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How my parents unknowingly prepared me for the COVID-19 pandemic

Thursday night I checked our cabinets to see if we needed groceries after listening to stories about chaos at the stores. We had three packs of Costco toilet paper, rice and other grains to last for months and a freezer filled with frozen fruits & veggies- all we were out of was fresh produce and beans.

I texted my 65yr old mom to ask how she & my 90yr grandmother were doing & if they needed any groceries. Like me, they only needed a few things, toilet paper being one of them.
 

Raquel Castañeda-López

I smiled and laughed reading her reply. We were already stockpiled for a crisis... we always had been.

As a child I remember my mom arriving at home with a case of green peppers, smiling and proudly announcing “I got this whole case for $2.” We were excited by her find and because we knew we’d be eating delicious stuffed green peppers, filled with cheesy mexican rice, for days.

We never questioned why she bought cases of food, or stockpiled sale items- food stamps limited what she could buy and there were 10 of us to feed. She knew buying in bulk and cooking from scratch was the only way to feed us all.

Grocery shopping was our family outing and each trip she taught us how to get the most for every dollar. She’d calculate the price per ounce and inspect cases of produce to find the one with the least amount of moldy fruit- we’d eat some and freeze the rest. If we questioned our need for the quantity or size of an item, she’d say “someone else will need some” or “it’s best to buy it on sale and save it for later, so you never run out.”

My father didn’t always agree with this food hoarding, but admired my mother's shopping skills. He had his own “thriftiness” mindset: never waste anything. For him, all you really needed to survive were beans and tortillas. With that, we’d be fine. But he loved fresh fruit, thus the cases my mom bought. My mom grew up in the Herman Garden projects on Detroit’s west side and my father in Coahuila, Mexico in the 1930s. Needless to say they were both poor. They passed the skills they developed to survive onto my siblings and I as we grew up in poverty in Detroit.

While there is so much pain and struggle in their stories and mine, I am reminded in moments of crisis of their resiliency and pulsating strength. I’m grateful for the skills I learned from them.

Many of our parents have been through so much struggle and prepared us for this pandemic without even knowing it. This resiliency, preparedness, and strength is what makes our community beautiful and is what will get us through this struggle.

I told her I’d bring her some toilet paper & tortillas this weekend ‘cause I’d already bought it for her just in case ...

Editors Note: Raquel Castañeda-López, a lifelong Detroiter, made history in November 2013 by becoming the first Latina elected to the Detroit City Council. A social worker by trade, Castañeda-López has over ten years of experience in the non-profit sector and is committed to working for social justice to improve the quality of life for all Detroiters. She developed a strong resident service program, through grassroots organizing and a mobile office, helping residents and businesses cut through the ‘red tape’ in order to access services and resources. She is working to ensure Detroiters have a voice on City Council championing policies that promote access, inclusivity and equity.

Vision: A Detroit where every voice is valued

Mission: Promoting a just and thriving Detroit through community advocacy, public service and inclusive policy

 

 

 
Copyright © 1989 to 2020 by [LaPrensa Publications Inc.]. All rights reserved.
Revised: 04/14/20 19:11:48 -0700.

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