Growing up with Yerba Mate
I first came across Yerba Mate when I lived in Ciudad del Este, Paraguay. Actually, in Paraguay, they drink a different variation of Yerba Mate called Tereré, which is essentially the Cold Brews of Yerba Mate. In fact, Yerba Mate is a drink native to the Guaraní people who lived in the present day Paraguay region long before it became popular with the European settlers. So, you can say that I learned about Yerba Mate from the same people who most likely invented it!
This is going to sound terrible, but growing up in Paraguay, I never considered drinking it. Drinking Tereré had a negative social stigma associated with people (usually indigenous) of lower social status. So, if you grew up in a family with higher social (and economic) standing, you tend to avoid drinking Tereré.
As a result of a policy set by one of Paraguay’s most infamous dictator, El Supremo. (aka. The Supreme, that’s right…) the majority of Paraguay’s population are mestizos (e.g. Mixed europeans settlers with Guaraní natives). It’s also a landlocked country lacking in natural resource. As a result, Paraguay is heavily reliant on commerce or its primary crop, soybeans to sustain its economy.
While growing up in Paraguay, there was a pretty small, but tight-knit Taiwanese community. And for the most part, even though I attended the local private school in the morning, I would also attend Chinese School in the afternoon. As a result, most of my friends and social circles were Taiwanese at that time. Even to this date, I still wonder how much of the actual Paraguayan mainstream culture I was able to experience. My answer today would probably be not enough.
As far as how my parents ended up there, even to this date, I’m not perfectly certain of the thought process that went through their head. But I’m pretty sure that it’s a mixture of a desire for an adventure and the practical reality that Paraguay was one of the few countries in the world that recognize Taiwan diplomatically at that time, so that probably made it relatively easier for Taiwanese to immigrate there. At least that’s the story that I want to believe in.
It wasn’t until I traveled across Argentina as a young-adult that I seriously started considering drinking Yerba Mate.
Why I started drinking Yerba Mate
At first, I drank it as a way of reminding me of my Sudamericano (South American) roots since I was born in Mercedes, Argentina, the land of Yerba Mate, futbol, and Pope Francis. Similar to coffee or tea culture found elsewhere in the world, the ceremony around the preparation and sharing of Yerba Mate is one of the strongest social artifacts that can be tied to where I was born. And, I wanted to be a part of that.
As a combination of having moved away from South America at an early age, and my family’s exclusivity in the Latin-Taiwanese community. I felt I that the version of South America that I’ve experienced growing up was limited and different from the mainstream South American culture that I’ve now come to appreciate as an outsider looking in.
That’s part of the reason I decided to travel across Argentina from Buenos Aires up to Misiones and down to Ushuaia by bus toward the beginning of October, 2014. I had a desire to rediscover the country I was born in and see if there was a part of me that still felt Sudamericano. I don’t think I’ve found the answer to this date, but one thing that I took away from that trip was an appreciation for Yerba Mate.
So as part of my journey to rediscover my Sudamericano root, I’ve started a Yerba Mate meetup in Chicago as a way to bring the Yerba Mate community together to share their experience and hopefully create new friendships, while introducing new people to this small but growing community. And maybe by talking with other people who shares my experience over Yerba Mate, I’ll be able to form a version my Sudamericano experience that’s truer to who I want to be.
In a way, Yerba Mate is no longer just a drink for me; it’s a vessel that helps me discover who I am while also bringing people together to form a community.
Yerba Mate in my daily life
I have a Yerba Mate set stashed on my office desk, primarily as a (ahem… superior) replacement to coffee & tea. I find that drinking Yerba Mate has several benefits. It gives me a steady boost in my ability to focus, but, beyond that, it’s also a great way to start a conversation with my peers.
In addition to work related benefits, Yerba Mate is a small but growing community in the United States. So, Yerba Mate is an excellent way for me to connect with like-minded travelers hooked on Yerba Mate or South American immigrants looking to connect with their roots.
The future of Yerba Mate
I’ve taken on the challenge of spreading the Yerba Mate gospel onto myself. Although, I don’t think Yerba Mate is likely going to reach the popularity of coffee & tea in the US. I do believe that Yerba Mate can be marketed successfully as a social event similar to how Hookah Bar was introduced to the Western market.
However, at the same time, I love the current tight-knit community, and some part of me doesn’t want that to change. So for now, I’m just going to spread the good word through my Yerba Mate meetup in Chicago and see where this ride takes me.