Un plato de paella

The hardest thing that I have ever had to do, was my move to San Francisco for school. I had never been away from my family for longer than a week, and I couldn’t believe that I had made the choice to leave the comforts of Southern California. So while packing for school, I made sure that I brought along a few items that would remind me of home and the loved ones that are always watching over me.

These two bracelets are that reminder. The gold one was my abuela’s (grandmother) and the silver was given to me from my mother. My mother gave me the silver bracelet after one of her trips to Spain. The bracelet is from Galicia, where  my abuela’s family is from. My abuela and her family moved to Cuba, where my abuela met and married my abuelo.

In Havana Cuba, my abuela’s parents owned a jewlery store, my abuela was a teacher and my abuelo was a mechanic.

The late fifties/early sixties brought a lot of civil unrest to Cuba. The Cuban revolution was becoming very dangerous. My grandfather knew he had to help with the resistance against the new government…so he began providing medical supplies and food for those against Castro’s new Cuba. My mother is still traumatized from this time. My abuelo would be taken away by the new military for weeks at a time to be interrogated and beaten for helping the resistance.

My great grandparents saw how the new revolutionary government began the expropriation of private property, and they knew that they needed to protect their family. They closed down their jewelry store and began to hide their most valued jewels. They hid them in my mom and aunts toys. They would tear open stuffed bears, hid  jewels in the stuffing, then sew them up again. They also would tear the heads off their dolls and hid more jewelry in the dolls.

My abuela’s wedding portrait & us at my 1st Holy Communion

My abuela knew that they needed to leave Cuba, this was not how she wanted to raise her family. She went to the immigration office to plee for permission to leave for America, and of course she was denied. However while leaving the office, she walked by a window, and overheard officers speaking about the resistance efforts. She knew that was her chance. So she climbed through the window, and hid underneath a desk. Once the officers began to unveil more of their anti-Castro protest plans, she corned them and forced them to provide immigration papers for her family to the United States. So my mother at the age of six, her sister, my abuela and abuelo, and my great grandfather all made the voyage to Florida. Not only did they all survive the trip, but they were able to smuggle out all of the toys that carried the hidden jewels. Once they landed in Florida they slowing pawned off the jewelry. They bought a car and drove across country, ending in Los Angeles. There my abuela got a job as a high school Spanish teacher and my abuelo was a car mechanic.

My mother still has some of the jewelry that literally saved her family’s lives. To this day, she hides the pieces in random places throughout the house. The gold bracelet in the picture is one of those pieces that she gave to me to wear for my first high school dance. It is my favorite gift that I have ever received.

Josefina, La familila Velazquez y Garcia, my sister, abuela and me at my Tia’s wedding.

This journey from Spain to Cuba and then to the United States, is something that I have slowly learned over the years. I heard a lot of the stories from my abuela when she would come and babysit my sister and me when we were younger and my parents need time to themselves. Whenever she would come to visit she would bring a crate of ripe mangos, a tray of dired apricots and this pale yellow crock pot full of paella. Mangos, apricots and paella are what I consider comfort food, so I thought that I would share the beautiful meal.

Crock Pot Paella

1 1/2 cups uncooked converted long-grain white rice
1 can (14.5 oz) diced tomatoes, undrained
1 can (14 oz) chicken broth
1/2 pound andouille or Spanish sausage, cut into pieces
1/2 cup water
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon crushed saffron
4  boneless skinless chicken thighs
1/4 teaspoon paprika
1 cup frozen sweet peas (from 1-lb bag), thawed*
6 oz deveined shelled cooked medium shrimp
Brown sausage and chicken in skillet over medium heat.
In 4- to 5-quart slow cooker, mix rice and broth. Stir in tomatoes, sausage, water, salt, and saffron. Arrange chicken thighs in single layer over rice mixture. Sprinkle paprika over top.
Cover; cook on Low setting 5 to 6 hours.
About 35 minutes before serving, sprinkle thawed peas over chicken mixture. Arrange shrimp over top.
Increase heat setting to High; cover and cook 20 to 30 minutes longer or until shrimp are thoroughly heated.

It is so funny how in my last week of college, I am writing such a reflective post. It truly show how we all come full circle. I think that since my abuela y abuelo are no longer with me, I just feel closer to them when I’m there. I love San Francisco, but I cannot wait to be reunited with my first love, Los Angeles. Thank you all for the most wonderful semester and bueno suerte a todos!


Stephanie Cooper