Why Vis? In this month's View from Vis blog, Upper School Director Anna Barter has some heartfelt answers to that question, particularly in regard to Visitation's impact on herself, the students and the broader community. Please read this month's blog post to see some of Dr. Barter's answers to why Vis is such a compelling place.
The View From Vis Blog
For the past few years, Visitation produced a blog that frequently featured the school’s faculty and staff. For the 2017-2018 school year, the Visitation blog will be authored by Visitation’s faculty and staff, who will share their ideas, advice, memories and musings with our broader community. We hope you enjoy this new blog, which has been dubbed “The View from Vis."
As always, we welcome your comments and feedback.
As autumn and its bountiful harvest come upon us, Upper School English teacher Nicole Sutton reflects on the ways that food helps us connect to our cultural identities. Read this month's post to see how Nicole and one of her former students used food as a means for personal discovery.
Remembrance through Family and Food
I have this theory that if you learn how to listen, you will learn who you are. I also have a second theory that food can help us in that listening and learning process. As fall settles in around us – and with it the bounty of a good harvest, I find myself reflecting on these theories as I cook and spend time with my family.
I have been fortunate enough to incorporate both of my theories into my teaching career. When I taught college-level English to adult students, I cooked up a class titled "Food and Ethnic Identity." On the first day, one of my students, a Nigerian-born woman, asked how in the world would she ever be able to write about something as mundane as food. By the end of the course, that same student presented her final paper and said, "Food: it is everywhere! Food is life!" In fact, for the many newly arrived immigrants I taught that year, food expressed ethnicity and, more than that, food expressed freedom and identity; it became something longed for, remembered, something to unite a displaced people. And, as I shared my own family's immigrant experiences with them, my students learned that food is a way to connect with their past, their family and themselves.
The Search for Self
As an undergraduate, I met a lot of people who were "searching for themselves." They told me about their search with such pride as if this is what all sophisticated people do in college. At first, I felt intimidated: why wasn't I searching for myself? Did I really know who I was? Friends told me I had to forget my family, my Catholic faith; I should go off and just be my own person on my own terms.
There is something to be said for being independent and knowing how to survive on one's own; however, searching for myself by forgetting everything that made me "me" seemed counter-productive. In fact, too often, this kind of self-seeking takes people in the opposite direction of who they really are. The truth is, I needed to know my past—to know it well enough to make sense out of it and use that understanding to forge my own story. Besides, when I sat and thought about it, I realized that I sort of already knew who I was, and so much of that selfhood was entwined with the love of my family and friends.
My personal exploration of selfhood began not in college but as a young girl at my mother's kitchen table, where I learned how to make cavatelli (you roll the pasta like this with your thumb), manicotti (like cheese-stuffed crêpes, only smaller), and, my personal favorite, 'panata (a pocket of dough stuffed with sausage or spinach and raisins). I grew up surrounded by these foods, watching and listening to my grandmother and great aunts, in their broken English, teaching my mother, "The American," how to work the recipes. And so we kept alive the traditions from those ancient villages in Sicily and southern Italy. This heritage is something that has always shaped who I am, given me a starting point, been something to fall back on. When all else fails and there's nothing left to do but pray and wait, I can spend a few hours in my kitchen and find peace all because I listened.
Remembrance, then, and a habit of listening are key ingredients in understanding selfhood, and my Nigerian students offered me another opportunity to listen and learn as they shared their selfhood journeys and food identities. One young woman, in particular, told a story about chicken gizzards, which became, interestingly enough, the vehicle she used to find herself.
In her tribe in Nigeria, women never eat the gizzards of a chicken. Whenever she cooked chicken, the gizzards were specially prepared and offered only to the men. But throughout her entire life, she had silently rebelled at this – why couldn't she eat chicken gizzards too? Why was it only men had this privilege? Did not women deserve to eat whatever they wanted? My student was determined that, one day, she would eat chicken gizzards and finally be equal to a man. Her arrival in America brought with her this hard-sought freedom. She told her mother and her husband, "I am in America now. I am free and can eat whatever I want!" Her mother warned her, "Gizzards will make you sick. You will not like them." But she would not be dissuaded. This food had become something more than just a meal: it had become a declaration of selfhood. So she cooked the chicken, fried the gizzards, ate them, and spent the entire night sick to her stomach. "They are disgusting," she told me, and then she gave me a big smile, "but I ate them!"
As my students and I have discovered in moments of epiphany and over time, food traditions hold memories and can help us discover ourselves, allowing us to gain both selfhood and freedom in a beautiful way.
One last thought: I have attached a recipe for something called "pizza rustica" — a savory pie, loaded with all the meats and cheeses from which my stalwart Italian family members fasted the duration of Lent and baked for Easter. My mother always made my sister and me help her cook this pie on Holy Saturday, and we were never allowed to break our Lenten fast until after Mass — not even for one, tiny, little, insignificant taste of the imported prosciutto, which, truth be told, tasted like heaven on earth! I hope you enjoy this little food story come-to-life!
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