What do you get when you mix Thai enthusiasm with Puerto Rican zest? You get a wild cooking night.
So this past week the Peace Corps 131 had American Day, a lovely day meant to share our culture with our Thai Families. I took this opportunity to show my family one of my favorite foods. Mofongo. Now if you’ve ever even met a Puerto Rican you’ve probably heard of this dish but for those who haven’t it’s mashed plantains (or unripe bananas because Thailand doesn’t have plantains), seasoned with an abundance of garlic and onion, deep fried and covered with olive oil or garlic butter. All together it’s absolutely delicious.
So I assumed that my family wouldn’t want to cook this because of how labor intensive it is but I was so pleased to come home to my host mom, host aunt and grandmother all at the ready. Mom peeled the bananas, grandma handled the fryer, and auntie mashed. We talked for around 6 hours while making around 50 mofongos. I explained how the dish came to be and they laughed at the pronunciation each time I said it. We giggled about how our boobs would sag if we spent too much time mashing the plantains.
All together it was a wonderful experience and reminded me how thankful I am to have such a fantastic host family. It truly completes the experience and they will always have a special place in my heart for being able to welcome this strange Puerto Rican into their home.
Have you ever just looked around and thought “I wonder who has it easiest in this group?” Well since joining the Peace Corps it’s a thought that hasn’t crossed my mind in awhile, after all, we are all here, we have the same-ish stipend, we do the same work and we have the same goals and mission. For once it seemed that I was in a group of people that was like minded and had similar experiences…or so I thought. Now yes, some people said certain things that I was quickly able to attribute to privilege but in my head at the time it could have just been a regional misunderstanding? After all NYC humor versus Cali humor must vary. But then came a day where we were told to stand in a line, and I knew the game all too well. The Privilege Walk. For those who don’t know, a group stands in a single line all facing ahead and certain scenarios are read off; “Parents divorced?” “Faced racial aggression?” “Faced aggression based on Sexuality?” etc… well sooner than later I found myself at the end of the group, I was the least privileged, and I was a little surprised but not incredibly so. I looked up to the first person and unsurprisingly I see the white, straight, cisgender male. I looked at the room again and saw the variety of faces and people that I had come to know over the tumultuous month, and thought should I be angry at their privilege and my lack thereof? And when I came to my conclusion the answer was simply “no”. How could I? The same way that my lack of privilege was by no fault of my own, neither was their privilege. Later I even talked to the gentleman who was the “most privileged” and mentioned in our current scenario our privilege didn’t matter, we were all here together and had a fantastic support system and as long as you remember where you come from and all the things you have to be grateful for then everything should be alright.
So who am I? I am Latina. I am bilingual. I am from a single parent household. I worked in high school. I maintained honor roll grades. I went to college. I worked through college. And I am currently a Peace Corps Volunteer. Happy to be here with all of my colleagues whether we started at the same line or not, I am sure we will end at the finish line together.
Being bilingual has a certain number of perks. Mostly the fact that I can converse with a variety of people and be accepted among two different groups. It makes life very easy regardless of where I go. Plus job opportunities are always available in a variety of fields, and places. Then talk about relationships, I can date people in any Spanish speaking country and have them fully understand me.
So where’s the problem? Well, living in the states try speaking a non-preferred language and you face a certain amount of backlash. I’ve been told a number of times to speak English, which the only appropriate response is “I wasn’t talking to you” and to move on. What could one of the other downsides be? Well if English is your second language then you run into the problem of having an accent, and again if you are stateside then this creates the issue of people believing that you aren’t truly bilingual, that you are just a fresh off the boat person; and with that comes a plethora of obstacles. I’ve been in this situation before and it is not by any means a fun one. Stateside people will begin to discredit any kind of knowledge you may have; because while they ask you a question and wait for the answer you have two (or more) languages swimming around in your head as you search for the correct phrases, words, and order to form the sentence needed. As your languages do this dance, your conversation partner sits waiting and begins to try and ask other questions or the worse option, say the same question just louder as if the problem was that you’re deaf.
Being bilingual is fantastic and I suggest everyone to learn at least one more language or at least make the attempt, if not for your own benefit but to understand and be able to sympathize with the next person you encounter who has to go through both of their mental dictionary’s to make a simple sentence. If there is anything that you can take away from this it’s to remember to never judge someones level of intelligence because they struggle to find the words to say and don’t do the thing where you just say the sentence louder, say it slower.