As a child growing up in León, Mexico, I often imagined what life in the United States might be like—riding yellow school buses and eating peanut butter sandwiches for lunch, just like they did in the movies. My parents were college graduates. My mother had a degree in textile design and my father owned a company that made machinery for the leather manufacturing industry. We had never struggled, never had to move.
A recession in Mexico in the early 2000s changed all of that. I sensed my parents were dealing with money troubles even though no one mentioned it. One day, debt collectors came and removed beautiful pieces of furniture from our home. I remember my nanny yelling at them to get a job that didn’t ruin people’s lives.
Soon after, we boarded a flight to the Pacific Northwest, where a family friend had put down roots five years earlier. And we began a new life. My mother worked as a house cleaner and my father labored in construction to support our family while they negotiated a path through an immigration process that was so long and so complicated that their visas expired, leaving them in legal limbo. When people asked about my legal status, I would lie and say I had a green card. At school, kids Fast-forward to 2018, three months after my twenty-fourth birthday, I found myself single, divorced, and living alone. That summer, I was sicker than I’d ever been, fighting illness after illness and stomach aches from constant stress. My body and self had diverged. I no longer wanted to feel disconnected, so I started cooking at home. The food I made offered a new identity, creating a path that led me back to myself as a Mexican immigrant. With no one to tell me what I could and couldn’t cook, I started to make the dishes that I missed from my childhood. It was a chance to rediscover my heritage and an opportunity to heal. Cooking these dishes was an act of self-love for the part of myself whose country said I was never enough and could never fit in.
The recipes in this story remind me of home. My childhood home and, now, my new home. They are among the many that I collected and published in a book entitled Mamacita: Recipes Celebrating Life as a Mexican Immigrant in America. From looking through the culinary articles and restaurant reviews in EDGE, I know that readers of this magazine have sophisticated and adventurous palates. They crave “authentic.” I believe an important component of authenticity in any cuisine that comes to America from another place is an appreciation of the journey of the people who bring it here.
In 2018, when I started the Mamacita project, I had an expired green card. I received an official letter from the government stating I had two years to apply for citizenship or an extension. My path to citizenship was both unique and common. The immigration system is a labyrinth, and while many of us find ourselves in the same maze, finding our way out is a personal puzzle that we are often left to figure out on our own.
Applying for citizenship as a Mexican immigrant requires a level of privilege greater than most have access to or can afford. I didn’t make enough money, and my family didn’t either. I had to ask a family friend, Vicente, who then worked for Boeing, to be my sponsor—which was not a small request. Essentially, he signed a contract stating that he would be financially responsible for me if I lost my job or declared bankruptcy. If Vicente had been unable to aid me financially, then the government could have sued him. Thanks to Vicente, I was able to start the application process and become a U.S. citizen. He has since passed, but I will never forget his kindness and the generosity he extended to our family.
People who believe immigration is quick and uncomplicated haven’t gone through the system. It’s intimidating and confusing for everyone, especially those who have to go through it. It’s almost impossible to start without being financially stable. Often, people assume we aren’t paying taxes. Even if we don’t have status, we still pay taxes. The process of obtaining status can take a very long time—ultimately, it took me 15 years. Immigration laws frequently change, adding higher costs and increased complexity.
Indeed, in June 2020, I was confronted by the reality of deportation, and I’ve never been more scared. In a panic, I called my immigration lawyer—a privilege not everyone has— and discovered I had to start the application process all over again. Ten years of previous immigration paperwork no longer applied to my case! When that happens, you have no choice but to start over. For the record, there are no refunds for the applications that no longer apply. Ten thousand dollars later, I found myself on a new path toward the same goal.
Uprooting my life taught me that the only thing we can expect is everything we didn’t plan to happen. Months after the initial call to my lawyer, I sat at the office of the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), waiting to see whether I had passed the test. After spending two hours answering a series of life-altering questions, I did it. I achieved my parents’ dream, my dream—the American dream. With a certificate in one hand and a dollar-store American flag gripped in the other, I could finally call myself a citizen of the United States.
I know it sounds dramatic, but cooking saved my life. Making these dishes helped me crawl out of a dark place of hiding and provided a space where I could finally show up as my whole self. By immortalizing the recipes that I grew up eating as a kid in Mexico, I reconnected with the part of myself I never meant to forget. My mother, like my grandmother, has yet to use a measuring spoon. Instead, she is guided by the palms of her hands, knowing by heart how much to add. I have written these recipes down, added measurements, and simplified the process so you can make my family’s recipes on your own or invite the people you love to share a meal together.
There is no greater pleasure than serving food to the people you love and seeing the delight on their faces when they taste something made just for them. When you make these recipes, I hope you feel more connected to the immigrant communities around you. I want us to keep striving to show up, help other immigrants to speak up, and listen to each other’s stories. Most of all, I hope my story reminds you to trust yourself. Wherever you are now, who you are meant to be is entirely up to you.
Green Salsa | Makes about 3 cups
Growing up, we had various types of salsas in the fridge at all times. But there were two that never ran out: salsa verde and salsa roja. My mama would make a fresh batch every weekend for the week ahead. This salsa verde is incredibly versatile and can be used in many dishes; my favorite ones are chilaquiles verdes and pozole verde. You can additionally top a quesadilla with this salsa, mix it into your guacamole for a spicy dip, or simply eat it with tortilla chips. The options are limitless.
9 ounces tomatillos (about 6), divided
1 tablespoon avocado oil
1/2 cup chopped white onion
2 fresh jalapeno peppers, seeded
1 canned jalapeno pepper
1 tablespoon fresh lime juice
1/2 cup chopped cilantro leaves
1 teaspoon sea salt
Peel off the tomatillos’ paper husks and rinse under cold running water. In a large saucepan, combine half of the tomatillos and enough water to cover them and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce the heat to medium-high and cook for 3 minutes to soften the tomatillos. Remove the tomatillos with a slotted spoon and reserve ¼ cup of the cooking liquid. Meanwhile, heat the oil over high heat. Sear the remaining tomatillos, flipping once, until brown, 1 to 2 minutes on each side. Remove from the heat. In a blender, add all of the tomatillos and the reserved ¼ cup of liquid. Blend until smooth. To the blender, add the chopped white onion, all of the jalapenos, the lime juice, cilantro, and salt. Blend until combined. Be careful not to liquify the salsa; it should be smooth with some texture. Taste and adjust the salt or lime juice as needed. Transfer the salsa to a sealed container and refrigerate.
Carne en Salsa Verde
Pork in Green Sauce with Potatoes | Serves 4 to 6
El Dia del Padre in my household is always celebrated with a big plate of this Carne en Salsa Verde con Papas. My dad rarely likes to enchilarse (purposely eat spicy food to feel a burn), so he has always loved when my mama cooks dishes like this, which have all the flavor but very mild spiciness. I grew up to really love this dish, specially rolled up in a tortilla with a little bit of crema to make the salsa creamier. The green color comes from the tomatillos, but unlike their name suggests, tomatillos are not “little tomatoes,” or tomatoes at all, for that matter. Think of them rather as a cousin of the tomato. While tomatillos can turn yellow, red, or even purple with full maturity, they are only eaten unripe in Mexican dishes. When shopping for tomatillos look for ones that have dry and papery husks, avoiding those that feel moist, look shriveled, or feel damp. If buying tomatillos ahead of time, store them in a cool dry place and never place them inside the fridge.
1 pound boneless pork loin, cut into 1-inch cubes
Sea salt and ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 cups husked, rinsed, and halved tomatillos
¼ medium white onion
1 garlic clove, minced
2 jalapeno peppers, seeded
2 tablespoons chicken bouillon powder
2 cups halved baby potatoes
Cooked rice for serving
Warm tortillas for serving
Season the pork loin with salt, pepper, and garlic powder. In a deep, medium skillet, heat the oil over medium heat. Sear the pork, flipping, until browned, 2 to 3 minutes on each side. Do not cook the pork all the way through. Remove the pork from the pan and set aside. In a blender, combine the tomatillos, onion, garlic, jalapenos, chicken bouillon powder, and 4 cups of cold water. Blend well. In the same skillet, add the sauce, bring to a simmer over medium heat for 2 minutes. Add the pork and baby potatoes and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Reduce the heat to low, cover, and simmer until the potatoes are soft, about 30 minutes. Serve with a side of rice and warm tortillas.
Crema de Elote
Cream of Corn Soup | Serves 4 to 6
This creamy corn soup comes together in less than an hour, and it’s sure to be a crowd pleaser. If dairy is not your thing, I recommend using ghee for butter and cashew milk as an alternative. While most milk alternatives will work, cashew has the closest consistency and taste to dairy milk. If choosing alternative milk, stay away from coconut milk as the taste of coconut will be too strong for the soup and will overpower the true star of the dish, corn.
6 cups whole milk, divided
2 large ears corn, shucked
2 teaspoons chicken bouillon powder
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 poblano peppers, roasted, peeled, seeded, and sliced into “rajas” (strips)
Queso panela, cubed
In a large soup pot, bring 5 cups of the milk to a simmer over medium-low heat. Continue simmering for 5 minutes. Using a sharp knife, cut the corn kernels off the cobs. In a blender, combine half of the corn kernels and the remaining 1 cup of milk and blend until smooth. Using a strainer, strain the corn mixture into the soup pot. Mix well. Add the remaining corn kernels, the chicken bouillon powder, and the butter. Simmer over medium-low heat for about 10 minutes. Do not overcook as the corn will make the soup too sweet. Season with salt. Serve hot, topped with the rajas and queso panela.
Albondigas en Chipotle
Meatballs in Chipotle Sauce | Serves 4 to 6
In Mexico, work hours are different than in the United States. Instead of working nine-to-five with a 30-minute or hour lunch break, Mexico—a country that revolves around the next meal—has a scheduled block of two hours around three o’clock in the afternoon when people go home for comida (a midday meal that is spent with family, and the equivalent of dinner), then head back to work for another few hours before returning home around eight o’clock in the evening. This was my papa’s schedule when I was a kid. On special nights, he would return home to surprise my sister and me with a rented VHS tape. I remember the night he brought home Lady and the Tramp. Not only did my sister Vanessa and I both love this movie, but it was also the first time we ever saw meatballs served with spaghetti instead of rice. Traditionally albondigas are served in soup, but my mama preferred to serve them dry over rice or potatoes, topped with salsa. Eating albondigas takes me back to a simpler time, sitting on the floor with Vanessa, watching two dogs kiss over a plate of meatballs and stringy noodles.
For the Meatballs…
¼ cup all-purpose flour, plus more as needed
1/2 pound ground beef
1/2 pound ground pork
2 tablespoons finely chopped onion
1 garlic clove, minced
2 teaspoons finely chopped parsley leaves
2 teaspoons panko bread crumbs
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
¼ teaspoon ground black pepper
2 large eggs
¼ cup plus 2 tablespoons avocado oil
For the Salsa…
5 dried chipotle peppers, seeded
3 large tomatoes, halved
2 tablespoons finely chopped white onion
1 garlic clove, minced
1 tablespoon tomato puree
2 tablespoons avocado oil
Cooked rice for serving (optional)
Mashed potatoes for serving (optional)
Making the Meatballs…
Place the flour in a shallow bowl. In a large bowl, combine the remaining meatball ingredients, except the oil and mix, with your hands. Make chestnut-sized one-inch balls out of the meat mixture. Roll the meatballs in the flour and set aside. In a deep skillet, heat the 6 tablespoons of oil over medium-high heat. Briefly sear the meatballs until they turn golden brown. Set aside. Making the Salsa…
In a dry skillet over medium heat, lightly roast the chipotle peppers. Transfer to a soup pot, add 2 cups of water, and bring to a boil. Cook the peppers until they soften, 5 to 7 minutes. Drain the peppers, reserving 1 cup of the cooking liquid. Set aside. In a blender, combine the softened peppers, the reserved 1 cup of cooking liquid, the tomatoes, onion, garlic, and tomato puree. Blend until smooth. In a stockpot, heat the 2 tablespoons of oil over medium heat. Add the blended sauce and fry for 3 to 5 minutes. Add the meatballs and 1 1/2 cups of cold water. Bring to a boil for 1 minute, then cover with a lid and simmer over medium-low heat for 15 minutes. Season with salt. Serve with rice or mashed potatoes.
Serves 4 to 6
Ceviche or cebiche? The spelling depends on the zone of Mexico in which you are eating this dish. Because I grew up knowing it as cebiche, I decided to keep this spelling instead of ceviche, which is more commonly known in the United States. Like the variation in spelling, this dish has many modifications of ingredients depending on the region and who is making it. A lot of my mama’s recipes have a strong Spanish influence, which you can see in the addition of olives to many of her recipes, including this one. I like cutting my fish into cubes instead of strips. The cubes must be bite-sized—not too small and not too big—as traditionally, cebiche is served in a bowl and scooped up with tortilla chips to eat.
1/2 pound fresh halibut fillet (or swordfish)
1 lime, juiced
1 teaspoon sea salt
4 medium tomatoes
1/2 medium white onion, chopped
1 garlic clove, minced
1 bunch cilantro leaves, chopped
10 green olives, pitted and halved
2 large jalapeno peppers, seeded and coarsely chopped
1 medium Hass avocado, cubed
¼ cup olive oil
2 teaspoons white wine vinegar
Rinse the halibut under cold running water and pat dry. Chop into 1/2-inch cubes. In a salad bowl, bathe the halibut in the lime juice, tossing so it doesn’t “cook” unevenly. Season with salt and cover the bowl with plastic wrap. Place the bowl in the fridge for 1 hour. In a medium saucepan, combine the tomatoes and enough water to cover them. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat and cook until the skins begin to split, about 1 minute. Drain and rinse the tomatoes under cold running water. Remove the skins with a paper towel. Chop the tomatoes into small cubes and set aside. Remove the halibut from the fridge, add the tomatoes, then add the onion, garlic, cilantro, olives, peppers, avocado, olive oil, and vinegar. Mix gently. Taste and season with salt as needed. Serve with crackers or tortilla chips.
Andrea Pons is a senior production manager, food stylist, and author based in Seattle, Washington. A new, expanded edition of Mamacita: Recipes Celebrating Life as a Mexican Immigrant in America (Princeton Architectural Press • $29.95 at papress.com) was released in 2022.
EDGE asked me to defend millennials. They didn’t say from whom, but our detractors are many and apparent enough that a shotgun approach makes sense. I’ll start with Gen X, who think they’ve flown under the Boomer monolith well-disguised. Millennials, in their opinion, are narcs who rise from bed each morning to champ at carrots on strings. Digital carrots mainly. We are Yuppie 2. We are Patrick Bateman, Brett Easton Ellis’ American Psycho, whose struggles with cognitive dissonance in the white-collar workspace led to a barely discriminate murderous rage. In the dead eyes of millennials, the same sickly id that burned through Bateman’s moisturizing face mask.
We missed the point. Patrick Bateman is “literally me,” we say. And while investment banking as an industry has fallen in prestige and relevance, perhaps because the Boomers got too excited and overdid it with everyone’s money, we unironically align ourselves with the values of that zombie industry: a cut-throat imperative to optimize at the expense of peace, health, and comfort.
Millennials are, on the whole, more like bad guys from Gen X media. We are not the soulful slackers embodied most totally by Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke in those Linklater movies about having sex with someone from the bus. We could never be. Millennials haven’t the patience to sustain that kind of drifting conversation (it’s been done to death) and we don’t make eye contact on public transit. We don’t slack because Gen X already overdid that. Gen X moved through slacking like a hatch of locust, consuming all idle time in anticipation of the millennium, when things were expected to pop off, either via the second coming or a computer glitch that was going to ruin the way we calculate time.
In retrospect, Jesus II or Y2K would’ve been better than what we got. Not to be a wet blanket (some would say self-pity is inextricable from the basic millennial makeup) but most millennial children grew up in the shadow of domestic paranoia instigated by 9/11. Somehow, maybe illogically, most children in my elementary school were afraid of being abducted and beaten with a shovel on our morning bike rides to school (we pedaled very quickly) perhaps because our Gen X and Boomer parents instilled the idea, perhaps because they thought hairline cracks of ill will radiated out from that singular evil. Also Columbine and its tenuous connection to video games. We grew up in a weaker Western world with an oozing wound no one wanted to look at too closely.
We were made to think, on the heels of these travesties, that threats to our lives were omnipresent, both within and without the domicile. This has more or less proven true, a seeming result of the social contract’s disintegration, more loneliness, an increase in parasocial relationships with video game streamers, and the total invasion of the internet, that recirculator of incomplete ideas. In a failed effort to prevent this reality, participation trophies were created for children’s soccer. In revenge for their own stupid idea, the Boomers bullied us, five-years-old at the time, for receiving them. Were we supposed to decline them like Marlon Brando at the Oscars? We didn’t know about causes yet. We might’ve said something about the climate.
Climate discourse is irritating, even for those who believe in and understand it. Its self-congratulatory and fatalistic tone makes engagement difficult. Climate zealots, like most people, are strapped to the planet earth. Their constant ponderance of its destruction is creepy, like most morbid fixations. I’d generalize that most millennials would enjoy the luxury of burning all of their garbage on the front lawn. It seems like something we’d be into. But there was always an understanding, perhaps more pronounced in households with composting pots, that millennials could be the last generation to reach old age on an intact Earth. And by old age we mean sixty, maybe. These same climate types view Gen Z, the Zoomers, most of whom were born after the millennium, with the same pity farmers reserve for sheep who come out with three eyeballs and no skin. Misbegotten in a land after time, the Zoomer rides this burning world to its final destination—and also thinks millennials are losers.
I asked my students about my generation. I am an English instructor (adjunct) who teaches sixty Gen Z students, some of whom show up to class, and many of whom don’t wear airpods while I’m talking. They’re personable. I don’t get the impression many of them are driven to accomplish anything, but I do teach an 8:00 a.m. class. In response to a brief, informal survey, my students concluded that the worst thing about millennials is their solipsism, followed next by our precocity, which has aged very badly. How can so many of us be precocious? The numbers don’t add up. They’re fascinated by the fact that any of us can marry, let alone reproduce. (We do so later and less often.) Also we are cringe, they say, and cite AOC. But she is a politician. She is supposed to be cringe.
As with all generational archetypes, the insidious puppeteer at play is advertising. Millennials were the first group to be sold on total self-sufficiency with banner ads about cocktail sets, chefs’ knives, paracord, titanium camping stoves, kettlebells, and the Peloton. The cohesive idea, if there is one, is that millennials could purchase enough clutter to replace bars, gymnasiums, and even the outdoors of planet Earth, with all its winding bike trails.
These products and their market strength preceded the pandemic. Their strategic sense is predicated on social anxiety and the prohibitive cost of leaving one’s apartment. The self-reliance these devices promise to enable is obviously a fantasy. Millennials are as ingrained as any other Americans into the tapestry of this country. We think, directionally, in terms of the streets and landmarks that Boomers built. Stylistically, we’ve reverted to the oversized, bodily disguise of Gen X. Musically and entertainment-wise, we’ve been stratify, delineate, and say precisely what things were so that we might retire, satisfied with our explications, to an overpriced two bed with pillows that say “pillow” on them. outpaced by curly, dangly, hive-minded Gen Z, who have unified their image more rapidly and comprehensively than millennials. The legacy of millennial culture—through music, movies, academics and fiction—will be of ceaseless infighting and gatekeeping, a desire to
I’m not upset, exactly, with how millennials are portrayed and understood. I’m only woozy from the dissonance. Greta Gerwig is cusp, born in ‘83, and Diablo Cody, who wrote Juno, and who was born in ‘78, is squarely Gen X. The guy who wrote Scott Pilgrim is also Gen X, ‘79. Our stories were conveyed to us, and with an unprecedented degree of gullibility and receptivity, we incorporated them directly into our image and ethic. We deserve scorn for that, derision. Also, we turned country music into guys who wear high-vis vests and flat brims. We financially enabled Logic, the corniest rapper of all time, to develop a positive self-esteem. Neil Young was on when some of our Canadian parents reproduced, ergo Arcade Fire, a band with an unprecedented reach into its own colon. For these reasons and others, we hate ourselves and do not resemble ourselves, at least anecdotally. None of my friends like this stuff, maybe excepting Arcade Fire, who toggled something chemical in us when we were the right age.
My theory is that Gen X cooked up some millennials in a petri dish to satisfy their own vision for the future human, a sort of ubermensch of prevarication and ennui. By a similar token, we’ve created the e-girls and e-boys of Instagram through collective will and approval, probably to satisfy a more embarrassing desire. In other words, the most visible flagbearers of a generation satisfy the tastes of the monied, landed, enfranchised cohort preceding them. For a long time, this was only the Boomers, and for a long time every station was classic rock, but the emergence of a more cohesive Gen X in the media, and the absorption of the elder millennial cohort by this same bolder Gen X, is probably to blame for the millennial image. That stuff, the participation trophies, and the ice caps.
It’s not a defense, is it? It’s disavowal with some redirection mixed in. Some of my points have the tone of conspiracy. But the media machine is intentional, insidious, and directed. It generated the typical millennial, who is either Michael Cera or Emma Stone, both ‘88. We have to ask why, I guess. Who wanted them? Their parents? Their parents. Their children will want them. Their friends and so on. We’ll never have the consensus approval of the Boomers, who awarded it to themselves. And until there’s another world war and another housing boom…
Both of these things are possible. China is poised to invade Taiwan and the older Boomers, presently 77, are less than a year away from the national life expectancy. It could all line up in a bath of nuclear fire and heart disease, and our children (given the older-adjusted age of marriage and reproduction in America) might end up in possession of America’s next monoculture. Our children—who will have at this point developed radiation-resistant fur in an unprecedented Lamarckian response to Earth’s inhabitability problem, will look to us for some answers. And some of us will inevitably play Frances Ha, eternally black and white, dooming the rest of us for however long we have left.
Three planes. Thirty hours. Tired, nervous and excited, I collected my bags on a Saturday at Julius Nyerere Airport in Tanzania and prepared myself for my first day as an intern in the labor ward at Muhimbili University National Hospital in Dar es Salaam. I was one of 40 or so volunteer medical and nursing students sharing a house owned by Work the World, a program specializing in healthcare internships in Africa and Asia. My goal was to gain hands-on experience and clinical hours in obstetrics between semesters at the Trinitas School of Nursing. I was starting on Monday.
I think of myself as an adventurous person and I have done more traveling than most—to Southeast Asia twice, several countries in Europe, and Mexico several times. I am comfortable interacting with people and respectful of their cultures. I had never been to Africa, however, and was not familiar with Tanzania before I arrived. I was unsure what to expect, although I knew that the hospital where I would be working was not going to be comparable to anything we have here in the United States.
I am somewhat of a latecomer to nursing. I had been interested in the profession when I was 18, but it seemed really hard to me at the time and I questioned whether I could handle it. I went to college and earned a communications degree and then worked in the franchising industry for nine years.
When I was 29, my father was admitted to the hospital for an emergency triple-bypass. I worked remotely for several days from his hospital room and, while I was there, I talked with the nurses a lot. The whole experience with my dad (he pulled through and is doing fine) reignited my interest in pursuing nursing as a career. I started classes at Trinitas in January of 2020—great timing, yes, I know—and graduated in January of 2023.
I am the oldest sister in my family by 10 years and the oldest cousin by eight years, so I basically remember when everybody in my family was born. I found this more exciting than anything else in my life as a young girl. So as I started nursing school, I was interested in obstetrics and knew I wanted to go into labor and delivery. I conveyed this to my professors, who advised me to wait a year and keep my options open. But once we were in our semester of obstetrics, I knew that’s where I wanted to be.
Siblings are typically close together in age and don’t remember the experience of being in the hospital when their younger sisters and brothers are born. But I was 10 when I met my little sister, within an hour of her being born. I wasn’t in the delivery room, but I remember being there with my mom and holding her. She was so tiny. It is one of my core memories. I remember what I was wearing and what it smelled like there and the feeling of amazement of seeing this baby that just came into the world—and being amazed by my mom. Since then, I’ve always been interested in the birth experiences that women have.
The first time I was in the delivery room at Trinitas, I really felt like I was part of a team. It all seemed very natural to me. The baby was born after a long, 24-hour labor. It was striking how much work the mother did, how exhausted she was, and how miserable she was while going through the most physically difficult thing she’ll probably do in her life—and then seeing that “switch” when she was holding her baby for the first time and how all that suddenly didn’t matter. She was happy and glowing and crying. And I was crying.
I have been in the room for a lot of births and delivered several babies myself since then…and I still cry every time.
I came across Work the World while searching for a summer labor and delivery internship. In Europe, where the program is based, midwifery is kind of parallel to nursing. In the UK, for instance, nursing students do not typically learn about women’s health. To gain that knowledge, they often volunteer for midwifery programs abroad. Here in the US, the nursing programs are more comprehensive and include obstetrics training, but students are only allowed to watch procedures, not get their “hands dirty.” Often, your first chance to put a learned skill to work may not come until your first job.
Sure enough, I received valuable clinical training working directly with patients and midwives, assisting in deliveries on a daily basis. I was able to do things that nursing students here just don’t get to do. For instance, we had to take a phlebotomy course, I learned how to start IVs there, I administered oxytocin to induce labor, and I learned how to handle all types of monitoring. I delivered four babies and scrubbed in on five c-sections. One of my deliveries was breech and another involved shoulder dystocia. Each mother of these four babies I had supported throughout her labor, from two to 10 hours. There were other mothers for whom I was there during all stages of labor. After delivery, I was constantly assessing the mothers and the babies. They were my patients.
The midwives ran the show in the labor ward at Muhimbili Hospital. Most were very caring and nice toward the mothers, but there were a couple who regarded their patients as being uncooperative when they were just in a lot of pain. There are no epidurals and no pain medications available for mothers there and when they yelled the midwives would sometimes yell back. Some practices I witnessed would be unheard of and unacceptable in the US, and I found them very upsetting at times. But I wasn’t there to criticize how they treated their patients. I was there to learn.
Along with the learning opportunity came certain challenges for which it turned out I was unprepared. Resources we take for granted here are scarce to non-existent. For example, we had one fetal heartrate monitor for the whole floor, no IV pumps, and there were no individual rooms for the patients. Each area was divided into bays by plastic curtains. In each bay was a bed, a stool and an empty nightstand. Patients brought their own supplies to the hospitals—including sheets, pillows and drinking water. The only thing provided was a basic Foley catheter. The different wards in the hospital were connected by outdoor walkways. There were few if any doors separating inside from outside, including in the surgical ward.
Another surprise was that I was the only American in the program. Most of the people living in the residence were from the UK or Europe. There were a couple of people from Australia and a couple from Turkey. There was a lot of change over. Every week new people were coming in. There were eight of us that came in my week. We stuck together and became pretty close, and we’ve all kept in touch.
Every morning we would travel to the hospital in little three-wheeled taxis called tuk tuks. The culture in Dar es Salaam (the translation of which, by the way, is Abode of Peace) caught me off-guard a couple of times, especially the way women are regarded. Where the hospital was located in the city wasn’t a very touristy area and—as a group of independent, educated women without a man present—we were not always treated respectfully by the local people. It was the first time in all my travels that I felt that uncomfortable.
In the hospital, however, I was completely in my element. When there were issues that needed to be addressed quickly, I proved to myself time and again that the training I was receiving at Trinitas would kick in when it was needed. I could step up and do what I had to do in the moment when there was no time to think about it. When we had a post-partum hemorrhage, for instance, I knew exactly what I had to do to start IV lines and get fluids into the patient in order to get her into surgery. I jumped right in and did it like it was second nature.
In Tanzania, I gained tremendous confidence being put in situations that I had only learned about in a lecture. During my time at Muhimbili University National Hospital, I was able to apply absolutely everything I learned at the Trinitas School of Nursing to my patients in Tanzania—and I know that everything I learned in Dar es Salaam I will bring into my future nursing practice.
In nursing school, you get so much information that occasionally you wonder whether, when the task is in front of you and you need to help somebody else, Will I be able to do it?
When you get that chance and your instincts kick in and you do the right thing, afterwards it’s a really good feeling.
Editor’s Note: Alexandra Redmond will be taking her boards early this year and hopes to be working in a neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) in 2023.
There is no magic formula for breaking down barriers. The individuals who do so, by nature and definition, are the ones who bring unique skills and perspective to an obstacle where others have tried and failed. Tamron Hall began her career in broadcast journalism as a small-town reporter and outworked, outhustled and, let’s face it, “out-Tamron’d” the competition until she was co-hosting the third hour of Today, sitting behind the anchor desk on NBC Nightly News and had her own primetime hour on MSNBC. In 2019, she launched The Tamron Hall Show, a syndicated talk show that has already won her a pair of Daytime Emmys. Gerry Strauss was curious how a gifted storyteller with a passion for detail could make such a splash in a format where other people do the talking. It turns out, Tamron Hall’s other secret power is listening.
EDGE: Have you always been intrigued by people and their stories?
TH: I have. My grandfather, who was born in 1901, lived on a very small street in Luling, Texas called Cosi. All of the people there had either been sharecroppers or had worked in conditions that were the real challenges of black Americans. And that’s putting it lightly. I was always curious about their lives. There was a woman named Mama Susie, who was a hundred years old. I think I was 10. I would go down and talk with her. She was a midwife who had outlived all of her children and her husband. So I guess, looking back, I was always honing the skillsets needed for my job. I just didn’t know it.
EDGE: When did the idea of becoming a television journalist start?
TH: When I was a teenager in the ’80s. I finally saw a woman doing it that looked like me. My father and I were watching television one day—I was not being the best student, we’ll say—and he said, “If you get your grades up, that could be you.” He pointed at this woman, Lola Johnson. At the time, she was the first black woman to anchor the news in North Texas. I saw a black female journalist, I saw this anchorwoman who was sitting next to this white man, and she was as composed and as strong, and had this really beautiful, rich, baritone voice. Wow! There was something about it emotionally that connected in a way that nothing had prior to that. I grew up like any kid at that time, with Michael Jackson and Madonna posters on my wall. I ran out to the mall to get all the bangles and the layers that Madonna wore in her “Borderline” video. I was an MTV junkie. I loved that…but I knew I couldn’t do that. Seeing Lola Johnson, there was something about her delivery of the news that I felt was my destiny. This was a job I hadn’t known was possible. It was not on the list of things when you have Career Day at Carroll Peak Elementary School in Fort Worth, Texas.
EDGE: As a black woman in your field, was it an uphill battle to earn the types of serious, high-level assignments that would help enhance your reputation as a journalist?
TH: Oh, I think it’s still challenging for me, to be quite honest. The first and only time I’ve ever lost a job in my life, I was 48 years old and I’d been a journalist for 30 years. I went into interview for job opportunities after leaving the Today Show as the first black woman to ever do that show. I’d won an Edward R. Murrow Award and had been Emmy-nominated for work that I’d done as a consumer reporter and covering the election of Barack Obama with the NBC News team. I’d filled in that last week for Lester Holt. I hosted my hour of the Today Show. I filled in for my friend Savannah Guthrie, who was on maternity leave, and hosted my hour on MSNBC. I went into a number of news organizations who essentially were offering me kind of journeymen fill-in roles. I remember a conversation where someone said, “Oh, well, someone’s going on maternity leave.” I said, “Oh, Anderson Cooper’s going on maternity leave? I didn’t even know that he was going to have a baby! Congratulations to him.” [Laughs] I say this very cautiously because every opportunity is an opportunity to shine. Some of my biggest breaks were when I got a chance to fill in for someone. That said, direct to your question, I felt my résumé—and the response from viewers when it was revealed that I was leaving—gave me some value. But it didn’t. And I think that is an example of the ongoing challenges, to the question you asked, being a black woman in this industry.
EDGE: Having lived and worked all over the country, in so many different cities, do you feel the perspective you’ve gained makes you a more astute journalist and observer of the world?
TH: Oh, absolutely. Listen, my summers were spent in Luling, Texas after my mom—who was a 19-year-old single mom—took advantage of an opportunity in a bigger city so she could become the person that she wanted to be, a teacher. This was a very small, rural town. Even now, when my relatives are ill, they’ve got to drive 45 minutes or an hour to just see a doctor—and I’m not talking about specialists. There is one doctor who comes in to Luling who provides medical care—I believe it’s like once or twice a week—to people who cannot afford to go into Austin or Houston. That happens right now. I have a relative who was recently diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. For her to see anyone, she’s got to drive an hour, and she is on government healthcare. I think about that every day I walk through the streets of New York and I see a rental that’s $30,000 a month for two bedrooms. This dichotomy not only has helped my journey as a reporter, it helps my journey as a human. It reminds me I was lucky enough to be a reporter covering some of the biggest stories in a local market, because that gave me perspective on a national scale. I always tell people when someone says to me, “Oh, I hate watching local news,” that you have the wrong perspective, because local news is going to tell you when that highway is closed down that you take every day, or when there is a disaster coming your way in your town. So I was fortunate not only to your point of having lived in all these different cities, I was a local reporter in the streets of those cities.
EDGE: Does this depth of experience make you a better talk show host?
TH: It definitely helped me and what I do right now as a talk show host. I think that when I launched this show, people wondered what it would be. And I always knew that it was going to be those steps that you just mentioned as a reporter, as a kid from a small town, as a kid who’s lived in the heart of Manhattan, and in the smallest street in Luling, Texas. Those tools and those experiences were what I always planned to bring to the show, and that’s why the show is the type of show that it is.
EDGE: When you signed the contract to co-anchor the third hour of the Today Show in 2014—which was a history-making opportunity for you—you chose to wear a jacket that was previously owned and worn by Lena Horne. What was the connection that you felt with Ms. Horne and what she brought to the world?
TH: Growing up, Lena Horne was everywhere. She was this fairy godmother. You know Glinda in the Wizard of Oz? That was Lena Horne for me. I always admired the elegant but strong way she floated through rooms. There was always a presence of power, of strength, of being unapologetic. I also recognized her authentic voice as a kid, in the beauty salon, with my aunt reading Jet magazine, reading Ebony, reading about Lena and Harry Belafonte. I felt that what she represented and embodied was what I wanted out of my career. And so fast-forward when I ultimately lost that job, I thought about how would she have handled it. Would she get down in the dirt and try to leak stories and get mad? Or would she elegantly learn that there are more than one set of wings available? I thought a lot about how she handled adversities that I can’t even imagine—and did it in a way that made black people proud and also made white audiences root for her. That’s something that didn’t happen a lot then when you belonged to the black community. She, in so many ways, belonged to the greatness of America, and the greatness that a black woman can present as a representative of this country.
EDGE: Having rolled the dice on yourself, and now that The Tamron Hall Show is a such a success, do you feel you were prepared for it?
TH: I was not prepared. I’m a journalist! I’m used to working for the big network with the three letters behind it and was able to go in, do my job, and leave. Suddenly, I’m not just a journalist, I’m now a host and I’m a businessperson. It required me to make big decisions, such as changing executive producers, making sure the voice of the show was the voice that I went in and pitched. That didn’t mean I wasn’t open to changes, but I had to have my north star. I just read Trevor Noah’s [The Daily Show] exit interview, and he said he never imagined having to chime in about set design, having to chime in about HR and hiring. I had no idea. I felt that I had this very open life that was right for daytime television. As Liam Neeson said, “I always felt that I had a particular set of skills.” [Laughs] But I had not run a business. Disney backs my show, but they expect me to make money. They expect me to get out there and use my name and my connections to build the show. I liken it to an artist who goes on a tour that Pepsi sponsors. Pepsi sponsors it, but you’ve got to sell the tickets. When your name is on the show, buyers buy that, but sometimes they don’t, if you know what I mean.
EDGE: How so?
TH: “Oh, great! We like Tamron Hall. We like the storytelling. We like the real people. Now…how many celebrities can you get?” Well, I didn’t pitch a celebrity-driven daytime show. We want celebrities on, but we don’t want people who come on and say, “Here’s my movie. Come see it. Bye. Oh, and don’t ask me about the reason why I was trending two days ago.” We can’t do that. “No, just book them, book them, book them. Have them come on and have them pitch and leave.”
EDGE: So that was the pressure early on?
TH: Yes, and I had to stay strong on my beliefs. I grew up watching Mike Douglas and Dinah Shore and Barbara Walters and Oprah Winfrey and Phil Donahue—people who got you to talk. That’s where “Let’s talk about it” came from. It started when Yoko Ono and John Lennon hosted on a daytime show. When Muhammad Ali was a regular, not on Carson, but on Mike Douglas. He came to talk about racism within America as it correlates to sports. People forget that. So that’s what we wanted to bring, that type of energy. It took some time, to be honest with you, before all parties who believed in me believed in that concept.
EDGE: What is the key to having memorable conversations with your guests?
TH: It’s curiosity. The most important trait in being able to connect with people is being curious. That helped me as a reporter, and that got the attention of the networks when I was in Chicago. I think it helped the quality of work that I was doing. I was as curious about Ryan Harris, a kid who was murdered, and what happened in this situation that turned his life into a tragic story—just as curious as I was about how did Barack Obama, a kid raised in Hawaii by his grandparents, become the president. I was lucky enough to interview him in Chicago, but my curiosity about him was not greater than my curiosity about Ryan. Or about a young girl who was murdered on the South Side of Chicago, who actually inspired my first novel.
EDGE: What else in addition to curiosity?
TH: I went from being the youngest person in my newsroom when I started in Dallas, Fort Worth or Bryan-College Station. By the time I left MSNBC, I think I was the third-oldest woman on air. I tell my team, there are people right now who grew up where I grew up who could probably do this job better—timing, preparedness, work ethic. Not to say they didn’t, but what are you willing to sacrifice and give up? I remember being out covering an Amtrak derailment in Bourbonnais, Illinois. It was like 15 below zero, and I hadn’t layered that day. Because you’re a general assignment reporter, you don’t get to pick your assignment. And I was assigned going out the door, this derailment, dark of night, and just thinking, This is what? I don’t want to do this. This is not what I want to do. But these are the moments where you ask yourself, What am I made of? And I’m made of whatever the good stuff is that makes a reporter. I’d like to believe those are some of the things that I have within me.
EDGE: For many years, you have dedicated yourself to educating the public about domestic violence. In what ways do you feel we have made the most progress?
TH: Oh, I think many, many ways. I remember the Ray Rice story. He was the NFL player who, in 2014, was captured on video beating his wife. He admitted to it and did the rounds, if you will, of interviews. I think he did a big one on the Today Show. At the time, I remember so many people asking, “Why does she stay with him? Why doesn’t she just leave?”
EDGE: Turning their attention to Ray Rice’s wife—
TH: Yes and holding her somehow responsible. Also, expecting her to suddenly leave her family and leave her husband. We don’t talk like that as much anymore. You don’t see that wagging of the finger. There is a more nuanced conversation, even when you talk about men who are guilty and who’ve been convicted of abuse. Can you rehabilitate? Can you help this person learn the skill sets that are needed to keep them from believing that a fist is the best way to resolve? Those conversations are happening now. I remember when I started out, it was take the family and the dad goes to jail, or whatever, and blame the mom for being there. That was even in the media. Now you’re seeing people recognize that it is not black and white. It is a complex conversation, but it is one that we can have together.
EDGE: What’s a project you’d like to do purely for enjoyment?
TH: You know what? I’ve worked since I was 14 years old. I’d love to produce some shows that are fun, that are places that you can genuinely bring people together. I would love to sit around and consult on a few shows and give ideas. But honestly, I tell my team this all the time: I want to retire and I want to watch shows and see their names on the credits, and I can take credit for them. I’m a TV junkie. I was a latchkey kid. To anybody not old enough to know what that is, I was the kid who came home and unlocked the door and watched TV. I just want to sit around and enjoy good TV and laugh and smile and cry—all the things that I hope people do when they’re watching our show. But my “kids” will grow up and they’ll do it better…all our producers on The Tamron Hall Show, they’ll do it better.
Editor’s Note: During this interview, Gerry Strauss asked Tamron Hall about her work as a novelist. Needless to say, that took their conversation in an entirely different direction.
Continue reading below to learn more about Tamron!