Stereotyping Latin Americans + notations regarding my skinny ass
Today a necessity of errands brought me to Elizabeth NJ, which has a very dense and varied population of Latin peoples. There are Puerto Ricans of course, but more and more, you are beginning to see larger populations of Chileans, Argentinians, Cubanos and others. Signs here are written in Spanish, Spanish in a variety of accents can be heard on the streets and music plays that is...blessedly...not a frontal assault of some rap or hip hop travesty, but pretty music, spicy quick and delicate music that I'm almost afraid to immediately classify as salsa. These are cultural sights and sounds which will, in turn, flavour America further the way we Irish did way back when (Why do you think Lager and Leprechauns are so popular? It wasn't the Sioux Indians, I assure you.)
Like most heavily immigrant populations (The Irish, way back when, included) Elizabeth is not without it's problems. There is crime, yes, and the drop out rate needs to be addressed, true. There's too much graphitti. (Clean that shite up, people!) This aside, I don't understand the occasional laments I hear from some older American Gringos I know: “I remember when Elizabeth was white.” It saddens them that it is more mocha now, evidenced especially in the long tan legs and slender olive midriffs (not unlike my own, but a bit darker) that sway down summer side-walks, and perhaps in the smiling, laughing, exuberant armies of children who occasionally unbalance you as they flow past...like being caught in a quick flurry of somewhat larger and mildly clumsy butterflies.
I am that “Girl-Who-Forgets-To-Eat,” the one you don't believe really exists, but hullo there nice to meet you. By the time my errands are finished, I'm starving and looking for a place to quickly grab a bite. Elizabeth is filled with South and Central American restaurants now, the aromas walking down the boulevards can be maddening (and it is a long walk....Elizabeth is crowded, the parking sucks arse, you must take what you can find and hoof it the rest of the way.)
I chose a place at random and it looked like it was once your classic American greasy spoon. It had that counter built into the floor, the kind lined with bolted down vinyl covered stools that are coloured “insane asylum green.” Behind this, a modest grill and an immaculately clean preparing surface for cutting bread, built in pans for ingredients, a giant metal lid that snaps down on the entire thing. A husband and wife team worked behind the counter. She took orders while he prepared the food.
Immediately upon seeing me, she commented on my skinny ass (literally my skinny ass, telling me boys like a healthier sized ass....although apart from Dave, negative input about my bottom is rare) and she began to lecture me in broken English about Bulimia. (I am NOT Bulimic. But this appealed to my sense of humour too much for me to feel offended.) I ordered a vegetable Quesadilla, and watched her eyes widen in horror as I explained that I don't eat meat. “No como carne,” stammered the odd alien white girl with the skinny ass. I liked her conversation, feeling at ease when normally I just glare at overly familiar people until they stop talking. (Sometimes when people think I'm an Arab, I like to pretend I don't know English.)
Her husband fascinated me. Latin people, you see, are Gods in the kitchen. Call it a stereotype, whatever. Feel free to claim I am racially profiling the Latin Cook. They....just...are. These people can do things with a pepper and some cilantro that aren't humanly possibly for anyone else. His movements on the grill were quick, precise, and performed with the practised ease of a hibachi chef. You can tell when you are watching someone in love with their profession, and this little man in his later fifties....LOVED....making me my quesadilla. There was nothing haphazard in it, nothing bored, nothing even remotely like watching someone throw your bloody sandwich together in subway. This man was masterful. And the quesadilla was holy-shite-can-I-make-love-to this-thing-cheesy-melty-good. Some kind of Salsa that I didn't recognise came with it, and a wad of sour cream. (Seriously....if you want to be my friend, just throw some salsa at me and we'll bond for life.)
It was amazing. Made by a man who gave a damn about what he was doing, brought to me by a woman who made me welcome in her domain (even if she did critique my bum,) eaten in ecstasy in a quiet little corner, as if I were a lioness who had dragged her kill behind some brush for privacy.
White people. Hear my words. I realise these little ethnic areas scare you (and let's be real, some spots are nicer than others) but it hasn't stopped being “your” town. It's not the place where you keep the Latinos fenced in. By not coming to these places, you are missing out on incredible foods. You are missing out on beautiful girls. You are missing out on great music. These weird imaginary barriers we put up around ourselves needn't exist at all when there's just so much to be found if you get up and go looking for it. Diversify yourselves. Try an empanada with that tangy green cilantro stuff on it and flirt heavily with the Brazilians. Good things happen when you mix with Spaniards, in fact I wouldn't have been born otherwise.
It's still your America, and trust me. It tastes glorious. It is rewarding to get out of your comfort zone, especially when it comes to food and romance!
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