About the Author: Ambassador Capricia Penavic Marshall serves as Chief of Protocol of the United States.
Growing up, I would visit mi abuela for a meal with my family every Sunday. Like many families, we would cram everyone -- all the sisters, brothers, daughters, sons, aunts, uncles, cousins, grandparents and more -- into the dining room. I still don't know how we all fit! The main event of course was my grandmother's cooking, and the smell of tamales, mole and tortillas cooking in the air is one that I still cherish today.
Later this month, we will welcome Mexican President Felipe Calderón for a state visit to the United States, which gives us a great opportunity to learn more about the culture of Mexico, one of our nation's closest friends. In anticipation of the visit and Cinco de Mayo, I was honored to co-host a special event yesterday called “Taste of Mexico” with Mexican Ambassador to the United States Arturo Sarukhan and his wife Mrs. Veronica Valencia-Sarukhan at the Blair House.
Located on Pennsylvania Avenue, the Blair House is managed by the Office of Protocol and is used as the President's guesthouse for chiefs of state and heads of government. Yesterday, for "Taste of Mexico," it was home to a dynamic group of kids whose parents work at the Mexican Embassy and students from Takoma Educational Campus (EC) School here in Washington, DC. Together, they learned about Mexican culture through song, dance and food.
At four separate stations, the young people learned about different types of corn from Mexico, rolled and pressed their own corn tortillas, saw and touched different variations of beans and the many ways to prepare them, made their own salsa and learned about different kinds of chilies from across Mexico, and finally made batter for a cake called pastel de tres leches or "three milks cake." They also sampled different types of aguas frescas, which are waters tinged with hibiscus, rice, vanilla and cinnamon, among other flavors. By a wide margin, the cake was everyone's favorite dish.
After preparing all the food, the kids sat and ate together. Mrs. Valencia-Sarukhan, the chefs and I joined them for a group discussion about their experience and what it's like to grow up in Mexico. At one point, a Takoma EC student asked about the pyramids in Mexico, which led to a very lively conversation about the differences between the Mayans and Aztecs and their part in Mexican history. The students from Takoma EC learned a great deal about Mexico, while the kids from the Mexican Embassy got to share their culture with new friends.
The students became diplomats, as they shared their cultures and experiences with each other. When President Calderon arrives in Washington, each one will feel a special connection to his visit after having been to the Blair House. More so, the students will continue to act as diplomats, in the classroom or with friends and family, sharing what they learned and talking about their experience.
The more honor and respect we show to each other's cultures, the more we advance our friendships and diplomacy. We all left the Blair House with big smiles, so it is safe to say that everyone had a great time . Not too bad for a plate of food.