Keeping Traditions Alive

Passing down culture for the next generation.

Miguel Ramos-Esquivel has spent more than half his life outside his country of birth. But when he left Mexico at just 15 years old, Miguel carried his roots with him. Now married and a father, Miguel reflects on the lifelong influences of his family’s culture, and shares how he is passing down the traditions he grew up with to a new generation.


Reflections on the Past

Looking back, many memories that stand out to Miguel as times of cultural connection are found in celebration and food. Around his family’s table, traces of Miguel’s Mexican and Lebanese roots were everywhere—in the traditional Lebanese food his grandmother integrated with holidays, birthdays, and family gatherings; in Christmases spent eating turkey alongside tabbouleh made with a Mexican twist; and in foods that were guaranteed to be eaten every Sunday.

“Every Sunday we’d eat zacahuil (zah-kah-WHEEl) and bocoles (boh-COH-less),” he recalls. “In a nutshell, zacahuil is essentially a 4’-6’ pork tamal that is wrapped in banana leaves and cooked over a long period of time (usually overnight) in a pit that’s been dug into the ground. Bocoles are corn dough made into a patty using lard, and cooked on a flat grill. They can be filled with whatever you have at hand: scrambled eggs with salsa, beef, pork, refried beans, cheese, etc. My grandma used to make me bocoles whenever I wanted, but it was a given that Sunday bocoles were a tradition for my family!”


Miguel recalls asking his grandmother to make one of his favourite dishes, enchiladas huastecas. Consisting of homemade tortillas with fresh cheese and topped with a light tomato broth, this dish, alongside zacahuil and bocoles, originates in the Huasteca region in central Mexico—this is where Miguel was born, the home of the Tenek Indigenous people.

Bringing Traditions Into Celebrations Today

When Miguel married, he found an even deeper appreciation for his many cultural ties. “To me, the ability to have two different cuisines options at home made me realize how lucky I [am] was, to have such a rich background . . . Marrying someone outside of my culture, who has different traditions from my own, has made me more aware of my own traditions that have never seemed out of the ordinary.”


Today, many of the happiest times in Miguel’s home speak to these long-held traditions.


“The biggest tradition that we've embraced as a family is having a big Christmas Eve dinner in preparation for Christmas day; late-night dinner, and Luis Miguel boléro and mariachi songs. In Mexico, it’s a general practice to have a big celebration on Christmas Eve that goes well into the night to await Jesus's birth.”

For Miguel’s daughters, piñatas—which are also used for Independence Day, día de los Muertos (Day of the Dead), and Christmas—are a highlight for their birthdays.


“Although it is a bit difficult to find them here, they’ve become more mainstream. Traditionally, they are filled with fruit, nuts or vegetables (oranges, sugar cane, peanuts, jicama, etc.). BUT, that has been replaced with candy . . . A traditional piñata has seven points/peaks and each one represents a deadly sin that must be destroyed. Recently, piñatas have become less religious and taken a more central focus in pop culture . . . The last piñata we had was for Lucía’s birthday in Paris; I managed to find a t-rex piñata, and filled it with candy. We all took turns beating it with an umbrella in our hotel room.”


Although the way piñatas are used has shifted across generations, their presence in these special moments remain meaningful. This twist on tradition is also seen in Miguel’s home through the observance of “mordida,” or the biting into one’s birthday cake after singing happy birthday.


“The person being celebrated bites ‘lightly’ into the cake, but everyone around them push their heads into the cake. It is supposed to be harmless fun, and it is expected by everyone attending the celebration.” While “the jury is still out” in regards to some of his children’s feelings about mordida, there is a good workaround for ruined cake! “To circumvent any issues with not having enough cake, it’s becoming customary to have two cakes: one for the mordida and another one to share with guests.”


For future birthday milestones, Miguel and his wife look forward to planning their daughters a Quinceañera—his daughter Lucia even hopes to have hers in Mexico.

“A quinceañera is basically a sweet sixteen celebration, but when you turn 15. This social event is actually quite similar to a wedding; the birthday girl wears a formal gown, there’s a DJ, dancing, drinking, cake, food, gifts given to the quinceñera, etc.


It is a girl’s formal introduction to society and a passage from girlhood to womanhood. Although the meaning behind this celebration is outdated by modern standards, it’s still fun to have a big party with family and friends.”


Keeping Traditions in Daily Life

In life beyond these joyous occasions, Miguel’s family and community are enriched with cultural influences. “Outside of holidays, music and television from Mexico and Latin America is always playing at the house . . .I hadn't thought about this, but I share my culture with my neighbours all the time. I bring them jars of homemade salsa whenever I make some. I bring guacamole or my own dishes to bbqs, and lately, I introduced a friend to potato chips with lime, and Valentine hot sauce. She swears it was life changing . . . Keeping culture alive one dish at a time, I guess!”


Another tradition kept safe are names, which have been passed down in Miguel’s family.


“It is a way to honour and pay tribute to people that have given you everything, to keep them ‘alive’ for at least one more generation. Lucía’s middle name is Rebeca, honouring my mom and grandmother. Aurora is named after my grandfather’s mom. We thought we’d only have two kids, so I wanted to honour my grandpa somehow; he liked the idea and my great-grandmother’s is ‘alive’ for another generation. Had Aurora been a boy, he’d have been named after my grandfather Ignacio. Now, my third kid, Miguel, was a surprise to all of us. I was named after my uncle, so it is also a way to pay tribute to him.”


Miguel’s children were also given both their parents’ last names. “It is traditional in Hispanic culture to have both of your parents’ last names. It can be confusing at times, but we decided to do it regardless, and now they have an extra piece of both of us.”


Looking to the future, Miguel hopes to see his children not only keep some of what he has passed down in their lives, but make it their own as well.

 

Which pieces of your own roots do you most hope to see passed down? Are there any you’ve already shared with loved ones? Let us know in the comments below!