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.
So today my Peace Corps group had the chance to meet the Governor of our Province where we are doing our Pre-Service Training. Everyone was practicing how to introduce themselves correctly this week because when it’s in Thai it’s no longer as simple as “Hi, My name is….” we aren’t Eminem after all. Our introductions include formally saying our first name, last name, city, state and country and formal ending determined by your gender, in the correct order and tones (since Thai is a tonal language one tone off and you could offend someone).
So we all took our turns and as I see my groups go I feel pride for each one. But most of all I feel pride for the Latinos, here we are so far from our home and culture and we all sympathize with one another and appreciate each other because by speaking Spanish we can bring ourselves home if only for a moment. Each of us went, sounding slightly off because transitioning from Thai to Spanish is quite the feat, but as Ortega, Santos, and Puentes speak I feel a sense of unity and knowing that we have each other in this. We may struggle learning Thai but we’ve all been through this before, some learning English, others with Spanish, but we all rejoice in knowing at the end of this we will be poly lingual.
Why is the Latino Pride so important? I feel Latino pride so heavily that I’ve even been accused of self segregation. The truth of the matter is whether it be intentional or not there is a certain behavior and mannerisms that can be observed in each racial group. White Americans (from my observations), tend to put a happy face on and appear friendly with every group, but they are the ones that are just as quick to turn and gossip about you. While in some cases Americans are seen as direct, they’re not. With that said most every time I spend time with White Americans I find myself confused as they both insult and compliment one another. However, with Latinos what you see is what you get, that is especially true with Latinas, we are queens of giving honest, rough truths. We are queens of observing, and giving our opinions and moreover we are queens of saying our truths in the most clever way. Does this make us many friends? No. Do we care? Not really. But the friends we do have stick with us through thick and thin. Do all of these instances stand true? Not really, but based on my observations it’s what I believe. I have had white friends that mean the world to me, but I have also had Latino friends that I can’t stand. So with that said, it’s not always a “race thing” it’s a this is who I choose to associate myself with thing.
Dime con quién andas, y te diré quién eres.Spanish Proverb, y tu Madre.
Women like me aren’t supposed to run for office.Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has without a doubt been a massive inspiration to me this year. Why? Well after Hurricane Maria devastated the island of Puerto Rico and left many without electricity, water, and in some cases homes. With the slow responses from both the Puerto Rican and Stateside government many felt abandoned and many died from that neglect. So when I moved up to Pennsylvania and heard that a Puerto Rican woman from The Bronx was running for political offices, it raised hope in me. But in the beginning the hope seemed to not be enough. Living in a small, vaguely prejudice Pennsylvania farm town at the time, seeing a woman of color running for office without massive financial backing and winning just seemed unlikely. I wanted her to win and rise above but after seeing politics in work these past couple years it seemed so unlikely. But then, she won. She brought me hope and renewed my drive, and belief that Latina’s are some of the most powerful people. She was lifted up by her community and she plans to lift it up as well.
Now here I am in Thailand, working with the Peace Corps hoping to lift up another community on the other side. I hope to be able to teach future generations but most of all lift my fellow women, teach girls from a young age that they are powerful, wonderful, and above all, capable of anything they set there minds to.
When my service is done I hope to be able to go to The Bronx, and study International Law at Fordham University. I hope to specialize in women’s rights and help every woman rise up and reach there potential. I hope to inspire women and girls the same way that Alexandria inspired me. I hope to change the game and reinvent the wheel and redefine bravery. I hope to someday meet Alexandria and let her know how much she inspired me and women everywhere. I want to thank her for wearing hoops and red lipstick to her inauguration, and letting little Latinas know that look is powerful for a reason.
And if for some reason, she needs an intern, I’ll be available in 27 months and would love the opportunity.
Why did you join? Was it to better yourself? Or better a community? Well yes and yes. Travel has always been a fantastic way to better yourself, and when you return you have stories that inspire and fascinate. Through some of these stories you encourage others to travel and the chain begins, each traveler shares their story and from that everyone benefits and everyone learns. Bettering the community? I can only hope I affect the whole community where I am stationed but I imagine that it will end up being one person or a small group that I inspire and that most certainly will be enough. I joined so that I could see through new and refreshed eyes, for though I love my home, both Pennsylvania and Puerto Rico, life was hitting a standstill and becoming routine. May I never go back to being the bitter bartender closing one restaurant and opening the other the next day. May I never be the server having to force out laughs, or repeating the same question 150 times a day, “Black beans or refried?” May the next time that I hear mariachi music be on the shore in Mexico, and god forbid I sing another franchise happy birthday song. When times are rough, and they will be. Think of the anticipation you had before coming to Thailand. Think of how you anxiously counted down the days before you left and eagerly stashed away the money hoping to eat every Thai dish imaginable. Think of how proud your family is and will be when you complete your service. Think of the next journey, but remember to enjoy the day. Count your blessings for they are so obviously in front of you and remember, it may be a bad day, but it’s a bad day in Thailand.
At what point does one say to themselves, “It’s time to change?” Maybe a during tough relationship, financial crisis, or just finding yourself tired of the monotony of daily life. Now I wouldn’t say I was looking for change but I definitely needed it. If you are close to me you know I have joined the Peace Corps and am currently working through my TEFL certification, and come January 3rd, should all go according to plan I will be in Thailand beginning my new phase in life.
What was it that drew me to the Peace Corps? As many know I love travel, since I was introduced to it by one of my dear friends I have found the thrill to be exhilarating. Peace Corps has offered me a wonderful opportunity to find more purpose within my travel, while in Thailand I will be a co-teacher in EFL. I can’t wait to meet my future students as well as my future coworkers. I hope we have plenty of travels together when we are off duty, and even more wonderful successful triumphs at the work place.
Are you scared? Yes. A new country is always a bit nerve wracking but it’s part of life. I feel like life wouldn’t be as satisfying as it is if we didn’t do things we were kind of scared of. The comfort zone is no place to live.
Why Thailand? Land of 1,000 smiles sounds pretty welcoming right? I won’t sit here and lie but I have a pretty solid RBF (resting bitch face) and maybe Thailand will change that. I’m not certain about that theory but the food’s is definitely going to be amazing,
What are you going to miss? Friends. But that’s obvious. Food too, as a little fat kid I’m going to miss the wonderful saturated fats that the US has to offer; Taco Bell, Twinkies, Wawa, Flamin Hot Cheetos, and any other pastry.
All together I am excited for this change and it’s following journey. For now I have to prepare and just get my mind in order.