Bad Tacos

I think her name was Juanita, could have been Lupe or Rosa
I didn’t really care enough to ask.
A stranger in a strange land or more of a surreal land
She was busy making tacos, of all things
Yes, tacos. Not the ones that her grandmother had taught her to make
As they chatted about granddaughter things or whatever it is polite to speak of with grandmothers
But the ones fresh from the can, the real American gut bombs
I didn’t really get a good look at her at first
She was as busy as Vishnu on a hot date, lettuce and tomato flying dexterously here and there
I had ordered the usual warmed over dog food, with a side of refried beans, if you please
The half wit at the counter stared me down for a good while, contemplating this and that
Eventually my requests popped up on Juanita’s screen in the back,
And her stubby, brown fingers operated like a surgeon
I wondered, as I stood off to the left of The Thinker behind the register,
If life for her was all that she wanted it to be,
Was it her dream to roll king sized tortillas for seven bucks an hour?
Surely not, was it my dream to be back there with her?
Here she was thousands of miles from her home and roots
Preparing food for people, the majority of which held her in contempt
She had traded her culture for a snappy uniform and a pair of plastic gloves.
That would never be me, Jackson.
This was my homeland and my birthright
I could own this damn place if I felt like it, but I didn’t
Within two minutes my surgically prepared meal was placed neatly on a plastic tray
And for the first time we met.
Juanita smiled warmly at me as she placed my food on the shiny metal counter.
For some reason I looked deeply into her eyes. those endless brown eyes.
And I could see her reasons.
All of the reasons for her travel and pain; for her whole existence.
Those brown eyes were my mirror and I looked hard into them those two seconds
Looking back was love and dignity, the kind of which I would never inherit
A dignity six thousand years old,
One passed from her mother and her mother’s mother since time began
She toiled here because this was not her life
This was not her.
The real her was safe in the knowledge that she was who she believed herself to be
Now, a stranger in a strange land, she carried home with her always.
Imagine that, at home in a bad taco joint.

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