Identity: the condition of being oneself or itself, and not another.
Sometimes it can be really hard to “identify” yourself. We are often asked to confine ourselves to a single option.
“Hispanic or Latino.” “White (not Hispanic or Latino).”
I was recently on the phone with a doctor’s office, giving away all my personal life info, and I was amazed by the extremely personal questions she was asking and wondering why on earth my doctor needed to know my “religious preferences,” how many jobs I was working, my husband’s employment and financial information…
But my favorite question was “How do you identify yourself? Hispanic or Latino, White… you would say White, right?” Remember, this conversation was on the phone! Why is this woman assuming that I am white? Was it my voice? I said, “No, Hispanic or Latino.” And her response was shocking: “But you don’t look like it, right? I mean, if I looked at you, do you look Hispanic or Latino?” Wow. This woman on the phone was actually critiquing how I identified myself, and she could not even see me! The conversation went on and became increasingly more frustrating, but that is not the point.
When I was little, I was quite a bit darker than I am now. Perhaps it was because I spent more time playing outside. Whatever the reason, I had a great tan! But my 7 year old self didn’t think it was that great when after soccer practice with my church team I came home crying because “I don’t want to be black anymore!” Again, I had a great tan, and I was certainly the darkest person on my team, but apparently the other girls on my team called me black, and I didn’t like it.
A few weeks ago after a long day, I came home and decided to destress by coloring a picture in my adult coloring book. This particular book is about a little girl living in a fanciful world inside a cuckoo clock. As I was coloring her, I started with the hair: brown. My go-to. Maybe it is because I myself have brown hair. Next I did her dress, and lastly, I did her skin. As I was staring at the picture, I realized something: I had never in my life even thought to color skin a different color. I always looked for the lightest color in the box or even sometimes didn’t color the skin at all so it would be white as possible (but who really looks like that?). My perception of “skin” when I myself was coloring, had always been that it needs to be light, even when my own skin didn’t reflect that image. I honestly have no idea why that is—maybe it goes back to my 7 year old self on the soccer field. I have been surrounded by diversity my whole life, but in my pictures, I was coloring what I thought was “right.” So on this day, a few weeks ago, I colored my first brown little girl. And she was beautiful!
So this is my first venture into into Puerto Rican baking (although I can whip up a mean arroz con pollo con habichuelas). In my defense, I’ve only recently found my love for all baking. Puerto Rican panaderías (bakeries) are full of the most beautiful and delicious looking breads and pastries, and I’ve only just recently thought, “I can make those!” Living in Jamaica Plain, we are surrounded by Puerto Ricans, it’s great! It makes me feel at home walking down the street hearing the beats of the reggaeton and salsa coming out of the shops as I pass by.
A little shop opened up just around the corner with all of my cooking essentials, including the guava paste for these delicious bars. I’ve only ever seen Goya guava paste and only in this one size can (see above picture), so if you find something else let me know, but the recipe is based on this type of guava paste. These bars are like a cross between cookie bars and shortbread with a delicious tropical fruit jelly in the middle. Basically, they can be enjoyed for dessert AND breakfast:)
**Cut up the extra guava paste in slices and eat with cheese and crackers!
Guava Bars (Masa Real)
recipe from my Abuela, Leonor Velázquez
10 oz. guava paste (about 1/2 of a can)
2 tbsp. water
1 cup (2 sticks) butter, room temperature
2 cups sugar
3 tsp. vanilla extract
4 cups self-rising flour
Preheat oven to 350. Butter and flour a 9×13 pan.
In a stand mixer with the paddle attachment, cream together butter and sugar until smooth. Add eggs one by one, incorporating after each addition. Add vanilla.
Add flour one cup at a time,incorporating after each addition.
In a sauce pan over medium heat, melt the guava with the water, stirring frequently. This could take up to 10 minutes to fully melt and be smooth.
Spread half of the batter mixture into the prepared pan. *The batter will be VERY thick! You may need to use your fingers to help you out. It is ok if the layer seems thin, just cover the whole base.
With a spoon, spread melted guava paste over the first layer of batter. Be generous, leaving a 1/2″ border around the edges.
Carefully, spoon the rest of the batter over the guava layer. I recommend putting many small dollops around the entire layer to make it easier to spread over the guava. Smooth the batter together gently with a spatula to fill in any gaps, covering the guava layer completely. Don’t worry about it looking a little craggy. The cake will rise and be smooth!
Bake for 40-60 minutes, or until toothpick comes out clean (there may be guava on toothpick, but it should be clean from batter) and golden brown.
Once cooled, you can flip the whole thing onto a cutting board to cut. For best presentation, cut off the outer edges to get a view of the filling from all sides. Cut into triangles or squares and enjoy with cafe con leche.