Pan Dulce in My Veins
by Jazmine Florencio
My life growing up in a family of bakers.
Everyone’s family has a thing–a trait that is particular to their family. They might have a long line of science lovers. Or maybe excellent cooks. In some cases, singers.
My family’s ‘thing’ is baking. We have four competing bakeries in the Florencio family. My father opened the first one in 2001, before my sister and I were even born. Soon after that, many of my aunts and uncles were inspired by my father’s success and decided to open their businesses, all of them less than a mile from one another. In 2013, after my father passed away, my mother took over the business with the help of my stepfather.
While many families argue about politics and money over holiday dinners, my family argued over eggs. Who took eggs from whom? Who stole whose recipe? Even after my dad passed away, the bickering has continued. Customers often come to our bakery and complain about prices or even poor customer service at the other bakeries. The drama never stops. But at the end of the day, my relatives compete with each other because they want what’s best for their own families.
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Most of my childhood took place in my parents’ bakery, which specializes in tres leches cakes and pan dulce, also known as sweet bread. I always loved the sweet bread, often topped with sugar and accompanied by coffee in the mornings. My favorite smell of all smells is the pan dulce baking in the ovens. The aroma has also captivated people walking by, many of whom come in to ask about that delicious smell.
My dad tried to pass down his passion for baking to me. But the brown sticky dough in between my fingers always made me feel uneasy. I was never too fond of the dough and how hard it was to work with. I knew that baking wasn’t my strongest suit, even at the age of five. The form of my pastry demonstrated that. Mine stood out – the only rectangle in a tray of eleven flat brown balls.
After my dad passed away, my stepdad always welcomed me to the bakery’s kitchen, where the magic happened. I would sit on a closed bucket of strawberry icing while watching the way his hands delicately placed rectangular-shaped bread into a container of tres leches, letting the bread soak in the milk for a couple of seconds before carefully placing it on a plate for the fruit and icing.
I watched in awe, taking everything in. The smell of the pan dulce baking in the giant out-of-date ovens that my mom had been trying to get rid of for years. My brother working on the cash register, catching up with a regular customer on neighborhood gossip. Beside him, my mom eavesdropping while looking over the cake orders for the next day. My twin sister decorating the cakes that my stepdad had finished baking. It was always her favorite thing to do.
I noticed over the years the impact that the bakeries had on my family. My aunts and uncles worked so hard to open the businesses. But they never wanted their own children to take over their jobs. Instead, they wanted them to move up in life.
Just like my father. Even though he founded the first Florencio bakery, he encouraged me not to work there. He didn’t want me to work at the family business. Instead, he wanted me to study hard to one day become a doctor or a lawyer. He always told me I was destined to do better.
Of course, at seven years old, I didn’t know what he meant. But, to be fair, I also thought that having a family of bakers was normal. Didn’t everyone’s families argue over eggs and milk?
But deep inside, even at seven years old, I knew that I was destined to become a lawyer. Although I didn’t have delicate hands to make pastries, I did have a strong and firm voice that I could use for good. I could use that voice to help underprivileged communities.
Although my dad was proud to be the first business owner in the family, he knew that he had sacrificed a lot. He didn’t want that for me. He wanted me to have a job that didn’t require a lot of physical labor. He often spoke of how I should have an office job, where I could sit at a desk in front of a computer instead of standing all day and getting swollen hands or feet.
Pan dulce continues to be a significant part of my life. It grounds me and reminds me of where I come from. Where my parents came from. But regardless of what I accomplish or where I am destined to be, my family’s bakery will always be my first home, where I learned to walk, where I learned to climb the Bimbo Bread cart, where my aspirations developed. Pan dulce is a part of my family, a part of me, and in my veins.
I took my inspiration from my family’s everyday life. I explored my childhood memories to discover what they mean to me. Writing this piece helped me better understand my family and the dynamics in my family.
Jazmine Florencio is a high school junior who is proud of her Mexican roots. She often writes about people who are underrepresented, including people of color and mothers. She wants to use her voice to bring attention to those who are often forgotten in the eyes of society.
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