Renee Fajardo Anstine and her new book: Frijoles, Elotes, y Chipotles, Oh My! and Other Tummy Tales
Renee Fajardo Anstine, wife and mother of seven, obtained a law degree in 1983 from the University of Nebraska at Lincoln. She has dedicated her life to teaching leadership skills to inner city youth, since then. Her passion has always been to empower those who struggle. Her work with the Colorado Folk Arts Council led her to her current position at Metropolitan State University of Denver as the director of the Journey Through Our Heritage Program.
Fajardo Anstine's cultural heritage includes roots in Mexico, the Picuris Pueblo, the Philippines, and Israel. Her love and respect for all cultures is evident in her writings and projects.
She was awarded a Colorado National Endowment for the Humanities award for the Return of the Corn Mothers' project. This collaboration with master photographer Todd Pierson is a unique pictorial of women from the South West who imbue the spirit of the land and community.
Mrs. Fajardo Anstine was also the co-creator of five Tummy Tales books: Holy Mole Guacamole; Pinch a Lotta Enchiladas; Chili Today, Hot Tamale; Ole Posole; and Frijoles, Elotes, y Chipotles, Oh My! These books are collections of family stories from around the nation. They include family-friendly recipes and an interactive recipe page for kids.
Frijoles, Elotes, y Chipotles, Oh My! and Other Tummy Tales, illustrated by Arlette Lucero, is a humorous and educational book, like a magical wonderland of the tapestry we call America. You will enjoy the recipes in the book as much as the tales.
The stories were compiled by Renee Fajardo Anstine in collaboration with Carl E. Ruby, and edited by Ed Winograd.
To buy any of the books, please, contact Renee Fajardo.
Renee, tell us about the work in collaboration with Ruby, Lucero, and Winograd, for the creation of this book.
There would be no books at all without these talented and dedicated folks. Carl Ruby has been there since the beginning of the Tummy Tales project 20 years ago and is a very talented storyteller in his own right. Arlette Lucero, who has illustrated the last three books in the series, is a very awe-inspiring artist who takes great pains to capture the spirit of each and every story. Ed Winograd always tells a good story as an author, and does an exceptional job of editing. Without this team there would be nothing to celebrate. I am not gifted or special in any way, except being able to see the tremendous talent in others. I owe the success of this series to these people and have nothing but adoration and respect for all of them.
In every book of the series there is a story told by you. How do you feel telling stories of your childhood?
I take creative license when I spin a story. My familia calls it embellishment. One day, I hope they will understand I did so with a heart filled with love and passion. I come from a long line of picture makers. Our ancestors, the Picuris Pueblo, are known for their ability to create images that speak to people. As a diverse mix of many heritages, I try to honor all those who came before and celebrate the sacrifices they made for future generations. For my husband and me, and for our seven children, I hope I have left a legacy they are proud of. I have been steadfast in my pursuit of passing on the important lessons I was taught as a child. Family is always the most important aspect of our existence, and remembering the stories of our past is crucial. At the center of every human being’s life worldwide is our ability to break bread together, and thus seek our commonality by sharing sacred time with each other.
I also believe it is important to remember our roots and share that with others. But I would like you to tell us how you feel with your diverse ancestry, and how that has influenced your life.
I come from a diverse cultural background. My mother’s people were Jewish, and I knew almost nothing about them. My father’s people are Picuris Pueblo, Mexican, and Filipino. I really was only exposed to my father’s family, and as a descendant of the South West, I realized at a young age that my paternal family did what they had to do in order to survive our homeland. We were exploited by many who came seeking their fortunes here, and yet we held our dignity by always treating those who were in need with respect and kindness.
Speaking Spanish was taboo for my grandmother and my father. Yet we always ate our traditional foods -- green chili, enchiladas, and posole, as a way of preserving our heritage. Growing up, my brother and I had little contact with our Jewish family. But I know that even these relatives on some level helped to create a life where someone like me could survive long enough to propagate a new generation. I write my stories and compile the stories of others so that no one will forget how much effort and love it took to survive the hardships of the past. Even though I only knew my Hispanic/Indigenous family, I strive to give credit to all my ancestors.
Have you seen any improvement in the situation of immigrants, through the years you have been in contact and worked with them? Do you consider yourself a social activist for the cause of understanding and accepting diversity?
Humanity has no borders. Our evolution as humans has always depended on our ability to diversify our genetic pool. Before this place I now call Colorado was part of the United States, it was part of Mexico, before that part of New Spain, and before that it was inhabited by my paternal ancestors. We eventually married and integrated with other peoples who came here seeking a better life. Sadly, some people still see those who come from outside our politically created borders as immigrants. The reality is that we are all part of the human species and are all connected to each other in more ways than we are disconnected. In a win-win situation, we could all move between these socially restrictive borders and live and raise families in peace where ever we felt compelled to. Our foods, our water, our traditions are all part of the beautiful tapestry of our existence. We have those who support and work to create a global understanding. As a nation we have come a long way, but we still have a very long way to come. In my lifetime I have seen a lot of progress with regard to what we deem basic civil rights. but I have also witnessed much ignorance. I am hopeful that we will continue to progress. I am an activist in that I am never remiss in thinking that the work is done with regard to what can be.
You have been working for many years in the art environment of Denver. Tell us about that.
I went to law school thinking I could change the world. I was wrong in thinking that practicing law was my calling. I ended up raising seven children and working with youth. I may not deserve to be commended for this, but I know that whatever resources I had available to me, I used them as best I could. For over 25 years I have endeavored to tell the stories of the women, men, and youth of the South West. I have tried to give dignity to those who had no voice, and with a humble heart have been diligent in using art to help those who felt they were not significant. The Tummy Tale books have been able to preserve the traditions of many who may not have been able to publish their own stories.
Thousands of young people have been able to hear the stories of those who call Colorado home. I do what I do to give credence to those who feel they have no say. Not everyone is a rock star, rich doctor, or successful lawyer. But everyone is important and has a story worth hearing. What makes this life interesting is the diversity of all of us. I work with the kids who most people think are destined for less than stellar financial success. To them I say, you are just as important as the corporate CEO or a politician. These young people are the future of our country, and their stories are pertinent to our survival. The stories of those who are our elders are teaching tools, and they can be used to help our youth make a better future here
You said once that you would like to tell a big American novel. What would the story be about?
It would be about struggle, acceptance, and honor. I would like one day to tell the story of my people and how they persevered to survive against all odds. I would tell about how kindness and compassion count for more than anything, and how every human being is responsible for the welfare of the entire planet.
After such intense work all your life, are you planning to take a break or a Sabbatical time? If not, are you already planning another project?
I have no plans to ever retire to a secluded beach. I do as I am moved to do. I trust the creator to lead me to my final destiny and welcome what comes next with open arms. A recent Return of the Corn Mothers nominee from Alamosa said she was brought to tears when she was asked to tell her story. This was a wakeup call for me. I may not be a national news anchor or a movie icon, but I have a responsibility that I take very seriously. I will continue my work until it is done.
TALKING WITH ED WINOGRAD
Ed, what has your journey with the Tummy Tale books been ? You have numerous stories in the books, too.
First of all, thanks for all your kinds words about Frijoles, Elotes, y Chipotles, Oh My! With Carl and Renee's talents as compilers (and Renee's as a writer). Arlette's wonderful illustrations, and the storytelling talents of our authors, it's an excellent book! It was a pleasure to work as an editor with the authors as we went through various edits of their stories, and to have several authors help me with my translations of Spanish phrases in them.
I wasn't involved with Holy Mole Guacamole! (the first Tummy Tales book), but after I met Carl and Renee and served on the board of the Rocky Mountain Storytelling Conference with them, they invited me to edit the second book. So I've edited the last four and have contributed stories to three of them. My first story, "How I Was Saved by Spinach Borscht," is one I had been kicking around in my head for decades, based on something that happened to a relative in the twenties. The next one was more literary, but the most recent one is based on a night that Isaac Stern was actually scheduled to have dinner at my family's house in Greeley, Colorado before a concert, but couldn't make it. As with many of the folk and original stories I tell as an oral storyteller, understanding and forgiveness are major subjects in them.
I can't say enough about all the organization and hard work that Renee, Arlette, and Carl put into making this book a reality. As always, it has been an honor and a privilege to work with them, and with this book's great variety of authors and their ethnic-flavored stories (and foods!).
TALKING WITH ARLETTE LUCERO
Arlette, how do you feel about the book being in color this time, and are you up for a new book?
I loved making the illustrations for the last three Tummy Tale books. When Renee approached me to create the illustrations for the last book, I said I would if the illustrations could be in color. Of course I would have done them anyway if they had to be in black and white, but I am so happy that we were able to get the color for Frijoles, Elotes, y Chipotles, Oh My! And yes, I am always up for a new book. It takes a lot of time to do the illustrations for the stories, so it might be a while before we do another book.
TALKING WITH CARL RUBY
Carl, you have been here from the start...how has it been?
The creating of the “& Other Tummy Tales” series of books, all five of them to date, has been a journey of some rough roads and some smooth roads, but the final destination is one of caring, understanding, and love of the many people and their heritage of traditions, culture, and food. The process of expressing the many family tales forms a bond, shows happiness, and makes them proud of their roots. All of the “& Other Tummy Tales” books convey that feeling, and that is the vision that Renee and I have had from the inception.
As a first-generation American, I strive to pass along to my family the traditions and the foods I grew up enjoying. Through my stories in the “& Other Tummy Tales” publications, maybe I have. My tale in Frijoles, Elotes, y Chipotles, Oh My! & Other Tummy Tales titled “Not So Old Christmas Customs” involves the rapid changing of family traditions that are becoming more assimilated into today’s American cultural thinking. How will I feel if they are soon replaced with something else? I will admit, I rearranged many of my parents’ German traditions. Oh My!
Being a partner of a talented group of positive-minded people is a rewarding feeling. Each brings to the books their own expertise in a way that makes the books come alive. So we must keep the writers writing, the illustrator drawing, the editor editing, the presses rolling, and as many as possible family stories being told.
It has been a wild and wonderful trip!