Nuestros Abuelos: Somos Hispanas Unidas offers elders a social circle

September 2014 Posted in Community

Nuestros AbuelosBy Molly Gunther

A Spanish serenade crackles on the radio while Rosa Campos surveys the group in the kitchen at Silverton Senior Center. Two gentlemen and seven ladies are working together to make four different types of tamales. Campos bustles around making sure the project flows smoothly.

There is no recipe in sight. Still, all hands are busy, moving swiftly, soaking the dry cornhusks to soften them, pounding the tamale dough, or masa, in a large bowl on the floor, washing and cutting green corn leaves into strips for wrapping.

Tamales are a time-consuming, labor-intensive effort. There are many tips and tricks to remember – place a penny, in the bottom of the steamer with the water. When the water is boiling, the coin rattles. If the coin stops rattling, the water has boiled away and it is time to add more.

“We must pay the tamales,” Campos said. “This is what I say for them to come out and taste good.”

Nuestros Abuelos
Thursdays 11:30 a.m. – 2:30 p.m.,
Silverton Senior Cente
115 Westfield St.; 503-873-3093
camposr@shusilverton.org

Campos is the program director of Nuestros Abuelos (Our Grandparents), a program of Somos Hispanas Unidas. It encourages the elderly in the Hispanic community to share their cultures and diverse personal histories with the community.

Somos Hispanas Unidas is a nonprofit agency in Silverton. Its role is to empower the Hispanic community to have a voice. SHU assists in areas such as Immigration Legal Aid for low-income families, literacy skills, and participation in community activities. Founded in 2001 by Susana Ghio, the group evolved from a Women’s Justice Circle, promoting social justice and equality.

Nuestros AbuelosNuestros Abuelos began in March to address some of the barriers facing elders in the Spanish-speaking community. While they may share a common language, the population includes people from different countries, each with its own unique history and cultural values.

“The idea is to bring cultures together,” Ghio said. “They have a chance to be themselves. They find a way to be useful. If they just stay home they are isolated as the elders.”

Campos has been with SHU since 2001. Now, every Thursday from 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. she runs the group at the Silverton Senior Center. The abuelos share a lunch and spend the afternoon doing activities. Campos comes up with crafts and games to keep them busy and have fun.

“They like to do the Bingo with pictures, it’s great for their brains,” Ghio said. “Instead of numbers they look for pictures like Pictionary, but we call it Lotaria de Bingo. And always (Rosa) is looking for some little gift-like prizes and we look out for donations for those little prizes. They are happy with anything she brings. It’s ‘Wow!’ like kids. They are like kids.”

Campos said the ladies sing out-of-the blue and enjoy telling jokes. They will ask her to have their nails polished or how to learn to read and write. One abuela, Lupe Meraz, said she likes to come every Thursday to learn something and be with people. Sometimes, they spend the time sharing stories about hardships they’ve faced or their families.

Ghio plans to record some of the stories to preserve them, keep different dialects alive and to carry on oral tradition.

Campos is glad the abuelos have a place where they feel like they can express themselves, talk with others who understand, and show they can do something productive.

“The last Thursday of the month we make food but there’s no structure,” Campos said. “It depends on the needs. The point is us, and what they feel. The point isn’t to make something. We would like to make something to sell so we can go on a trip maybe to the beach or maybe some concert. Maybe we’ll go to dinner, just us.”

Nuestros AbuelosRight now it’s a group of about 11. Every Wednesday, Campos calls everyone on the list to see if they can come on Thursday. If they can’t, she asks how she can help them.

On weekends, Campos visits the SHU office and tells Ghio how the group is doing.

“I start crying because I work during the day I cannot be in the center, but she tells me. She fills me with all the experience and it’s so rich,” Ghio said. “For elders it’s so isolating when you don’t speak the same language and they don’t have a chance to be with peers really. This hour, hour and half, two hours makes a difference for them. We really would like the support of the community to grow this program.” Ghio said they are looking for more elders to join the group and for people from other cultures to come and share crafts or ideas.

Nuestros Abuelos is open for anyone, even if they are not Latino or Hispanic. All are welcome to come and learn how to do traditional crafts.

In Silverton, the Silver Trolley brings participants to the senior center. For anyone living outside the trolley’s boundaries, Campos picks them up and drives them in. A physician in Woodburn thought one of her patients would like to attend.

“If there is somebody from outside the boundaries (Rosa) is taking them to the center. Woodburn is far away but if we could have volunteers to pick him up… We would really like to support (older men) also. They have big needs, they have nothing, less than women, less than females. But how can we go and pick one up from Woodburn? We don’t have funds or resources,” Ghio said.

Aliverde Ortiz came to Nuestros Abuelos for the first time Aug. 21. The group stayed at the center until almost closing at 4 p.m. so they could enjoy the tamales they had made.

There were three different cornhusk tamales – pork, salsa verde and vegetable – and one type wrapped in the corn’s green leaves and served with mole poblano. Others at the center followed the fragrance and wandered into the kitchen, hoping to buy some.

As the abuelos sat back and enjoyed the fruits of their labor, Ortiz said he enjoyed the conversation between everyone.

“Todo es bueno,” Ortiz said with a smile. Everything is good.

 

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