When Mercedes Sanchez migrated from Puebla, Mexico, to the United States 20 years ago, she never envisioned herself taking center stage.
“I’m not going to be able to do this. I’m not an actress; I don’t know anything,” Sanchez said, distinctly recalling the moment Sarah Portnoy, a professor of Spanish at the USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences asked her to be a part of the documentary Abuelita’s Kitchen: Mexican Food Stories.
“I only know how to be a street vendor,” Sanchez said with a laugh.
Abuelita’s Kitchen: The story of 10 grandmothers
Inspired by the museum exhibit at LA Plaza Cocina, an extension of LA Plaza de Cultura y Artes, the documentary tells the story of 10 grandmothers from various states in Mexico. The women speak vividly about their journey of migration, sacrifice, pride, love and family. They speak fondly of their passion for cooking foods from their native lands to maintain a connection and pass traditions on to their children.
Sanchez, along with fellow grandmothers Elena Chan, Ana Guzman and María Elena Lorenzo-Linares, came together Thursday for a panel at the documentary’s screening at the USC Fisher Museum of Art as part of USC’s Latinx Heritage Month celebration.
“It gives me great pleasure to be here with all of you, for you to know our culture and our foods,” Lorenzo-Linares said to the standing room only crowd in the gallery room.
Lorenzo-Linares spoke about how difficult it was to leave her family, and why the desire to provide better opportunities for her children was too hard to pass up.
“I’m very proud to be here,” Lorenzo-Linares said. “You saw our story and everything it takes to get to this country that gives us opportunities.”
The documentary covers her entrepreneurial journey, from selling tamales from a shopping cart to buying her own food truck, to finally opening her own brick and mortar restaurant.
Pride was the overwhelming sentiment expressed by the grandmothers. The sense of community among the grandmothers was also strong; many began cooking to feed their families and people in their community.
Abuelitas: ‘This makes me happy’
“It was beautiful thing to participate in this … and it was an opportunity for my grandchildren to be proud of me and where we are from,” Chan said. “This makes me happy, because I’m representing my family and I get to show everything my mother and my grandmother taught me.”
The evening concluded with a community dinner provided by Sanchez.
“I cooked for you today, with lots of love,” she said, “like I do every day for my family.”