Zacatelco barefoot and carefree and laid down on the burning grass just to be able to grasp the view of the sky at night and place my hand between the distance of the moon and brightest star. The occasional wide eyes I get from telling my story is followed my grandmother’s sad story of when she was forced to stop going to school because she had done “enough” schooling, and later followed by my great-grandmother’s story, about the time she ran away with my grandfather on the night before her wedding to a different man.
When I see my sisters’ eyes, I get to relive the similar care my grandmother showed me in her kitchen. The gentle faces I see around the table follow me as I roast the chiles poblanos and peel the seeds from the chipotles. Their noses soak up the aromas and their eyes close as they favor this moment.
I am proud to be the storyteller. I am proud to see how the aromas of my grandmother’s kitchen transformed me into the nostalgia I once had, my childhood is carried within me, I still reminisce in the little moments, but I savor them as I continue to grow and learn from my mistakes and experiences. The stories of these strong women remind me of how lucky I am to be able to break the generational trauma inflicted upon women in my family. I don’t have to worry about being forced to marry someone, or having to leave school because it is “enough”, or having to go across borders to reach a dream. The long nights in the kitchen with my grandmother prepared me to take the strength of the women in my family with me always, and pass it on, as I am with my sisters. Someday I will also pass it on to my children and grandchildren, as I make them a simple bowl of caldo de pollo on their bad days.
Writing about my family is very personal to me. Especially about my grandmother, the person who inspired me so much with her stories. As the oldest daughter from a first generation family, I sometimes forget how high the expectations are for me, it is draining at times to keep up, but I suddenly remember that I have two younger sisters that follow my footsteps everywhere I go. Suddenly the expectations I have are nothing but check marks. Which my grandmother had told me once, how nothing in life can be a check mark, because accomplishment is not a box you can check off, but rather a feeling passed on that can never be described by a check mark, because it so much and more. And as I grow older, I understand her wise words, each time I am taking bigger footsteps into achieving a place in this world, and with each footstep I know that someone else is following them. I may not be the best sister in the world, but I will do my best to be the best role model for my sisters. As I wrote about my nostalgic memories, I followed my grandmother’s motto on staying strong, especially as an older sister and a mentor.
Jasmine Ilyas-Grande is a high school senior in the process of applying to college. Outside of school, you can find her at the park sipping tea out of a straw while reading a collection of poetry, a romantic novel, or reading about the corners of the universe. On the weekends you can find her watching any comedic show. As a physics lover, she is interested in writing mathematical formulas and theoretical equations. She also enjoys writing poetry and exploring magical realism. She is happiest when she's combining her passion for physics with writing. Publications: Johns Hopkins; youth film arts; L.A. Rebellion film publication Johns Hopkins; youth film arts; poetry collection publication Johns Hopkins; youth film arts; script telling collection