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Family Dinners: The Chávez-García family keeps traditions going

Posted by Helaina Thompson | Jul 11, 2017 | Food & Drink

The Chávez-García family sits for a dinner of fish with mango-avocado pico de gallo and rice. — photo by Helaina Thompson

When their mobile home began to sway back and forth as their son, Pablo — 6 feet 2 inches tall and built like a football player — walked down the hallway, Pedro Chávez and Malena García agreed it was time to buy a bigger house.

So last summer, the Chávez-García family of five moved into their new Iowa City house on a cul-de-sac near Sycamore Mall. But an updated kitchen and two-car garage could not change family tradition.

“Inside this house, it’s Mexico,” says Chávez, which means you speak Spanish, he says, and, more importantly, you eat dinner together.

García, who spends her workdays as a residence hall cook for University of Iowa Housing & Dining, is putting in overtime in the kitchen tonight, battering and frying tilapia while her husband blends sugar and limes into a juicy limonada. A pot of rice and vegetables waits ready on the stove.

“It’s hard to work in a kitchen all day and still cook at home,” García says, “But nothing compares to the satisfaction of seeing your kids eating and enjoying the food.” She and Chávez have three children — Sebastian, the oldest; Pablo, a high school senior; and Mags, a junior (both attend City High).

García tops the fish with a mango-avocado pico de gallo and adds a heap of rice to each plate while Chávez pours the limonada into glasses. Pablo helps set the table, delivering plates to their respective placemats.

Mags appears, and, along with Pablo, sits at the table across from her mother; Chávez sits at the table’s head. Compared to Chávez’s childhood dinners — shared with his parents and 12 brothers and sisters in Michoacán, Mexico — this is a modest gathering.

“Eating together was like a party,” says Chávez fondly.

In contrast, García’s father, a truck driver, was regularly absent from her childhood dinners, and when he returned home to his family in Michoacán, he “just wanted to take the plate to the T.V.,” she says.

“Cooking dinner together — it’s the root to the family. It makes your family strong,” says García. “People need to try to eat together as much as possible.”

Chávez adds, “Eating together is a way to say ‘thank you’ to the people who took the time to cook for you, for everybody.”

Tonight, Pablo plans to attend a nearby high school musical with friends — but before he goes, he kisses his parents goodbye on the cheek. As Pablo exits through the door to the garage, a family friend, Theresa, and her two daughters enter through the front door, each offering Chávez and García a hello beso.

Chávez opens a bottle of red wine and pours. Glasses clink in a toast.

“¡Salud, salud, salud!”

The Chávez-García family. — photo by Helaina Thompson

Una cena familiar : La familia de Chávez-García Conserva Tradiciones

Cuando su casa móvil comenzó a temblar de un lado al otro mientras su hijo, Pablo — quien mide 6 pies y 2 pulgadas y que es tan fornido como un futbolista americano — caminaba por el pasillo, Pedro Chávez y Malena García acordaron que era hora de comprar una casa más grande.

Así que el verano pasado, la familia de Chávez-García con cinco miembros se mudó a su nueva casa de Iowa City en un callejón sin salida cerca de Sycamore Mall. Pero una cocina actualizada y un garaje de dos coches no podía impedir la tradición familiar.

“Dentro de esta casa, es México,” dice Chávez, lo cual significa que hablas español, él dice, y, más importante, cenas juntos.

García, quien pasa sus días de trabajo como una cocinera de la residencia de estudiantes para University Housing & Dining, está dedicando horas extras en la cocina esta noche, rebozando y friendo la tilapia mientras su esposo licua azúcar y limón para hacer una jugosa limonada. Una olla de arroz con verduras espera lista encima de la estufa.

“Es difícil trabajar en una cocina todo el día y tener que cocinar en casa,” dice García, “Pero nada se compara con la satisfacción de ver a sus hijos comiendo y disfrutando de la comida.”

Chávez y García tienen tres hijos: Sebastián, el mayor; Pablo, en su último año de la escuela secundaria y Mags, una estudiante de once grado (ambos asisten a City High).

García cubre el pescado con un pico de gallo con mango y aguacate y añade un montón de arroz a cada plato mientras Chávez vierte la limonada en vasos. Pablo ayuda a poner la mesa, entregando los platos a sus lugares respectivos.

Mags aparece, y junto con Pablo, se sienta en la mesa enfrente de su madre; Chávez se sienta en la cabecera de la mesa. En comparación con las cenas de la niñez de Chávez — compartidas con sus padres y 12 hermanos y hermanas en Michoacán, México —
este es una reunión modesta.

“Comer juntos era como una fiesta,” dice Chávez, recordando con cariño a su familia.

Por el contrario, el padre de García, un camionero, estaba regularmente ausente durante su niñez, y cuando estaba en casa en Michoacán, “sólo quería llevar el plato a la televisión,” ella dice.

“Cocinar la cena juntos — es la raíz de la familia. Crea una familia fuerte,” dice García. “La gente necesita tratar de comer juntos lo más posible.”

Chávez añade: “Comer juntos es una manera de decir ‘gracias’ a la gente que tomó el tiempo para cocinar para ti, para todos.”

Esta noche, Pablo planea asistir a un musical de la escuela secundaria con amigos, pero antes de irse, besa a sus padres adiós en la mejilla. Mientras Pablo sale por la puerta del garaje, una amiga de la familia, Theresa, y sus dos hijas entran por la puerta principal, ofreciendo besos al saludarse.

Chávez abre una botella de vino tinto y vierte. Los vasos suenan al brindar.

“¡Salud, salud, salud!”

This article was originally published in Little Village issue 224.

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