Reconnecting with my Roots via Comfort Food
By Kim Hoyos
Fall 2015 was the the first time I tried to cook Colombian food. I had recently moved into an apartment for my sophomore year of college and was desperately homesick. There was so much going on during the time. I was having serious issues with roommates, trying to untangle my thoughts and feelings post my first breakup, and generally attempting to regain some balance in my life. Everything felt difficult and I didn’t know how to help myself. I pride myself in being independent, but independence is not mutually exclusive from the innate need to have support. Luckily, my family is the greatest support system I could ask for. Both immigrating from Colombia, my parents have built a beautiful life for myself and my brother in the States. From a young age, they allowed us to relish our individuality and pushed us to always work our hardest. We always felt seen, heard, and loved in our household, but those were three things I did not feel in my life when I was 19.
I remember coming home from a class frantically upset about my lack of agency over my thoughts and general inability to tune out criticism. I felt a bit lost in my art and pressured to constantly make films for my classes. I felt very lonely and what made me feel worse was the fact that I didn’t live far from my hometown. I knew that I couldn't just drop all my responsibilities and go home, but I still wanted to magically teleport myself back to my childhood bedroom and into a blanket burrito to ignore the world. It was angst, it was a bit of depression, it was me learning that I needed to find ways to comfort myself. I don’t think enough people talk about how isolating it can feel to live at school, in an environment you’re somewhat forcing to feel like the familiarity you’re leaving. My school boasts over 40K undergraduate students, spans 5 campuses connected via a bus system, and crosses various zip codes. It’s very easy to feel alone there.
I put my bag on the floor and threw my sweater over a chair trying to decide what to eat for dinner. Opening up my cabinets, a can of lentejas immediately caught my eye. I knew I had arroz, carne in the fridge, and an aguacate that was perfectly ripe. I took the can in my hands and it felt heavy. I knew a traditional Colombian meal would be the ultimate comfort food, but I was a bit nervous. The truth was: I’d never made Colombian food before. At home my parents were always cooking, and the times I’d make myself food, I opted for the American classic of Mac and Cheese or a quick sandwich. In that moment, there was nothing I wanted more than to feel like I was doing something right.
Determined, I laid out all of the ingredients and tried to channel my mother.
I knew my fear stemmed from a lot of my general insecurities of not feeling “Latina” enough. I get insecure about my American accent while speaking spanish, general interests, and the fact that I’m white passing. Even then, I knew I was choosing that moment to prove to myself that I hadn’t lost an important part of myself at a time when my world felt very uneasy. I missed my family and how much easier their words and love made everything feel, so I cooked.
I filled my school apartment with the smells that filled my family home, trying to remember every step my mom took in preparation. Carefully, I cut, combined, and taste tested the food- everything seemed okay so far. I found myself acting almost out of muscle memory. I knew my mom never formally taught me how to cook that specific meal. When I was younger, my mom would try to teach me how to cook much to my resistance. I didn’t want to learn because I was lazy, but I also took my culture for granted. I figured that I would always have arroz y frijoles in my life, so there was no point of learning how to make it. She would barter with me, telling me I could have a candy or snack if I sat with her to keep her company. I would sit on a ledge in the kitchen watching her gracefully move as I talked about my day at school or whatever chisme I had. Those were informal lessons that I didn’t realize I absorbed until I desperately needed comfort.
I sat down at my apartment’s tiny table and took a deep breath. I tried my meal and instantly felt comfortable. And with that meal, I felt like I was home.
Although I had put so much pressure on myself to feel some semblance of control, admitting to myself I needed a moment to breathe and going to back to my roots was what I actually needed. It wasn’t that I needed to be coddled by my family or marinate in my feels. I found the stability I needed by slowing down to cook that meal. My family is has always encouraged me to follow my moral compass, weed out negativity, and pursue the goals that I have for myself. Concentrating on one task allowed me to focus on myself, remember what I find important, and what I want to accomplish because it was something that instantly grounded me. It can be easy to feel overwhelmed by life’s stressors but in reconnecting with my culture through food, I found a constructive way to relieve my stress and move forward.
Words by Kim Hoyos
Images from UnSplash
Kim Hoyos is a Latina filmmaker, writer, and founder of the Light Leaks, a site for female and GNC filmmakers. She's currently a senior at Rutgers University studying Journalism and Media Studies. Her past work experiences include internships at MTV, NBC's Late Night with Seth Meyers and the Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon, and freelance work for Spotify, Millennials of NY, and more. She's independently directed, written, edited, and produced 7 short films, 4 web series, 2 documentaries, and countless social media clips. In her free time, she enjoys blogging, cooking, and exercise.