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Like most kids growing up, Saturday mornings were my favorite day of the week. Sleeping in, watching cartoons- that was the shit to me back then, but my favorite part about Saturday mornings, was being able to spend them cooking breakfast with mom. Since she worked 9-5 Monday through Friday, my brother Claudio and I never really got to enjoy home cooked breakfast until the weekend. Claudio was never much of a morning person, sometimes even the smell of the kitchen couldn’t get him out of bed, but I didn’t care, Saturday morning was my time to bond with Mom. If I wasn’t already awake by the time she was ready to cook, she’d come in and nudge me to get up. She’d play my favorite Jose Jose and Joan Sebastian albums and she’d show me step by step how to make her secret sauce for her Chilaquiles. I’d chop the onions, garlic and tortillas for her while she watched over me. Then, we’d go out into the yard together and pick out the herbs from her garden. I’d save crumbling the queso fresco till the end because that way I’d get to lick the cheese off my fingers. When the sauce was done simmering, I’d sit on the counter dangling my feet, telling mom about my week at school while she finished frying the tortillas. Everything about that dish reminds me of her and my childhood so much that I’ve developed a soft spot in my heart for chilaquiles. If I was ever sad or upset, she’d make me fresh chilaquiles coupled with a large glass of OJ because she knew what they meant to me. That was our dish.
When I moved out of her house, I missed those mornings the most. I’d make them at home but it wasn’t the same because she wasn’t there to make them with me, and she always did the most arduous part, slaving over the stove frying the tortillas. So when I started working at THC, I couldn’t hide how excited I was to find out their chilaquiles recipe was the closest to mom’s I’ve ever tasted. To this day, I eat them at least two, three times a week at work. They stepped the recipe up a notch, made them spicier, and even made the dish into a burrito if that’s the way you wanted it. I always liked them traditional, on a plate with scrambled eggs, the way Mom made them for me. Since I work in a highly gentrified area, it wasn’t much of a surprise to me to find out that non-cultured people loved the chilaquiles, especially as a burrito. Some of the customers butchered the name so much, I’ve heard so many variations of it, chill-ahh-queels, cheeleekeels, chillkills, cheequills, chillaqueeless, some of them don’t even try to pronounce it, and opt for just pointing at the menu as if they were in some foreign country who’s language their tongue couldn’t understand. More than once I’ve had people order the chilaquiles with the salsa on the side. My least favorite is “breakfast nachos,” and I almost grew numb to their ignorance, I mean, you can only expect so much from someone who knows nothing about your culture, but there’s always that one person who has to go too far.
Since my mom passed away in January, my patience at work, and life in general has diminished almost completely, so I can admit that I already wasn’t in a good mood when this girl came up to me a few weeks ago.
“Oh my god, I heard you guys have a really amazing Dorito burrito.”
“Yeah, my friend said you guys have this burrito that tastes just like Dorito’s, here it is, this one.” She pointed at the menu.
“You must be thinking of the Chilaquiles Burrito. ”
“Yeah, the breakfast nachos, I want that.”
“Well, it doesn’t taste anything like Dorito’s, it’s fried corn tortillas cooked in a spicy tomato based salsa and then topped with eggs and queso fresco.”
“Dorito’s burrito! I want one of those. My friend said it was killer, but can I get sour cream on the side, no cilantro and no onion.”
“So you want it without all the essentials, yeah, I can do that.”
This isn’t fucking Taco Bell bitch. She did not amuse me and not once did I smile at her. Normally, I can look past a customer’s ignorance with a smile on my face, I mean, it’s all part of the job, but some days, I just cannot bring myself to it. That dish is a staple to my childhood and this chick made me feel like shit, for reasons she would never understand. I rolled my eyes as she walked away and I could honestly care less if she saw me.
When I think of chilaquiles, I think of my mom, dancing in the kitchen like a goofball, wooden spoon in hand, singing Joan Sebastian’s Maraca’s to me. I think of all those Saturday mornings I spent with her, telling me about life in Mexico before she moved to the states. Every time I eat a plate of chilaquiles, I think of her. I went home that day, threw myself into bed and cried. Cried because of how much I missed her, cried because I couldn’t call to tell her how stupid that girl was, cried because of how much she had insulted me and us, cried because some days, I just can’t handle the world’s stupidity. Cried because I was fed up and tired of pretending to be happy at work, helping people who know nothing about who I am and what I’ve been through.
That night, I took a long, hot bath, put my headphones on and listened to all my favorite Joan Sebastian and Jose Jose songs that reminded me of her. I cried until my eyes hurt and I could no longer breath through my nose, trying to catch my breath in-between sobs, not caring if my neighbors could hear me through the thin walls. Before I went to bed, I put two large spoons in the freezer for the morning, so I could hide the swelling in my face, bracing myself for the next day, just like Mom had taught me.
In loving memory of Eugenia M. Hernandez, my mom and best friend.
Written by by Nicole Macias
Reprinted with permission from Majormagazine.net