Being Latina, I have never had any issues with vocalizing my objections or have had any problems with standing up for myself when something has displeased me. On the other hand, if there is a possibility that I may hurt someone I love and care about by something I say, well, I may take a moment or two to reflect before I respond. My first lesson in sensitivity training though was brought on by my mother years earlier. I can remember, as though it were yesterday, the first time I hurt her feelings.
One evening, my mother had decided that she was going to try her hand at cooking something “different” for dinner. On that particular night, my sister and I (who were 6 and 9 at the time) were extremely hungry and we couldn’t wait to eat. Papi had yet to arrive from work but our mother had assured us that we wouldn’t have to wait for him. Well, an hour later, Mami called us for dinner and we almost knocked each other over, trying to get to the table. We each grabbed a seat as though we were playing musical chairs and when Mami put our individual plates down in front of us, both my sister and I stared down at our plates with confusion and horror. You could hear a pin drop in that house from how quiet my sister and I became. Our eyes were glued to the unidentified mystery meat that was lying next to the Macaroni and caddy corner to the Broccoli. Neither one of us was brave enough to ask Mami about the origins of the mystery meat nor why she felt the need to kill something and feed it to us (yes, we had overactive imaginations at that age). We didn’t want to eat it, we just wanted to bury it but there was Mami’s feelings to consider.
Finally, my mother broke the silence, as she hovered over us and said, “Eat girls”. Somehow, knowing darn well that this mystery meat was going nowhere near my lips or my sisters, I found my young voice. My sister looked directly at me, with eyes as round as saucers and brimming with tears, as if she knew that something ugly was about to ensue between Mami and I. I said, “Mami, what is this?”, poking it with my fork for emphasis. She looked at me with a suspicious quiver to her lips, as though she wanted to laugh, and said, “Ham”. I looked back at my plate and said, “No, it’s not. Ham doesn’t have little bumps on it.” Then, all of a sudden I recognized what it was. I stuck out my tongue, to compare it to what was on my plate, and my sister quickly followed suit. We both screamed, “Its tongue. We’re not eating THAT!” Mami pursed her lips and said, “No, it’s Ham. Eat it.” After that, it was total mayhem. My sister started bawling. I crossed my arms over my scrawny chest, in total defiance, letting my mother know in no uncertain terms (albeit respectfully), that I’d rather die than eat TONGUE. My mother, sensing that she was losing the battle, stood there threatening us within an inch of our lives and stated that if we didn’t eat it, we wouldn’t get up from the table until we did.
This was the scene Papi walked into. He looked at Mami for an explanation and she told him that she had wanted to cook something more exciting for dinner. Papi looked at our plates and said, “That’s tongue? Oh, it’s exciting alright but there is no way I’m eating that either”. And just like that, it was over. Resignation written all over Mami’s face, she knew that there was no way she was going to win the tongue war. Funny thing of it though, she never planned on eating it herself. Talk about double standards.
Mami never mentioned the tongue incident again but I could never forget the look on her face when we wouldn’t try her “cow cuisine”. She looked hurt and that taught me a very valuable lesson. From that day forward I’ve always been very careful on how I voice my objections. “Mmm…cow intestines with onions? Looks lovely Mami but uh..no thank you.”