Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Cuatro de Mayo

This week is Cinco de Mayo, commemorating the victory of the Mexican army over the French in the Battle of Puebla in 1862. It's something we almost always celebrate in our house because it's an opportunity to have a theme party featuring our favorite Mexican foods, tequila drinks and beers. But for me, and for many people of my generation, Cinco de Mayo will forever be overshadowed by what happened on May 4th, 1970, at Kent State University.

I was 18 that May, young and lost, trying to understand what was going on around me and out in the world. I had spent the previous year as an exchange student in Sweden, an experience at once exhilarating and disorienting and I arrived home in July 1969 to the moon landing and something called the "Vietnamization" of the war. That was followed by Charles Manson, My Lai, the draft lottery, Altamont, Apollo 13 and Cambodia. The number of dead in Southeast Asia hit 50,000 but it would be 1971 before the 18-year-old boys being drafted would be allowed to vote. At the same time there was Woodstock and Earth Day and the Moratorium to End the War. We were full of hope and optimism even as we saw the mess our parents' generation had made.

The one thing that expressed the confusion, fear, anger and power we were feeling was the music we listened to. Buffalo Springfield, Country Joe, Bob Dylan, Edwin Starr, John Fogerty, John Lennon and others gave us anthems to sing and a connection to each other that remains to this day. They were our age and they spoke to everything we were feeling and some things we hadn't thought of on our own yet and they made us believe we could change the world.

I remember feeling the power of youth and the absolute certainty that my generation knew more than our elders and that the world we would create would be better than before. And then came May 4th, and the news that the Ohio National Guard fired live ammunition into a crowd of college students protesting the invasion of Cambodia. It was a punch to the gut. I remember the moment, and I remember thinking, "they're killing us."

For me it was the beginning of distrust, of cynicism, of defeat. What had been a renaissance of art and philosophy, peace and love, became the butt of jokes and a theme of Halloween costumes. A few months after Kent State we lost Jimi Hendrix, then Janis Joplin. It would be five more years before the fall of Saigon and the end of US involvement in Vietnam. But at least we had the music.

Four dead in Ohio.

Spiced Red Beans

1 lb. Dominican Red Beans
1 medium onion, quartered
1 bay leaf

Wash the beans, then bring to a boil in water to cover. Add the onion and bay leaf, reduce heat and simmer until beans are just tender.

3 Tbsp. oil
1 large onion, chopped
2-3 jalapeno peppers, minced
3 cloves garlic

1 box of chopped tomatoes in tomato juice
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground cloves
juice of half a lemon
1 tsp chipotle chili, or to taste

While the beans are cooking, saute the onion and garlic in the oil; add the jalapenos and cook for a few minutes more. Add the tomatoes, salt, cinnamon, cloves and lemon juice. Simmer for a few minutes.

When the beans are nearly tender, add the tomato mixture and simmer the beans for as long as you want. Correct the seasoning, then add chipotle to taste.
I like to make beans like this at least a day before we're going to eat them to allow the flavors to develop. I initially served them as a side dish with enchiladas for our early Cinco de Mayo dinner, but on Monday we ate them alone with rice and a little salsa verde. Delicious!

1 comment:

  1. They look delicious! (Of course everything you make is delicious!)
    And yes, "it was the best of times, it was the worst of times...."