"Eso de la limpieza lo llevamos en la sangre. Va de familia. Somos muy limpios." I can not tell you how many times I heard my mother (or her sisters or cousins) say this. Cleaning, it seemed, was an appropriate topic of conversation for any occasion. Was it someone´s birthday? That was the perfect chance to chat about how to clean finger prints off a wall. Un velatorio? A wake provided a trip down a sparkling memory lane. ¨¿Te acuerdas de cuando se lavaba la ropa en el arroyo?¨ A holiday perhaps? Jackpot! A holiday presented tremendous opportunities for comparing notes on how to get stains out of table cloths and napkins. If two women from her side of the family were together, cleaning was always a topic of discussion. If there were three women present, the competition began.
First there were the rankings. ¨La Tia "fulana" no era muy limpia. La prima "mengana" es más limpia que su hermana.¨ Then there followed discussion and debate over techniques. ¨El mapo se tiene que exprimir muy, muy bien para que no queden manchas en los azulejos.¨ ¨¡No! Si quieres que el piso te quede limpio te tienes que poner de rodillas para fregarlo bien a mano con una bayeta.¨ Finally came the testimonials. ¨The last time I was at so-and-so´s house I noticed that there were no dried water marks on the faucet!¨ ... Ding, ding, ding! We have a winner! The cleaner your home was, the better your reputation in the family and the greater your sense of pride. Mi hogar, mi orgullo.
I still remember the first time I walked into my cousin M.R.´s house and saw her walking - well actually sliding - across the floor with a rag under each foot. I turned to my mother and asked her what she was doing. My mother laughed, playfully swatted me on the rear and said ¨sacando brillo al suelo.¨ It was a proud moment for both of them because I was coming of age. For me it was an epiphany. My mother was a member of a very clean tribe, and I was being indoctrinated. I had already learned the basics. I knew the exact sequence of how to make my bed EVERY MORNING which involved opening the window, removing all the sheets, dusting the headboard and setting the sheets and the bedspread again. (If I didn´t do it I would be reprimanded and hear the age old refrán ¨Cuerpo triste, de donde entraste saliste.¨) I knew bleach, soap and water were the ¨holy trinity¨of cleaning products. And, I was practically a professional at shining shoes and silverware. It was genetic, it was cultural and it was inevitable. I would one day become one of them.
Today, as a wife and mother, I maintain most of the old traditions. Compared to my non-latina friends I am a veritable clean freak. Moreover, cleaning isn´t just an inherited trait but a necessity. I have three young children who happen to have been born into a shrinking and rapidly changing world where flu viruses appear to be gaining strength, one time all-but-eradicated diseases like measles are flaring up in places, and lice checks in school are a part of life. Aside from providing them with good nutrition, teaching them to wash their hands and taking them for regular check-ups with their pediatrician, the best way I know to keep my girls healthy is to keep my home clean. Mi hogar es mi orgullo, and moreso mi familia es mi orgullo. There is no better source of pride and comfort for me than when my three girls walk out of my house, clean, well kempt, smelling good, and - most importantly - healthy.
Disclosure: The good folks at Clorox® are running a contest called “Mi Hogar Mi Orgullo” in which we are asked to share what cleaning and disinfecting our homes means to us. The truth is, I would have written this piece sooner or later as its topic is so ingrained in me. No doubt I will share more on the topic in the future. I haven´t even gotten to my mother´s cleaning routine...