I couldn’t help it — my face split into a grin at the sight before me; it was my Mamí standing at the kitchen stove like she has everyday since I’ve known her (and long before), spatula in hand and aceite sizzling in the pan. What made me smile wasn’t this scene particularly, something that had become so normal over the past two months, but what was cooking in the pan. The smell wafted over from my place at the kitchen door, and I could just make out a plate piled high with the recipe I had shown her just a few short weeks earlier — french toast.
When I first regaled my host family with stories of sweet and flaky bread topped with syrup and served piping hot with powdered sugar on top, I’m not sure what came to their minds. When I describe it this way, it just sounds very… American; I mean, just take a look at state fairs across the nation — fried cheesecake, anyone? But after I finished my story, I informed them I would like to make it for them to try. They were enthusiastic about this proposal, and since it would only cost about eight eggs, half a cup of milk, some sugar, and a loaf of bread, we set to work the very next day.
Teaching my chicos how to say different nationalities in English.
While I made the batter, my aunt and brother watched. I told them stories about how me and my best friend had made and eaten an entire loaf of french toast by ourselves not once, not twice, but too many times. Or how every time we make pancakes, it somehow turns into her making the pancakes while I watch and criticize lest she burn any. Right around the time the batter was done and I began to fry the french toast, my mother came in to watch; it
was about this time that I realized I did not know how to say french toast in Spanish, and about this time she asked for the name of this interesting concoction. Without any delay, I responded with a not-entirely-incorrect answer: “pan de frances.”
…Okay, so maybe french bread is an entirely different type of food, but hey, I was on the right track!
Part of the reason I was so happy when I saw my mother hard at work, cooking a recipe I had taught her, was due to the implications of it. When I had first landed in Ecuador, I was shocked at the amount of history and culture I did not understand; when I arrived to my host family, I felt culturally ignorant, about both theirs and mine. What could I teach them about a country I had begun to feel so disconnected from? I felt like my culture was only about commercialized Christmases, watered-down relationships, and hateful beliefs. Even though I thought I could see right through the media’s skewed depictions of the polarization of the USA, I felt like there was still a grain of truth hidden in the tall grasses of their deceit.
Realizing that perhaps I did have something to teach about my culture that didn’t play into the negative stereotypes about lazy, hateful Americans was relieving. Sure, it seems like a simple enough idea that stereotypes are wrong 99.9% of the time, but it wasn’t just about that. It was about taking a step back from my own country to see both it’s faults and freedoms; it was about realizing that I had become ungrateful for the opportunities I had been afforded when millions of other people would never even glimpse them. I had placed Ecuador on a pedestal for the simple fact that I had not yet seen the dark side of it — I had not yet seen the poverty, the in-opportunity, the religious oppression, like I had in the USA. But instead of comparing apples to apples, I was comparing every negative connotation of the USA to every positive experience I had in Ecuador. For the first few weeks, I had been enamored with the new country I was living in; it was literally like the honeymoon phase of a relationship.
A rainbow in front of my house.
But I’ve never been a person to live in the grays of life; it’s always been a struggle to remind myself that a person is not entirely bad, or that there are shades of morality. However, isn’t challenging the thought that the world only lives in black and white necessary for us to evolve as a society? Already our generation and generations before us have been leading the fight — just look at how we’ve pushed for the acceptance of the gender and sexuality spectrums. Of course, the gray area is always scarier than an absolute truth; but absolute truths and blanket statements are never truthful, whether or not it’s a far-right conservative spouting about immigration, or a far-left liberal protesting about gun laws.
So, although yes, I did not at first realize that french toast is technically my culture, I did realize something even greater in that moment; I realized not only the personal benefit, but the broader impact of cultural diffusion. In that moment, my recipe was no longer labeled as “other” or “strange,” but simply a delicious meal to share with my family. It didn’t represent a specific culture anymore; it represented the blended ideals of a global perspective, a perspective necessary to analyze the highs and lows of each action and reaction — a perspective necessary to realize the commonality of the human experience.