Finding Myself In a Bowl of Menudo
The first time I experienced overt racism was as a student at Baylor University. The first time I was nearly sexually assaulted I was walking back to my dorm from the library late at night. I never found out who the men were that threatened me within earshot amongst themselves, who made a point for me to hear my ethnicity was partly why they wanted to hurt me. The first time I experienced depression I was scared to leave my room, not knowing who the threats were. They certainly knew who I was.
The week before school started, Baylor had the grounds spruced up with new flowers and foliage. A couple weeks later for Parents’ Weekend, they ripped up the flower beds near my dorm and replaced them with new flowers, despite the previous ones being perfectly fine. I remember walking to class and thinking, “Is this where my tuition is going?” Once I made eye contact with a gardener, working the beds, who resembled so much of my favorite people back home in San Antonio: deep brown skin, worn hands and kind eyes. We smiled at each other, exchanged quick greetings, and I wondered if anyone else there had ever acknowledged him while he was stooped pulling up healthy flowers.
I was struggling in Spanish class and felt like a failure. I called my grandma once after class and asked why she didn’t teach us “our” language, despite my growing up hearing it literally everywhere all the time. She said she didn’t want us to have an accent like hers, one that received taunts and assumed stupidity. I thought, “How ridiculous they’re paying a White woman to teach it to me now. How ridiculous I can’t even get through it when everyone expects me to be the expert when the only thing I’m good at is pronunciation.”
Cinco de Mayo typically fell before/around finals time. To its credit, Baylor the institution invited local Mex-Am/Latin@ children to perform ballet folklorico and it was one of the highlights amongst tacky Party City decorations of sombreros and mild Pace salsa served at mingling events.
Throughout the course of my time there, I became friendly with the people who worked in the cafeteria attached to my dorm. They were all mostly Black or Brown people, and many of them already knew what I wanted when they saw me in the morning, at lunch, or for dinner. We talked about their kids, how our days were going, and things going on in the world. For Cinco de Mayo, the cafeteria had a “taco bar” to the excitement of many students. I decided to go to my usual line. I waited behind two girls who peered through glass at a pot, asked each other, “What is that?” until ultimately pushing their trays onward with disgusted looks on their faces. I took their place and found the what of their disgust was a small pot of red menudo. The ladies, also reminded me so much of people back home, beamed when I asked in excited disbelief, “Is this really menudo?”
They had set out small dishes with onion, cilantro, lemon, and serrano peppers like my mom and grandma do, all my favorite fixings. I don’t exaggerate when I say I nearly cried after going back for seconds, finally feeling an authentic and comforting hug from a bowl. I likely was the only one who ate from the mujeres’ small pot, as everyone else passed by in confusion or disgust once the recipe was explained.