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The Tortilla Maker

Instilling the cultural heritage of a people to the next generation requires more than simply teaching the history, rules, and belief systems of the cultural group to these young ones. They need to be imbibed willingly and voluntarily by the individual. They need to feel good about their people. In the story entitled The Tortilla Maker, a mother attempts to instill the cultural heritage of their Latin people to her daughter using the laws of her kitchen and the steps in making the tortilla as framework for her teachings and philosophies.

In Ta-Na-E-Ka, a grandfather makes her grandchildren undergo a Native American rite of passage to make them understand the value of this tribal custom and at the same time, make them proud of their Kaw heritage. Of the two characters, it is the grandfather who successfully inculcates the cultural heritage of his people to the younger generation. The individual should regard his cultural heritage positively if it is to be practiced and handed on to the succeeding generation.

This becomes difficult to realize, however, when the members of the cultural group live in a society where the majority of the people living there have a different culture, like in the two stories being discussed. The tendency is for the young to adopt the culture of their peers instead of their parents’ for reasons like peer pressure or simply the need to be like everyone else. After her Ta-Na-E-Ka experience, Mary would surely be prouder of being a Kaw Indian, she would promote her heritage to others and pass it on to her children because of the positive impact the experience brought her.

She learned to rely on herself and make her culture understood to non-members, just the values the cultural rite is supposed to teach. The approval she gained from her grandfather in the end of the story, in spite the fact that she did things differently, is also very important in that this reinforces the good feeling she got after the five-day rite. Patricia, on the other hand, would have a harder time at it because of the kind of reaction that she gets from her mother, a far cry from that of Mary’s grandfather.

Instead of being encouraging and consoling of her daughter’s failed attempts at making perfect tortillas, her mother’s reactions consist of sighing, a sign that she is simply containing her patience with her. This disappointment is further compounded when Patricia’s children exclaims about how much better their grandmother’s tortillas look. Furthermore, the laws of her kitchen do not have clear-cut rationales for their being imposed. For example, the necessity for a starched tablecloth instead of placemats is not defined in practical terms, even as a symbolism of real-life lessons.

In contrast, the aim of the Ta-Na-E-Ka, to build strength of character to the participant, is clearly explained by the grandfather to the young participants and understood by the latter. The second reason for the grandfather’s success in instilling their cultural heritage is his acknowledgment of the fact that the rules of Ta-Na-E-Ka can also reflect the modern times. The customs and beliefs of one’s heritage should be flexible enough to adjust to a changing society.

Many traditions of minority groups are threatened of becoming forgotten because the younger generation thinks they have become outdated, old-fashioned or not in keeping with the times. The gap between generations can actually be bridged when a compromise is made. When Mary tells his grandfather the truth about how she survived five days of living on her own, the grandfather commended her for being smart even if what she did were not what was customary and what he expected. The grandfather, in turn, told of how he also found a way of surviving his own Ta-Na-E-Ka decades ago.

He did something that was also a break from tradition during his own time. The grandfather knows that times change and how they do things in his time should not be imposed on present generations. The important thing is that Mary valued the experience and her heritage as a result of the experience. In contrast, Patricia’s mother is rigid with her rules. Since childhood Patricia has always perceived a distance between her and her mother. Patricia regarded her as a queen. Her mother would not even allow the use of modern implements like measuring cups and spoons.

Had she given in to Patricia’s simple request to write down the recipe and the correct measurement of ingredients, it would have gone a long way towards making Patricia appreciate the task of making tortillas—a symbolic task that characterizes her cultural heritage. In a society where modern Western culture has become the norm, it has become more and more difficult to instill within the younger generation the rich (but considered different) cultural heritage of minority groups like Native Indians and Latin Americans. It is simply a matter of how the older generation teaches the way of their people to their children.

If they make the younger ones develop a positive regard to their unique heritage, they would succeed like what happened with the story of Mary and her grandfather. In the end, Mary was proud to have survived the rite and to be a Kaw. However, if parents make their children feel negatively about their culture, they would fail like Patricia’s mother did with her daughter. In the end, Patricia feels that she would never be like her mother and she could not see herself ever adopting her ways, even if it is only to make the perfect tortilla.

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