Grandmother Recalled In The Earthy Smell Of Beets

By Araceli Esparza and Erika Janik | August 8, 2018


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Araceli Esparza’s grandmother picked vegetables for canning factories in Wisconsin. Among the vegetables she picked were beets, which stained her hands with both their color and smell. Araceli tells us about how the smell of beets unleashed memories of her grandmother’s hands.

¡Honoring Las Manos de Abuelita y El Movimiento de Cesar Chavez y Los Trabajadores!


Betabel Rojo

Sabor de tierra húmeda

la cual nunca he probado antes de hoy.

Lo curioso es que ya sabía tu sabor

por las manos de mi abuelita que a hace

mucho tiempo te pizcaba.

Te jalo de la tierra madre

Te pisco en los campos de Nebraska de los fieldes de Wisconsin.

Tu color mancho sus manos

tu olor se impregno en su piel.

Recordé a abuelita con el sabor y olor del betabel.

Lo se porque hoy te olí betabel

con el sabor en mi boca de la tierra de mañanas húmedas, y otra vez estuve allí abrazada de mi ella.


I wrote this because my political vision would be nothing if not for my grandmother. She taught me about El Union, about caring for my neighbor, caring for those who didn’t have, and to cherish what we did have.

Mi Abuelita came here to the United States as migrant worker. She picked beets, corn, and many other vegetables.

I wrote this poem after eating beets that were given to a class in which I was subbing. The beets were from the Community Garden (CSA) program that gives their harvest to schools with a high percentage of kids on the free/reduced lunch program.

None of them had tasted fresh beets, and until that day, I thought I hadn’t either. The moment the bag opened and we passed out the snack; the entire room filled with her, mi abuelita’s smell! I held back tears while eating one, I watched the kids inspect them, eat them, and admire their color. I knew then, that it wasn’t my first time, eating one. I just never knew I had.

Araceli Esparza (r) and her abuelita, Zeferina Lopez.

Araceli Esparza (r) and her abuelita, Zeferina Lopez. (Photo courtesy of Esparza)

Zeferina M. Lopez was born in Mexico on August 22, 1923, and migrated to the United States when she was 9 months old. Like many migrant families, she returned to Mexico only to come back in 1967 to work as a migrant farmer worker in Nebraska, the Dakotas, and finally in Wisconsin. Here she served as a UW Humanities custodian for over 13 years and was an active member of Centro Guadalupe (now called the Multicultural Catholic Center) on Beld Street in Madison.

(This story originally aired November 18, 2015.)

Araceli Esparza

Araceli Esparza

Araceli Esparza is a poet, writer, and teacher based in Madison. She is an MFA graduate from Hamline University, with strong migrant farmer roots, and named 2015 Women to Watch by Brava Magazine. Araceli is also the host of the podcast, Midwest Mujeres.
Erika Janik

Erika Janik

Erika Janik is the co-creator and former executive director of Wisconsin Life. She is the author of six books, including Pistols and Petticoats: 175 Years of Lady Detectives in Fact and Fiction, Apple: A Global History, and  Marketplace of the Marvelous: The Strange Origins of Modern Medicine. She’s currently the executive...
2018-08-08T20:26:59-05:00Tags: , , , , , |

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