Identity in a Brown Paper Bag
My 13 year old is going on a field trip this week to a museum in DC and because buying food at the museum is cost prohibitive, I’m packing his lunch.
This is new territory for me because under normal circumstances our kids don’t bring a packed lunch – they buy lunch at school. I carry a little guilt about this since my mother usually packed my lunch when I was a kid. In a plastic lunch box or brown paper bag I could expect either a turkey, baloney or peanut butter sandwich, a Hi-C juice box, an apple and/or carrot sticks, some type of snack cake, and once in awhile, a note written on my napkin telling me how loved I am.
This lunch is different from what I pack for Carlos – arroz con albóndigas, tacos, escabeche, galletas María, semita de piña … I can’t pack these things for my 13 year old, can I? Sure, he eats them here at home but – in public? Around gringos? … I think about a story I read on TikiTikiBlog.com about what it’s like to bring “ethnic” food for lunch when your gringo classmates bring “normal” things.
The dreaded grade school lunch trade – when my ethnicity was undeniably made public, with the contents of my lunch making who, and what, I was unmistakable.
I wanted to blend in, to be one with the bologna and mayonnaise sandwich crowd, the chocolate chip cookies, the plastic bottles filled with Sunny-D.
But nothing screamed “Not One of Them” louder than my sliced white goat cheese and Goya guava jelly sandwiches, with a chunk of pineapple thrown on top for extra Latino measure.
Oh the squeals and screams of the other non-Latino children as they recoiled — as if watching a horror movie.
- Alexandra on TikiTikiBlog.com
This is what I don’t want my son to go through – although popular and well-adjusted, he already deals with people asking him if he’s Mexican and if he’s related to George López. And so, while at the grocery store picking items for his lunch, I stood, feeling kind of torn, in the middle of the aisle – a bag of all-American Cracker Jack in one hand, and a bag of plantain chips in the other. He likes both equally. Do I strengthen his identity or allow him to blend in?
I decided I would buy both and let him choose, but I couldn’t wait until I got home to find out which he would take in his lunch. I put the bags into the cart and texted him.
Field trip snack – Cracker jack or plantain chips?
Thirty seconds later, he texted back.
I found myself smiling – but does this mean anything? Maybe, maybe not. Maybe it means he’s confident in who he is. Maybe it means I’ve done a good job of instilling Latino pride into my boy. Maybe it means he’s not worried about trying to fit in and refuses to succumb to peer pressure… or maybe it means he’s just in the mood for plantain chips.
I have to say though, he asked if he could pack a semita de piña as well and I won’t pretend I’m not happy about it.