SAIHM Feature: T. J. Michaels

Well, we’re trucking along into November, and we’ve got another Heritage Month post 🙂 I hope you guys are enjoying these! As you see we have T. J. Michaels today, so I hope you give her a warm welcome!

Growing up in the South while NOT growing up in the South

Seeker's SolaceWhen I was growing up, I heard my mom occasionally talk about Native (North) American and Mexican relatives…but we never met any of them. Why? Because my entire immediate family had moved to California from Louisiana and other states loooonnngggg before I was ever born.

Many of you know that I proudly claim my Native American heritage. In fact, my kids have been powwow’ing and celebrating our ancestors since my oldest child was five. But there’s a whole lot more going on beneath the skin and I’d like to share some of it with you.

One day I spoke to my great-grandmother while I was at work. She passed away at 94 years of age in 2000. I said, “Grandma, tell me about your mom.” She said, “Well, she spoke that parlez-vous mess.” Okay, that clearly said, ‘French’ to me, and not in a happy way. But when I asked my great-grand about her mother’s race, she said, “She was black.” Well, that didn’t make much sense, but then a light bulb went on in my head — my great grandmother’s mother was born about 1870, barely five years after the Civil War. According to my mom, they used to attend powwow’s when my mom was little. Then suddenly, everything changed. The majority of the family left the south. No one would ever say why.

So I thought on it a little more. Great great grandma was married to a black man…and she was obviously not black. It was bad enough to be black in the South at that time, but to be Native American AND black? That was a no-no. It wasn’t okay to be a “nigger lover” either, regardless of race. Hell, people were still being shunned for marrying outside their race a hundred years later.

JuicyThough the reason my grandmother, grandfather, aunts, uncles and mom left Louisiana remains a mystery, I’m grateful that my family moved to San Francisco where my sisters and I were born. It gave all of us who came in the later generation a chance to see a truly diverse city. And I must say, growing up in that particular metropolitan city was amazing.

It gave us the chance to experience the old mixed with the new. For example, during the holidays everyone, and I mean EVERYONE gathered at Grandma Susie’s house. That meant the entire family, plus extended family (ex-wives and husbands who had children by current family members were always welcome), plus whoever they wanted to bring along.

For the old: We had, without fail, creole dishes that my grandmother had grown up enjoying. Now, keep in mind that my grandma’s grandmother’s name shows up on the 14th census of the U.S. with a birthday of ‘abt 1870’, so “poor man’s food” like certain bottom feeder seafoods, like shrimp and crab, were staples. Later, they stuck around as tradition after they got popular with the rest of the masses. So that meant gumbo, shrimp creole, crawfish bisque, hot water cornbread, black-eyed peas, collard or mustard greens with smoked or salted pork, cornbread stuffing with sage and chicken stock, plus the typical turkey, ham, and mac-n-cheese. And for dessert, there was peach cobbler, butter pound cake, pecan pie and the like.

For the new: My dad would occasionally throw down a mean lasagna. My mom would do up a shrimp and broccoli quiche. Aunts, uncles and cousins would bust out the fruit and whipped cream ambrosia. Someone would even bring bottled softdrinks to go up against the traditional fruit punch.

Everything was made from scratch. Grandma didn’t use boxed anything, ever. After all, she didn’t grow up eating food that came in a box or a can. So when she taught my mom and my aunts how to cook, they learned from scratch. When Grandma Susie taught me, I learned how to make all kinds of food without even measuring! And when I taught my kids, they learned the same way.

And at the holidays, while we don’t have much family where we live right now, we still gather and do the traditional fabulous grub. Just like grandma used to make.

Thanks for sharing with us, T. J.! And totally fitting for November, especially with Thanksgiving coming up on us in the States. <3

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