Martha is Melessa’s sister-in-law. She was generous enough to invite us into her home to share her story of growing up in Mexico and teach us how to cook her family’s favorite comfort food, chilaquiles (find the recipe below). Welcome, Martha!
I was born and raised in Mexico City, one of the biggest cities in the world. I am the middle child of three sisters. After a few years living there, we moved to Morelia, Michoacán, Mexico. I remember having a normal childhood, not much different from other kids. My father was a very firm man. We could never say no to him or we would see his bad side. He had a drinking problem, so my mom was the one who provided for the family. My memories of her are that she was always working.
Everything was okay until I turned maybe 11 or 12 years of age. My parents started to have lots of problems and differences in their relationship. They started to argue and fight a lot. I don’t remember how it happened exactly or how my mom told us, but she informed us that he was not our real dad and that they were going to get separated. You can imagine how shocked I was with this revelation–two big truths that I never thought would be the case for my family.
I learned that my biological father died when I was little, so I don’t have memories of him. Being young, I didn’t understand how bad our situation was. My sisters and I felt sad and devastated, and I decided to live with my stepfather’s family for a few years. I didn’t know any better at the time. There, I was subjected to mental and physical abuse. After five years, I knew that moving back with my mom was the best decision.
Being placed in this difficult situation, I matured very quickly. I needed to help my mom support our family, so I dropped out of school and started to work instead. I later regretted my decision, and I went back to school to finish a three-year degree in accounting at a technical school. I worked and studied hard to complete my degree. It wasn’t easy, but the feeling of accomplishing something in my life felt good. Another beautiful thing that happened during that time was getting to know God. I realized I wasn’t alone, and knowing how important I was to Him helped me try things that I never thought I could do.
My family’s economic situation wasn’t good. My mom struggled to provide for us, but we made it. Thanks to her, I was even able to serve a mission for my church in Tuxtla Gutierrez, Chiapas Mexico. Being away from my family for 18 months helped me understand God’s plan and gave me answers to my many questions.
When I got back to my family after my missionary service, I learned they had taken out a few loans to survive. I decided to move to the USA to earn money and help them repay their loans faster. I didn’t have any idea what living here would be like. I came by myself, and I didn’t know much English. I was away from my family and friends, I didn’t know how to drive, etc.; but I was determined.
My goal was to work for two years, pay off my family’s debts, and go back to Mexico. But two weeks after arriving in the US, I met my John Smith (in Mexico, some good friends used to call me Pocahontas). Marriage wasn’t in my plans because none of my previous relationships had been good. I didn’t have a positive view of marriage at the time, but Bart (my husband), soon changed all that.
I’ve been here for 16 years already, and I love all the things I have accomplished with my dear husband and our wonderful family. We have two wonderful kids: Eva, 9, and Sebastian, 12. They are my life. We have been through a lot of good times and difficult times. For example, in 2013, my husband was diagnosed with colon cancer. This was a traumatic part of our lives. He is in remission right now, and I find comfort in the knowledge that we can return to live with God again with our family.
I know that we are all unique individuals, and we are here for a purpose. I never thought my life would be the way that it is right now, but I am willing to try my best. Never give up. Life is just beautiful and full of surprises.
Chilaquiles by Martha Paynter
2 chicken breasts, cooked and shredded
30 small corn tortillas, torn or cut into chip-sized squares
2 t chicken bouillon
1 1/2 pounds tomatillos, husks removed, washed in soapy water and rinsed well to remove stickiness. Cut in half if large.
1 jalapeno (optional–remove seeds to decrease heat)
2 garlic cloves, minced
1/4 c onion
2-3 c water
1. Fry tortilla pieces in vegetable oil over medium heat about 2 minutes per side, until golden brown.
2. In a blender or food processor, blend tomatillos, jalapeno, garlic, onion, and water until just slightly chunky. Start with 2 cups water, and add more to create the salsa consistency you like, or to feed more people.
3. Pour salsa and bouillon into medium pot, bring to boil. It will turn greenish-yellow after boiling.
4. Add chicken and bring to a simmer.
5. Pour chips into salsa mixture, mix gently and boil 5-7 minutes, stirring only once or twice. Mixture will thicken as it boils.
6. Serve as a main dish with sour cream and queso fresco (if it comes in a round, crumble it).