Without doubt, Tinum’s top tortilla maker is Doña Piedad. She just simply seems to have a magical touch. Of course the difference between her tortillas and those made by everyone else in town is microscopic, but that difference is enough to distinguish edible perfection. And it goes without saying, that that’s a lucky thing for me, because it seems I often end up eating lots and lots of tortillas that she makes, because I often visit her and her husband Don Fonso, who never let me leave without first filling my belly.
Doña Piedad moved from across town where she was born and raised when she married Don Fonso, but most of her family still lives right there where they always have. Doña Piedad’s father recently passed away at the age of 90, but her mother Doña Dolita, her sister Doña Lis, and her three brothers Datel, Frisco, and Raul are all doing quite well. This seems to be because they are a family with strong traditional values, and have made those values the backbone of their existence and happiness. It’s an interesting tale, because one of their own flew the coop there for a while, in what became an eventual opportunity for them all to measure the worth of their devotion to their lifestyle.
As stated, Doña Piedad got married and moved across town, but so did her sister years ago, although she only moved across the street. And whereas Doña Piedad has since been only able to help out when she could with family matters due to the fact that she had her own family to tend to, Dona Lis has remained a vital element of the family’s daily mechanics. She is still involved with the preparation of just about every meal Doña Dolita makes, and she even has a list of chores she faithfully tends to. None of Doña Piedad’s brothers have ever married though, and instead have followed in the footsteps of their father and have become exceptional farmers and providers. But one of the brothers, Datel, did break the mold slightly, and for a while did something quite unique and very different amongst them all.
It’s not uncommon in Tinum to occasionally hear stories about someone who swam the Rio Grande and entered the US illegally, and then spent several years in LA before returning to the Yucatan. And there are even some who’ve stayed, marrying Americans and have by now become citizens of the US themselves, and who return to Tinum every other year or so to see their families they’ve left behind. Anyway, Datel had a lucky encounter eight years ago, when he just happened to be in Cancun visiting extended family members, and met the owner of a small resort in the Catskills of New York State. The two hit it off wonderfully, and the vacationing American (with Latin American roots) was able to cut through enough red tape and somehow pulled enough strings to eventually get Datel a work visa to enter the US. And then for six years in a row, Datel spent the months of spring, summer, and autumn at the resort working in the kitchen, and only returned home to Tinum for the few months of winter. He gained weight, learned a little English, made a little money, and saw things everyone else in his family had never seen.
But two years ago, Datel’s father fell ill, and Datel decided to stay in Tinum permanently to help his family through it, but more importantly, to get back to his own roots. He said, that with being in upstate New York year after year, he’d felt as though he was beginning to lose touch with his heritage, and that the materialistic American way of life he was surrounded by at the resort had been bothering him for a long time. So suddenly, Datel traded in a relatively luxurious existence living and working at an exclusive resort, to become a simple campesino again. The last I saw him a year ago, he’d slimmed down considerably, and had completely lost the slight American attitude and aura he obtained living in the US. In fact, he and his brothers were nothing but immensely proud of the massive amounts of work that they’d been doing, and were more than enthused to show me the fruits of their labors.
First of all, they had a cornucopia of items they’d grown out in the milpa that they wanted me to taste, including yucca (root), camote (sweet potato), and jicama (kind of a crunchy potato). But more impressive was their harvest of corn. They had such an abundant harvest, that they had more than the family would need during the upcoming year, and sold off the excess for a small income. The rest they kept, and put into a storage bin they call a casita, meaning “little house”. But the casita they’d built especially for their giant harvest, was far from being small. It was instead, the largest I’d ever seen, and was a truly impressive sight to behold. And it represented an amazing amount of physical labor that included untold hours of hand harvesting in acres and acres of corn fields (milpas), stuffing giant burlap sacks and then carrying them out to the road, transporting them home by means of countless trips on a triciclo or tied to the back rack of a bicycle, and then placing each ear tightly in layers within the casita.
So today, Datel is a humble Yucatecan again, and living the truly rewarding life with his family that he loves so much. It’s backbreaking hard, sweaty, and very time consuming, but according to Datel, is the only way they like life to be. The satisfaction of providing for themselves is a shared sensation amongst almost all who live in Tinum, and their faith that God will watch over them if they merely abide by his wishes, allows everyone a contentedness existence despite the daily rigors of simply surviving. Someone like Doña Piedad is especially devout, and is absolutely void of any desires of just packing up and going and seeing the world. In fact, it’s difficult to even talk her into making a trip into Valladolid only 12 miles away. She’s much happier simply staying at home tending to her animals, doing laundry, watering her plants, weaving hammocks, making always-scrumptious meals, and of course, patting out perfect tortillas for hours.