Chilango: colloquial term for a citizen of Mexico City
Chicano: colloquial term for a Mexican-American living in California
Last week, I eavesdropped on the following conversation at a restaurant:
“Tonight our special is hot fries.”
“Hot fries? what makes them unique?”
“No,” the server clarifies to the customer, “I said that the special is HALF PRICE”
After that whole ordeal with my visa, I was happily visiting my family in the United States. When we stopped in at this particular restaurant, it really struck me that this young server, who was clearly from Mexico, was the one with the accent. It was not me for the first time in over a year. What a weight lifted. What empathy for all foreigners communicating in a second language.
Speaking of restaurants, I quickly broke a food-promise. On my vacation, I planned to avoid eating Mexican food so that I could fully devote myself to pumpkin soup, lemon cake, hummus, and other such hard-to-find food items in my daily life. Despite my vow, I found myself inside only not one but two restaurants claiming Mexican influence.
The first was surprisingly familiar: there was salt on the table but no pepper; the menu boasted actual traditional items like pozole and tongue tacos; the refrigerator case was filled with brightly colored, sugar filled beverages; and more importantly every table was packed with large Mexican-American families! But while I settled into my comfort-zone, I noticed a few differences. No one said “buen provecho” to nearby diners; instead, people focused on those whom they knew and ignored and strangers. Everyone spoke English. And no one stared at me.
The second, despite being Mexican-inspired, was pretty far from what I have seen in Mexico. They served what US Americans think of as Mexican cuisine: burritos and nachos. Even more unfamiliar: everything was customizable! I was utterly overwhelmed at what felt like filling out a verbal survey about my dinner: What flavor of tortilla would you like? And which type of rice? Black or pinto beans? Meat or soy (hold on, soy???)? Vegetables? Do you want cheese, sour cream, and guacamole? What kind of salsa: hot, medium, or mild? I half-expected them to ask my marital status and place of birth! Back in Mexico, I would have ordered a taco and no other question would be asked.
“Mexican” experiences aside, I had a wonderful time relaxing with family and fully indulged in anonymity and familiarity. I enjoyed myself so much that I feared that I would not want to return to Mexico.
But when the time came, I boarded the plane and was happy that the announcements were in Spanish along with English. And that when I arrived, I ordered a sandwich without any questions to follow. And that a week later, my visa renewal process had advanced to the next stage.
I was back in the land of Chilangos and Mexicanos once again.
Making me smile
- A lovely visit with family, with the ocean, with mountains and alpine lakes, and with fall foliage
- Coming back to Mexico and seeing all of the waterfalls brimming after the rainy season
- Teaching and learning Mexican and US American playground games with my co-workers
- Heading off for a remote yet bustling area for Day of the Dead festivities, and attempting to avoid contracting cholera which is currently a growing epidemic in the region
- Seeing the lead-up to Day of the Dead all around town: cool decorations, painted skeleton faces, and lots of colorful flowers