How tortillas taught me to embrace my identity

I distinctly remember the initial time I was at any time ashamed by my foodstuff. It was in 2nd grade at Denker Avenue University in Gardena, wherever all but a couple of of my classmates were being Japanese American. Born in East Los and raised in the South Bay, I wasn’t yet mindful that I was Mexican. I understood I was unique, but it wasn’t some thing I consciously attributed to race. I generally considered it was my lack of things. I experienced no genuine concept of funds, nor that my family’s shortage of it — fairly than what I assumed was basically my mother’s disdain for substance objects — was the reason I had no Hi Kitty erasers. No My Melody stickers. No Small Twin Stars pencils – absolutely nothing of the a short while ago well-liked Sanrio crew for me to trade with my classmates. They experienced umbrellas, T-shirts, rain boots (try to remember when it rained every single period like clockwork in Southern California?), pencil instances, bento boxes… all sorts of child forex. 

About individuals bento packing containers. Every working day, I grabbed a subsidized cafeteria tray, which landed me at a various set of tables than my fortunate lunch-from-dwelling mates. Looking throughout to their spot, I’d see them pull their lovable bento containers out of their lunch pails. And when they opened all those bento packing containers? Cue wind-swept hair, sparkly eyes, and twinkling smiles. It was pure glory: little compartments loaded with delights I could not rather make out from my corner of the cafeteria, but I understood had to be fantastic by the way they carried on and traded merchandise. I genuinely needed in on that action. I may perhaps not have Kitty stuff, but we all have food stuff, correct? So I made the decision I’d request my mom to take care of me a property lunch, far too. And she arrived through — but boy, did I regret it. 

The following working day, I walked to faculty on top of the globe. There was a brown paper bag in my backpack that would get me a seat at the desk with my lunch-from-home buddies. I pictured how we’d communicate, hang, and share stuff. I seriously preferred my good friends and they truly favored me. I knew we intended far more than lunch to each and every other, but I was fatigued of remaining so “different” all the time. 


The author’s daughter poses at the Hi there Kitty Cafe. Photo by Connie Alvarez. 

At lunchtime, I happily skipped the cafeteria line and joined my bento buddies. Now photograph this: I attain into my bag and pull out… not a square little box like I’d requested for, but a wrinkled, tin foil-wrapped, warm, significant mystery bundle. With a sense of dread and no turning again, I very carefully unwrapped the (plainly re-utilized) tin foil and hoped against hope that what ever I was about to unravel would not embarrass me. 

But it did. Horrifically. I unfold the foil out on the table and laid bare for all to see the greatest, ugliest, lumpiest burrito I’d ever observed. 

There was no hiding it — it was too large. Absolutely nothing sensitive about it. Almost nothing lovable about it. And it was moist from condensation, building the tortilla glance wrinkly and old. My pals seemed above and said nothing. They did not want to embarrass me, but their well mannered silence was even worse — probably the worst factor that could occur to a very simple next grader with superior lunch hopes. 

I knew I would not consume it. I did not even bother to open it to peek at its ingredients. I previously knew it would be an egg, weenie, and potato burrito mainly because it was my favored form — at property — that my mom manufactured with really like for my brother and me. 

That was the working day I absolutely recognized I was Mexican and not just inadequate. I came to a hard comprehension that even if my lunch were prettier, it would be my culture’s quite, not in a box with small compartments. Wealthy or lousy, bento box or flour tortilla, every have been intrinsic vessels of our unique heritages. I felt quite by itself that lunch and more diverse than ever. 

But fortunately, as a child, we also have created-in resiliencies. By afternoon recess, I doubled down on what my buddies and I did have in common — our perception of humor. We laughed about my burrito. We laughed about someone’s stinky bonito fish flakes they had questioned their mother not to sprinkle on their rice. I was grateful they have been my good friends. But I in no way lost the point that I was a minimal little bit lonely for much more companions from my have culture who wouldn’t have experienced to specific well mannered silence, since they’d each individual have a burrito, or beans and rice, or, heck, chiles rellenos in their lunch bags. 


The author’s son proudly chows down on a burrito at lunchtime. Photograph by Connie Alvarez. 

When it arrived time to send my very own youngsters to university, I desired them to see on their own a minor a lot more than I did in those early several years. I adore the rich variety of populations we delight in in SoCal, but it goes a very long way to sense tacitly comprehended when you most want it. 

I identified a excellent Spanish immersion school and enrolled my young ones to build their delight and normalize their MexAm id. It appears mad due to the fact there are so many of us in California, but we are also a point out notorious for segregated ethnic pockets. At the exact same time, young ones right now are so substantially a lot more open up-minded, and I can’t help but question if this would have been their battle at all. 

No matter, their faculty wowed me. The cafeteria was lined with murals of Cesar Chavez, Frida Kahlo, Dolores Huerta, and other luminaries of Mexican and Latino lifestyle. I even wondered if it could be overkill. 

All these worries dissipated when I noticed the school’s diverse learners. And the parental involvement set me to shame. I went from getting humiliated by a burrito, to embarrassing my youngsters by not finding on the tamal-building line with the other mothers in their university (I’d only get in their way)! We’re speaking white, Asian, Black, and other mothers and dads who can make masa, atole, and pozole, and whip up arroz con leche like pros for the school’s Fall Festival. 

And at their lunch time? The children are minor foodies — they’re accepting of everyone’s food items alternatives and share zaatar in olive oil with bread, red beans and rice, sushi, and yes, even university pizza. 

Foodstuff is deeply individual. A stating comes to thoughts about immigrants’ children, alongside the traces of “What the son wishes to ignore, the grandson wishes to recall.” Nowadays, my young ones choose alongside me in our annual Tortilla Tournament, and they is not going to settle for anything at all considerably less than the major five of possibly group at mealtimes (and they can convey to).

Am I the unpleasant duckling in this story? Most likely. These days, my fervent directive is let’s all get inside this big, wonderful, moist tortilla and make a superb swan of a burrito collectively.

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