Yes, it’s me again! This week was a little rough for me, but it started to get better. My kids were sick, and anyone who is a parent knows how that can be. But they are better now, and eating and running and wrestling with their father, which means we are back to normal (Gracias a Dios).
The other day I was sitting having lunch, and I thought that food is not the only thing that makes a Boricua special. I know for a fact that there are many things that make us special (and if we don’t see a reason, we will make one up), but in terms of food, it’s not only what we eat but how we eat it. I had a class in college that explained how what we eat and how we eat it is taught and learned. Let’s say for example that Juano was born in Puerto Rico, but adopted by a Chinese family. He moved to China and ate Chinese food (for them is just food since they are in China). Juano will learn to eat that type of food and he will learn how to eat it too. Food is not something we come to the world with, and like every other thing in life we have to learn to eat it and how to (this HOW thing is pissing me off already. Use another word man!).
My professor walked to the classroom one day with a ceramic plate, a fork and a knife. He placed it in his desk and asked us to tell him something we eat as Boricuas. We all agreed: white rice, habichuelas guisadas (stewed beans) and chuletas (pork chops) – with some amarillos on the side would be awesome, right! Anyway, he asked us: “what is the first thing we do when we have all in the plate?” “Eat”, “Say a prayer”, “Drool”. None of those is correct. The first thing we do as Boricuas – and in you are Boricua and never realized this or you are not Boricua and need to learn how we do it, the following will help – is to mix the rice and beans. Most of us Boricuas will mix the rice with the beans and then proceed to eat it. In my dad’s case, Ketchup is also an important part of the mix. We were all surprised of this discovery; something we do every day and were never fully aware of it.
“What do we do next?” “Eat some more because we already thanked God for it?”. No. We mix the whole thing one more time! “We do? I will be watching myself next time”. YES WE DO! Before we take the second bite, we mix the already mixed food one more time (just to make sure it’s mixed). We eat our chuletas and amarillos, but before we take a bite of the rice and beans, we mix it (maybe not every time, but 80% of the time). If you are in Puerto Rico, you will see every Boricua does it that way because we were taught to. Maybe our parents did not actually tell us it has to be done that way, but when we were kids they mixed it for us and we believe that way to be the correct one and sometimes we do it without even noticing (the same way being awesome is something normal for us Boricuas). If you are in Puerto Rico, but from another culture, when you get rice and beans, most likely you will eat the rice and then some beans without mixing it. Or if you have a Boricua friend with you, you will be asked something like “tu no lo vas a mezclar (aren’t you going to mix it)? As I said, it’s not only what we eat but how we eat it that makes us who we are. In El Salvador you just don’t take a Pupusa and eat it just like that; there is a process and a plate full of things to eat it with.
That day was an eye opener for many of us; we were able to see us, as a culture, in a complete new way. We were amazed, like when Neo was told he was in the Matrix (I love the movies, so what?), like when Harry met Sally for the second time (because it got normal after that), like when we learned that Bruce Willis was really dead all along in the Sixth Sense (no spoiler alert, I don’t care). Just take some time to watch yourself when you eat and watch others too (but don’t be too obvious because you may look weird) and you will see all the differences there are.
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