School Days: Celebrating Regionalism, Expanding Horizons
By Cathleen Elise Rossiter
A man travels the world over in search of what he needs and returns home to find it.
Monday night, Labor Day here in the U.S.A., I was suddenly transported to my grammar school days when I had my first bite of tonight’s dinner. On holidays that celebrate national traits or events, as Labor Day does, I like to cook dishes that celebrate the roots of the day’s meaning and origins. In the case of Monday’s celebration, the usual hamburgers and hot dogs cooked on the grill or the fried chicken I was planning on making just didn’t seem to express the meaning of the day.
Out of the blue, I thought of a dish we used to have in school. Our grammar school did not have a kitchen so most of the meals were prepared at the high school and delivered in shiny, insulated boxes to keep them hot. Every Thursday, the sub shop down the street would deliver the Special of the Day as a treat – good old-fashioned, traditional Merrimack Valley fare – Chicken Barbeque sandwiches, or “Chickin Bahb” in true Bostonian dialect.
Chicken Barb is not what one from outside the area expects, a piece of grilled chicken dripping in barbeque sauce. No, Chicken Barb in the Merrimack Valley is boiled, shredded chicken served hot on a bulkie roll slathered in mayonnaise with a little lettuce. I did not have an official recipe on hand so I used my deductive reasoning skills to create as authentic a recipe as possible and to my delight, and that of the rest of the diners, it was just as we remembered – heavenly.
Regional traditions, cultures, and specialties are a tremendous source of pride for people the world over. Some people create rivalries over these regionalities, as I have dubbed them, to varying degrees. Much of the history we study in school is of the clashes between two or more cultures over such regional pride. From Puerto Limon to Rarotonga to Auckland to Bangkok, Mumbai, Haifa, Dubrovnik, Venice, and every other place in the world, people have had to struggle to preserve their culture. Oftentimes, the conflicts arise out of a desire to spread one’s culture and way of life beyond one’s boundaries at the expense of other cultures; therefore, one is either the perpetrator or the victim. This need not be so.
What is this need we humans seem to have to dominate other ways of life, to see difference as detrimental? Around the world, people in every village and city, region and nation build centers to celebrate and preserve their expression of life and history through music, dance, literature, and all forms of art. Hong Kong, China has at least ten major opera houses. Venice, Italy likewise. Puerto Limon, Costa Rica celebrates a Day of the Cultures on Columbus Day. You will find some form of cultural center, a place to gather to display, re-tell, and preserve local traditions and art forms, wherever people live. I have a friend in France who helped start a museum to preserve the local insect population because these insects played a role in many of the traditions she grew up with.
One thing that my travels around the globe have taught me is that regionalities bring infinite levels of richness to our lives. Regionalities are what ground us, what root us in who we are and give us wings to expand our horizons by exploring the world, adding richness by discovering what makes others who they have become and how they came to be so, learning life lessons along the way. I have made more friends around the world by letting people share their traditions, listening to their stories, trying their special foods, making a point to learn what I can of their languages. Who would have thought that a simple bite from a sandwich of my youth could take me on a journey around the world, bringing me home to find deeper meaning and richness in my roots, my heritage, and my family?