The Abuelita Project

Storytelling is a big part of our culture. We need to tell our stories today, for tomorrow.

Month: June 2016

Lost stories

The Abuelita Project is a format designed to preserve everyday stories from regular people, specifically for their progeny, but also in the generic interest of anthropology.  So many simple things are not recorded, and sometimes monumental records are lost.   Whether you write in a journal, record a video or audio, or blog, there are stories your family might enjoy learning, today and after you’ve left this earth.   I’ve made a list of ideas that you’re welcome to use to start your own record or to ask your loved ones to share.

This is a list of the type of stories The Abuelita Project would like to capture:

  • Your first memory as a bona fide “adult”
    • When you moved out of your parents’ home
      • College
      • Military service
      • Marriage
      • Mission
      • Any other event that thrust you from youth to adult
    • Other event that you feel gave you adult status, regardless of residence, i.e., first time to vote, reaching age of majority, etc.
  • Your favorite photo and why
    • Photo of friend, family member or event
    • Photo of yourself
  • Your first love
  • Your saddest memory
  • Where were you when…?  i.e., how do you remember events in history?
  • The funniest thing you ever…
    • Saw
    • Said
    • Heard
  • Is there a story behind your given name?
  • Is there a story behind the names you gave your children?
  • Your proudest moment
  • Your favorite childhood memories
  • What advice do you have for today’s youth?
  • What do you remember about your parents?
  • Did you have siblings?
  • Do you have stories of favored pets?
  • What extracurricular activities did/do you enjoy?
    • Sports
    • Hobbies
      • Reading
      • Dancing
      • Music
      • Crafts
      • Etc.
    • Charities
    • Church
  • When you met your significant other, what was your first impression?
  • Tell us about your first job
  • What were the highlights of your career?
  • Tell us about your last job
  • Do you have an interesting tale to tell about a friend or relative?  (e.g., Granny’s uncle and the pig)
  • What fears did you face in your lifetime?
  • What are you afraid of today?
  • What challenged you and how did you meet the challenges?
  • If you could change any part of your history, what would you change and why?
  • Who/what influenced your youth?
  • Your favorite things
    • Car
    • Garment
    • Food (recipes are always appreciated!)
    • Movie and/or book
    • Art and/or artist
    • Sport or team
    • Etc.
  • Describe your formal education
  • What have you learned outside of school?
  • What is your pet peeve?
  • What is most confusing about the world today, in your opinion?
  • What has been the greatest innovation in your life?
  • When you were a child…
    • School
    • Friends
  • Traditions you have observed in your home
    • Childhood
    • Young adult
      • Single
      • Married
    • As a parent
    • As a grandparent
  • Places you have traveled
  • Do you speak another language?
  • Will you describe the most difficult decision you had to make?
  • What adjectives would you use to describe yourself?
  • Do you believe in an afterlife?
  • What is your philosophy of life?  (e.g. the hokey-pokey)
  • What do you want your family to know about you?
    • Professional accomplishments
    • Personal milestones
  • What is the most profound counsel you have received?
  • Do you have a personal mantra or motto to share?  How has it helped you in day-to-day life?
  • How do you want to be remembered?
  • What do you wish you could have done that you did not?
  • Have you always been a member of the same…?
    • Church
    • Political party
    • Service organization
    • Other
    • If no, why did you choose to leave or change?
  • If we made a movie of your life, who would play you?
    • Child
    • Teen
    • Young adult
    • Mature adult
    • Today

You probably have many more ideas – there’s no right or wrong way to begin.   Just begin… for your children & their children.

All my children & their children... Photo by Barbara Brittain

Tom’s last Sunday at St. Paul’s before seminary
Tom, my children & their children, and me…
Photo by Barbara Brittain – August 2012

We are the abuelitas…

Today, I got my Tennessee driver license.  They put my grandmother’s picture on it.  Her name was Weelita.  

photo by Ashley Samaniego-Ramirez

Sylvia Hewett Schneider

Well, that’s what I thought anyway, in my innocent, English-only elementary brain.  It wasn’t until I was much older and taking conversational Spanish that I realized “weelita” was what I heard when my “primas” said “Abuelita” – my cousins affectionately saying “grandmother” in Spanish.

And looking at this – this official document that tells the world I am now a Tennessean, qualified to operate a motor vehicle and donate organs – begs the question; “When did we become the Abuelitas?”  Wasn’t it just a few minutes ago we were young girls?  Long of limb and smart of mouth, frolicking like newborn colts, sassy and free of worry, as yet unspoiled by heartache.  Each a tabula rasa waiting for life to etch our stories upon our psyches, our very souls.

We were friends with each other, and we befriended girls that were like us – laughing, dreaming, loving our abuelitas – those wrinkled old crones with the cheery laughter and dancing eyes that could flash fire faster than a chancla after a disrespectful kid.  In retrospect, I remember work-worn hands that made Christmas tamales and perfectly round tortillas every day for decades, which folded in prayer before each meal; our own hands are skilled in their own ways, but smooth, manicured, defying our standing as someone’s Abuela.  

When we think of grandmothers, we think of soft, pillowy bosoms – when enfolded therein, nothing could touch us… not the dark, not el cucuy, not our own chancla-wielding mothers*.  Cradled in Abuelita’s arms was the very definition of safety.  No one thinks that of us.  In fact, we have been fighting against becoming pillowy soft since we first discovered boys and Seventeen magazine; not always successfully, but that’s why Sara Blakely invented Spanx.  

We don’t make empanadas; we make corporate mergers.  We have laugh lines; we also have bottom lines.  And although we do have grandchildren, we don’t have that relationship with them that we enjoyed with our Abuelas.  We go to their soccer games, not their First Communions.  We give them gift cards to the Apple Store but we’ve never picked apples with them.  We love them, and they, us… but we are not their destination.

Now, we are the Abuelitas.   


*Editor’s note:  To be perfectly honest, I don’t ever remember my mother or my tias threatening anyone with a chancla – I think that’s a more contemporary cliche!  El cucuy – yes, we were afraid!