By Brenda Torres
Soy Mexicana, but not for food. My mother censored us from Mexican food. She would always make separate foods for us, Papi would have tacos and we had macaroni. We did not grow up eating chile, but my mom would cook it though. I always smelled Mexican food in the house. I remember once she was making chile rellenos. She sent us to my Abuelita Armandina’s house so we would not smell the chile. Now every time my Abuelita cooks with chile I start coughing up a storm.
Papi would cook arrachera outside and buy me Oscar Mayer wieners. On the other hand, my sister grew up at Abuelita Armandina’s, and she learned how to eat Mexican food. I wish I could have told my mother, “Soy Mexicana! Dame comida Mexicana!”
In high school I would usually eat chicken sandwiches. Once the lunchroom ran out of regular chicken sandwiches and I was stuck with a spicy chicken sandwich. It was the worse lunch experience of my life. I felt the heat rising in my body. My mouth had a weird spicy numbness feeling. The girl across the lunchroom table noticed and gave me her orange. My ears turned red and my eyes watered. It was embarrassing because it was only a spicy chicken sandwich.
There is a restaurant in my neighborhood called Taco Mex, La Casa de los Tamales. That restaurant is known for their tamales. Three of my friends and myself ate there for lunch cuando eramos chamacos. My best friend ordered chilaqiles and I ordered a hotdog with fries. She offered me some of her chilaqiles and I tasted them. “ARGHHH BURRRP”1 it was as if my body rejected the out of the normal food it would take. Chilaqiles are cut up tortillas, fried with oil, chile, egg and cheese. What was the big deal? Another embarrassing moment with food.
My friend, at the time my high school counselor, took me to Taco Mex too. I ordered the usual. “Who goes to a Mexican restaurant and orders a hotdog?” she said. Obviously I was the only one.
Mama did not grow up eating chile either because Abuleita Armandina made Tio and her eat separate foods too. Why? “She would have wanted us to eat tacos de lengua, a cows tongue, are you kidding me? Blehhhh! She tricked us into thinking it was tacos de picadillo, ground beef tacos. She made us food we like to eat, she never cooked with chile.” Yet, why did mama eat and cook with chile? “En la Langley me ensene a comer chile con Nena.” Nena was my parent’s neighbor when they were newlyweds. She taught my mom how to eat all sorts of different Mexican dishes.
¿Entonces porqué no me diste chile de chamaca? Then why didn’t you give me chile when I was little? I could not even eat hot Cheetos when I was little. Papi told me I did eat quesadillas at El Cortez when I was little. El Cortez was a Mexican restaurant that was in Blue Island, Illinois, where occasionally I made a scene when my food was not ready. Then what happened? Pura comida American, just American food, not even a burrito?
¿Y Abuelita Armandina? ¿Porque no come chile? “En Ocampo no habia chile, nadie lo usaba. En el norte casi nadie cosina con chile. En el sur lo usan mucho.” Abuelita Armandina grew up in the northern part of Mexico and according to her that part of Mexico does not eat much chile. She orders chilaquiles from Taco Mex, without jalapeño. When the church has a tamala sale she always tells the ladies to make sure the tamales are not chilosos. I guess it’s not in my blood to eat chile.
Three years ago I visited Mexico for the first time con papi and my sister. We flew to Puerto Vallarta, where Papi’s family lives. My Abuelita Ernestina was scared that we were not going to eat anything she cooked. Papi told her “Comen puro sandwich,” that we only ate sandwiches. That was not true because we ate more than just puro sandwiches.
I gained a few pounds during the eleven days we visited Puerto Vallarta. Abuelita Ernestina never came out of the kitchen she kept cooking meal after meal. I was lucky that my Abuelita Ernestina was 36 not cooking with chile because it would have been a tough trip to survive.
Every meal had a side of frijoles, beans. The frijoles were not from a “La Preferida” can, everything was homemade. La Preferida is a food brand that my parents buy for beans. Now in Mexico, everything was homemade. El queso, the cheese did not come from a bag of “Supermo” it was homemade too! Supermo is a food brand too, common for dairy products like cheese. That brand was nowhere to be seen because everything was homemade! Al fin, finally, homemade food.
Every corner store had fresh tortillas. Unlike the stores here in the states that they only get a fresh delivery on Mondays. The stores would have fresh warm tortillas in coolers. When we spent time en el rancho, Abuelita Ernestina made tortillas.
We spent most of our time en el rancho and there is where I gained a few pounds. Abuelita Ernestina made burritos, but not American burritos. She would make tortillas and when they were fresh off the comal; she would put salt on them and roll them up tight. One morning she was making burritos and handed me one; it was fresh off the comal. Oh my goodness! I was holding the burrito like if I was playing hot potato. All my cousins were holding their burrito like nothing. I could not even hold Mexican food.
Something within me grew and I wanted to try the foods that I was censored from. As I got older and went to dinner with friends to their house, I tried different Mexican dishes. One of them has become one of my favorite dishes, Pozole, which is a traditional Mexican stew. Of course, I eat it plain with the hominy, the meat, and I like putting sour cream on it.
I have moved on from just regular sandwiches to a torta de carne asada. A torta is a huge double the size of a regular sandwich. Tortas can be made out of deli meats or grilled meats along with veggies and beans. I’ve had a torta de carne asada with frijoles and a side of aroz; nothing too drastic. Which to me is funny because the kids I grew up with were eating tortas for lunch; when I had a regular honey ham sandwich.
Now chilaquiles are a common Mexican breakfast dish, I still will not go that far. However, I will eat frijoles, arroz and huevo cooked with queso chihuahua and of course served with tortillas de maiz.
My taste buds are having a hard time letting go of the authentic taste of Mexican food that was censored from me.
1 A mixture of choking and burping