You’re attending a quinceañera. You’ve never seen the birthday girl before. Everyone else in attendance knows you, but if you ask them how, they change the subject. The caterers kiss you on the cheek and ask you when you’ll give them grandkids. You’ve never seen them before, either.
I had a very special experience last night. I cooked for Ania’s parents for the first time, as part of her father’s birthday festivities. I made a point not to cook something elaborate and time-consuming, though, as one might expect of a holiday meal. Instead, I went with something simple that shows off Puerto Rican cooking techniques that is also very special to me: arroz con salchichas. I look forward to arroz con salchichas every time a visit to Miami is in the offing, and after long, tense absence, I missed it profoundly. As tensions with my parents continue to rise and fall like so many narcissist tides, bringing this dish to a family that accepts me with enthusiasm is an emotional coup. As I come to recognize my belated mastery of this dish, that I had tried to learn how to make intermittently since I moved to Ottawa, I am ebullient.
Images of people in my culture don’t look like me.
There’s a trivial sense in which that’s not true. My dark, angled eyes, curly hair, curvaceous figure, and diminutive stature all betray my origins. Our beauty queens and pop stars in particular look like me, conspicuously lighter in hue than even our own relatives. As distinctive as I always am in family photos, someone else who looked like me would not have seemed out of place.
But the image of us isn’t a scientist. She isn’t an atheist or a socialist. She isn’t dating outside her race. She isn’t deliberately far away from her parents. She isn’t autistic. She isn’t transgender. She isn’t gay.