This Latina Is Collecting Recipes And Stories From Salvadoreña Survivors Of The Country’s Civil War For A Justice-Driven Cookbook

credit: SalviSoul

If Karla Vasquez learned one thing in cooking class, it’s that documentation is everything. During a course on eggs, the Salvadoran-American was taught that the French started documenting recipes in a way that influenced the culinary world. And since she could only find two cookbooks on Salvadoran food in her research from to the Culinary Historians of Southern California, she thought that all she needed to do to preserve her culture’s legacy is capture it.

That’s why she’s creating SalviSoul, a cookbook storytelling project that documents the tales of women who survived the Salvadoran civil war and immigrated to the U.S. while preserving homeland foodways and cuisine.

Growing up, Vasquez, 30, was always surrounded by the comfort of meals and family narratives.

“With food it was a way of life. You get a tortilla with a side of story at the table. All my memories I have as a kid, I’m eating and I’m listening to someone tell a story. I think that’s why I’m immersed in the world of food,” Vasquez told Fierce.

Surrounded by strong women with stories and recipes that will keep you coming back for more, she realized that these were the people maintaining her culture.

(Courtesy of SalviSoul)

“They are the preserving agents” says Vasquez. “Telling the story of the food is one thing, but telling the stories of the people preserving the food and practicing the food I think completes the picture”

Identifying as a Salvi-Angelino, the Los Angeles native always felt like she had to learn to navigate and redefine what being a salvadoreña was.

“I had a hard time understanding what that means. How much English and Spanish should I speak throughout the day? These were identity questions I struggled with,” she says.

But for her, the food was undeniably her identity marker. She was certain she loved frijoles con crema, pupusas and panes con gallina, and she felt most at home with these staples.

“I didn’t have to make sure that my Spanish sounded Salvi and not Chicano or Latino. … It was just me. I could come to the table just as I was,” she said.

(Courtesy of SalviSoul)

At dinnertime, sharing anecdotes were ways her loved ones connected and coped. So she brought up the SalviSoul project to her grandmother, mother and friends. Her abuela was the first to click with the project. As the matriarch of the family, she began sharing her stories and recipes with Vasquez. Her mother and friends followed, opening up about their own legacies, and Vasquez knew there were dozens of other Salvi mujeres out there waiting for their stories to be told as well.

Vasquez then created a callout and received messages from interested Salvis in Brooklyn, Washington D.C. and even Minnesota. Although her initial focus will be on Salvadoran women in Southern California, she hopes to expand the project in places like Houston and the DMV (DC, Maryland and Virginia), areas with a large Salvadoran population. Excited to continue this project and eventually publish a cookbook, this preservation of the Salvi legacy is closely tied to her grandmother, who recently passed away. Without her, she says, SalviSoul would not exist.

“She was this warm, compassionate and generous abuela,” Vasquez shares.

A couple months ago, she had the opportunity to interview her grandmother, obtaining hours of audio of stories. In one of the interviews, she’ll never forget a moment that cemented this project for her.

(Courtesy of SalviSoul)

“She had just finished telling me about some of the hard things she’s survived as a young girl. I got to a point that I couldn’t take it anymore because I knew I was about to cry. She wasn’t crying and I was like, this woman is resilient. I know this. But I need to step away because I may break and I don’t want her to see me cry. She had just gotten out of the hospital,” Vasquez says.

As she stepped away to offer her abuela some tea and gather herself in the kitchen, she heard her grandmother walking down the hallway with her oxygen tank right behind her.

“Karla, Karla, Karla,” her abuela tells her. “I forgot to tell you why I survived all of this…It was in the name of progress. It was just in the name of progress for me and for my family.”

Vasquez, remembering the exchange, says: “She was a very vulnerable woman at this point, where her body isn’t doing what it’s supposed to. But she still has this beautiful resilience on why she has survived and that it was worth it.”

But there was still a lot of pain underneath the stories and Vasquez, feeling “broken,” felt a need to defend her grandmother and seek some justice for her.

(Courtesy of SalviSoul)

With SalviSoul, Vasquez hopes to do just that. By telling her story, and that of other mujeres salvadoreña who are still the gatekeepers of culture and food despite the pain they endured, she is bringing that justicia.

“I don’t have the right to lament anymore that these Salvadoran narratives aren’t available. All it is is documentation, and I can do that,” Vasquez says.

While she is still finishing up her interviews and applying for funding opportunities, be on the lookout for her SalviSoul cookbook in the spring of 2019 or 2020.

Read: This Salvadoran-Guatemalan Artist Is Paying Homage To Latino Staples Through Her Andy Warhol-Inspired Illustrations

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