I did something for my kids today that I absolutely dreaded when my mom did for me as a child. I made them burritos for lunch.
Specifically, bean and cheese burritos. I had to make my lovies their lunch for school today, and the most convenient thing for me to do was take advantage of all the beans I cooked during the week. As I wrapped the burritos in foil and placed them in their sandwich container, I laughed. I had a flashback of myself as a young girl in elementary school, hoping and praying my mom wouldn’t embarrass me and put a foil-wrapped burrito in my lunchbox.
In the mid-80’s, I went to school with very few Latinos. The majority of my neighborhood was white. The only other Latinos were the Spanish-speaking only families whose fathers worked at the local dairies. They didn’t look or act like me or my family, so I couldn’t relate to them. Aside from my family, I did not have an accurate picture of what my Chicano culture looked like. Oh sure, I was living it, but I didn’t have a mirror to look into so I could accept it.
At home, it was beans, salsa, rice, chile colorado, tamales, quesadillas, chile verde, chorizo con huevo and tortillas. At school, it was pancakes and maple syrup, hot dogs, pepperoni pizza, Pringles, ham sandwiches and Ding Dongs. I used to beg my mom to pack that type of food in our lunch everyday. This way I could blend in seamlessly with the other kids. To assimilate, if you will. I wanted to be like the little blond girl with feathered hair and rainbow socks. She always had a Twinkie with her lunch.
My dark, frizzy ponytails, brown skin, eyeglasses, and thick thighs already stood out like a sore thumb. Imagine my horror at the thought of unearthing a big, foil-wrapped bean burrito from my lunchbox. I realize now how I wanted nothing more than to fly under the radar. I wanted to look like everyone else: thin, blond, with straight hair and wearing a Def Leppard t-shirt.
That burrito was a symbol of everything I was but did not accept about myself.
It took years of educating myself beyond what I learned in school and at home, learning about who I was and where I came from so that I could gain some sense of empowerment and self-acceptance. It’s not so much that my family failed to teach me about who I was…they were just living life. I don’t think it occurred to them that I needed to know where we came from so that I could be content—proud, even—of how different I was from the other kids.
How did my children feel about having a burrito in their lunch bags? They were excited about the promise of mama’s bean and cheese burritos for lunch. They weren’t worrying about what the other kids would think. They weren’t begging me for Lunchables. Their main concern was keeping them warm and un-smooshed by their juice pouch.
I often wonder if this has anything to do with the fact that the charter school they attend three days out of the week is much more diverse than the rural elementary school I went to as a kid. There are Latinos, Caucasians, African-American, Asian and Indians. All I know is that my children don’t bat an eyelash when I tell them there are burritos in their lunch bags. I can only imagine the glee on their little faces as they enjoy their burritos. It makes me feel good as a mother knowing that they have a strong sense of who they are, where they come from and also, that their little corner of the world contains people of all colors.