National Hispanic Heritage Month: Mark Villalovos
Graziadio Alumnus and Director at Shop Your Way
My grandparents were from a small town in Chihuahua, Mexico, near Juarez across the Rio Grande from El Paso, Texas. My grandfather secured his path to U.S. citizenship by working the copper mines on both sides of the US/Mexico border at a very young age.
This ore was used in ammunition manufacturing in support of the Mexican Revolution (1910 - 1920). Once demand declined, my grandparents settled in Albuquerque, New Mexico before migrating west and settling in Los Angeles in the mid-1940’s. My grandfather was a roofer and raised 5 boys and 1 girl (my mother) in the Lincoln Heights neighborhood of Los Angeles.
I have these grandparents to thank for my deep feelings of pride and respect for my ancestral Mexican heritage. Being the second of 6 children, one of my fondest childhood memories was spending two full weeks each summer alone with my grandparents. As we strung and hung Chile Ristras, my grandmother would regale me with stories of Pancho Villa storming into her village when she was a little girl, searching for food, drink and to recruit young men to join his army of Revolutionaries. My grandfather would surprise me by arriving home with a live chicken and laugh hysterically as I wore myself out chasing it around the backyard all afternoon (it never dawned on me that chicken dinners always seemed to follow those escapades.)
Part of our Mexican heritage was a deep observance of our Catholic faith. In addition to weekly visits from a local Priest and leadership roles within their Parish community, each Christmas my grandparents would erect a “Nacimiento” - an elaborate three dimensional re-creation of the Nativity and surrounding Bethlehem as they may have appeared at Jesus’ birth. Erecting the Nacimiento and searching for any new additions of shepherds, manger livestock, inn keepers, or angels was an annual tradition.
Growing up in Pico Rivera, CA, my parents instilled in their six children the values of hard work, respect, and the idea that to honor our heritage we needed to rise up and not fall into the trappings of “typical” (my mom’s word) young Latinos in that area. No gangs or graffiti, no staying out all hours, no running afoul of the law. Although strict, our childhood was balanced with Mexican traditions of enormous, extended family celebrations, piñatas and mariachis at parties, hand made tortillas (see recipe below) and a wealth of homemade Mexican cuisine. My favorite Mexican food is Chilaquiles - although no restaurant has come close to the savory flavor of my mother’s special recipe (fried corn tortilla pieces simmered in red salsa and topped with cheese, sliced onions, shredded chicken, and a fried egg). While working around the house, my parents listened to LP’s of Vicente Fernández, Pedro Infante and Miguel Aceves Mejía. To this day this music brings back sweet memories.
Today, my wife, two children and I celebrate our Mexican heritage through the enjoyment of food, music and dance. The Pilsen neighborhood on the North Side of Chicago is an especially vibrant Mexican community we enjoy visiting. During Hispanic Heritage Month, we’ve attended festivals and other celebrations featuring traditional Folklorico Dance, Mariachi and (of course) delicious Mexican foods. While Chicagoland doesn’t offer all of the Mexican culinary delicacies found in Los Angeles, after due diligence we have scouted out our favorite local Taquerias and Mercados to satisfy our cravings and find authentic recipe ingredients.
I am an Executive Member of the Chicago Latino Network and a great supporter of HACE - Chicago. I volunteer in support of young professionals and job seekers and have spoken at local High Schools on the importance of goal setting, creating a plan, and taking massive action toward achieving their goals.
A very wise friend once said the secret to long life was to pause and breathe, because to do so was “Para disfrutar la vida” or “To toast the enjoyment of life.” I believe celebrating one's heritage is critical. Chances are what brought joy to your ancestors back then will bring joy to you today. Learn, discover, research, question. Celebrate your heritage loudly and proudly!
Maria Villalovos’ Homemade Flour Tortillas
Like a warm hug directly from Mexico
You need a griddle, rolling pin and cutting board or other sturdy surface to roll dough.
- 2 Cups Flour
- 1 tsp. Baking Powder
- ½ tsp. Salt
- ¾ - 1 Cup Shortening
- 1 - 1 1/2 Cups WARM Water
- Sift flour and then mix in baking powder and salt.
- Add shortening and blend together using an electric mixer or sturdy wooden spatula.
- Sparingly add just enough water to form consistent dough. If it sticks to your fingers, add flour.
- Knead by hand on a floured surface for about two minutes.
- Form a large roll and twist off 2”- 3” dough balls.
- Pre-heat a griddle to medium on your cooktop.
Sprinkle a bit of flour on the rolling pin and on your rolling surface to keep the dough from sticking to the roller or the surface. Forcefully roll from the center toward the edges, turning dough over often. Don’t be afraid to roll until they’re paper thin, they’ll thicken with heat. Heat on griddle until bubbles appear and begin to brown, flip, heat side 2. Best when enjoyed warm!
Yields 6 - 10 tortillas depending on size.
Do you have any closing thoughts or comments about diversity?
A very wise friend once said the secret to a long life was to pause and breathe, because to do so was “Para disfrutar la vida” or “To toast the enjoyment of life.” I believe celebrating one's heritage is critical. Chances are what brought joy to your ancestors back then will bring joy to you today. Learn, discover, research, question. Celebrate your heritage loudly and proudly!