Thursday, January 30, 2014

It Happened to Me: Skinny White Boys Don't Do Crema Fresca

Note: Based on some of the responses I've received as a result of this piece of satire, it's become obvious to me that I need to point out that it IS, in fact, a satirical response to this piece, which went viral, and annoyed a whole lot of us with its racist content, masquerading as liberal, white guilt.  For the record: I do not hate white people. I do not hate skinny people. I also have no desire to be skinny or white. 

Noon is always a funny hour at Mexican restaurants: they are inevitably flooded with San Francisco's lunch hour crowd...people who swear to themselves, every day, to spend less, and eat a more balanced diet. Come noon, though, and the resolve to eat that peanut butter and banana sandwich and Granny Smith apple in one's brown paper bag goes down the drain. And how could it not when, for under ten bucks, one can have the best burrito in America? 

This afternoon, as I settled into an exceptionally crowded Mexican eatery, I got on line behind a pair of young, fairly scrawny white guys. It was obvious to me, from their pronunciation, and the wonder with which they read the menu aloud, that Spanish was not their first language and that Mexican food was not part of their steady diet.  They were glancing around anxiously, adjusting  their bluetooth ear-pieces, looking wide-eyed and nervous, checking out other people's plates. We made eye contact when they turned around, and I could see the fear in their eyes. I, after all, am a fat, Hispanic chick. I can roll my Rs and I know the difference between a fajita and a chimichanga. This was not their place, and they knew it.

"Do you think we can share a BUHREETOE?" one of the skinny, white dudes asked the other, "They're HUGE."

"I don't know if they do that sort of thing," answered his gaunt companion, "I think it's kind of a messy thing to cut in half."

Again, they both turned and made eye contact with me. The looks on their faces made me sad.  I’ve seen skinny white people freeze or give up  many times, when ordering Latin food, and it’s a sad thing, but as an Hispanic, myself, I cannot relate, and there’s nothing I can do about it. At that moment, though, I found it impossible to stop thinking about these guys in their skinny jeans. As their turn to order approached, I watched as their despair turned into resentment and then contempt. I felt it all directed toward me, my chunky body, and my intimate relationship with Monterey jack cheese and salsa verde.

I was completely unable to focus on my planned lunch order (a beef fajita, hold the rice, extra guacamole, with salsa picante) , instead feeling hyper-aware of my olive complexion, my ability to order in Spanish, and my high tolerance for the spiciest jalapenos. I have eaten Mexican food hundreds -no, thousands -  of times, nourishing my  fat, Puerto Rican body, and not giving a shit if anyone liked it or not, and not worrying about the inevitable fart-storm that would come later. Surely these boys were noticing all of these things and judging me for them, stereotyping me, resenting me—or so I imagined.

I thought about how even though guacamole and chunky salsa come from thousands of years of Central and South American tradition, they have been shamelessly co-opted by Western culture as fast food staples for skinny, white people who don't know how to pronounce their names correctly, let alone make these delicacies. I thought about my beloved local Mexican eatery that I’ve visited for years, in which lunch hour crowds are very big, but the efficient staff keep things moving. I thought about how, even though most of the customers at this particular restaurant are Hispanic, the menu is written in English, to accommodate the poor gringos who can't wrap their heads around the idea that there is no "W" sound in "queso." Still, I realized, it was not enough. These poor, skinny white guys still looked lost and alone, scared, and unable to fathom how to order, what to order, or if they should eat in or take out.

I realized with horror that despite the all-inclusivity preached by the ALL taquerias, despite the purported blindness to socioeconomic status, despite the sizeable population of regular Latino diners, lily-white diners with no background in Mexican food were few and far between. And among the large and friendly staff, I couldn't remember ever seeing a skinny, white guy working in the kitchen, bussing tables, or taking orders. 

I thought about how that must feel: to be a puny white dude entering for the first time a system that by all accounts seems unable to accommodate his metabolism or intolerance for spicy foods. What could I do to help them? If I were one of those guys, I thought, I would want as little attention to be drawn to my despair as possible—I would not want anyone to look at me or notice me. And so I tried to very deliberately avoid looking in their direction, but I could feel their hostility just the same. Trying to ignore it only made it worse. I thought about what the guy behind the counter could or should have done to help them. Would a simple “Que tal?” whisper have helped, or would it embarrass them? Should I tell them after we'd all placed our orders how refried beans are an acquired taste, and quite filling for someone used to eating small portions? If I asked them to articulate their experience to me so I could just listen, would they be at all interested in telling me about it? Perhaps more importantly, what could the system do to make itself more accessible to a broader range of appetites? Would having more racially diverse staff be enough, or would it require a serious restructuring of the kitchen ethos?

At the end of the day I did nothing. The skinny white dudes ordered nachos. I ordered my beef fajita. We went to our separate tables, and didn't make eye contact, again. 

I got home from that lunch and promptly broke down crying. Taqueria Caramba, a beloved safe space that has helped me through many dark moments in over six years of living in San Francisco, suddenly felt deeply suspect. Knowing fully well that one hour of perhaps self-importantly believing myself to be the deserving target of a racially charged anger is nothing, is largely my own psychological projection, is a drop in the bucket, is the tip of the iceberg in Hispanic American race relations, I was shaken by it all the same.


shirley said...

Nice slice :-)

TheWeyrd1 said...

I'm a white chick...I WAS a skinny white chick when I moved to Colorado. But I love New Mexico Mexican. I would live on green chile and avocados, but I'm pretty sure I would hasten my demise by several years. As it is, I'm pretty sure my weight gain over the years is related, in part, to my love of eating green chile on this, that, and the other Mexican dish...and having beer with it.