Like most kids growing up, Saturday mornings were my favorite day of the week. Sleeping in, watching cartoons, home-made breakfasts, I lived for Saturday mornings – except for those Saturday morning cleaning days, with the mami soundtracks, yeah, we’re not talking about those. I’m talking about spending quality time in the kitchen whipping up desayuno, learning the recipes, and hearing the cuentos about your mom that made you realize, she’s more than just a mother, she’s a real person with real feelings and real memories, from way before you took over her life. I loved those Saturday mornings.
But the older I became, the less frequent I got those home-made dishes. My mother was the hardest working person I’ve ever met. She worked long, odd hours almost every day. Since as far back as I could remember, she always had her 9-5 job and her side hustle, selling Princess House, Party Lite and face painting at La Placita on the weekends, so that I can go to a totally over-priced dance school, and so that we could eventually own a house with a pool, and each have our own bedroom. No more sleeping on the floor or couch or sharing beds in a one bedroom house. When I was a teenager, she would work double shifts at Coalinga State Hospital as a psychiatric technician (she loved her job), sometimes, not even coming home until the next day. A few nights out of the week, she would volunteer at the local women’s shelter, answering domestic abuse phone calls, sometimes even picking up battered women and driving them to the safe house. She was a busy woman, and I loved our Saturday mornings together because only then would I be able to enjoy a home-cooked meal with her. If there’s anything my mother loved more than helping the ones she loved and those in need of help, it was being able to cook for them.
My brother Claudio was never much of a morning person, sometimes even the smell of the kitchen couldn’t get him out of bed, but I didn’t care, Saturday morning was my time to bond with her. If I wasn’t already awake by the time she was ready to cook, she’d come in and nudge me to get up. She’d play my favorite Jose Jose and Joan Sebastian albums (Coleccion de Oro) and she’d break it down for me, step by step on how to make her secret sauce for her chilaquiles. I’d chop the onions, garlic and tortillas for her while she watched over me making sure I didn’t cut myself. Then, we’d go out into the yard together and pick out the herbs from our garden to simmer in the sauce. I’d save crumbling the queso fresco till the very end because that way I’d get to lick the cheese off of my fingers. When the sauce was done simmering, I’d sit on the counter dangling my feet, telling mom about my week at school while she finished frying the tortillas. Everything about that dish, from the smell of the toasting garlic and browning onion, to the burns from the popping oil reminds me of her and my childhood so much that I’ve developed a soft spot in my heart for chilequiles. If I was ever sad or upset, heartbroken, happy, or simply just wanted them, she’d make me fresh chilaquiles coupled with a large glass of orange juice, because she knew what they meant to me. That was our dish.
When I moved out of her house, I missed those mornings the most. I make them at my home now, but it’s never the same because she isn’t here to make them with me. Plus, mom always did the most arduous part, slaving over the stove frying the tortillas. When I started working at The Highland Cafe, I couldn’t hide how excited I was to find out that their chilaquiles recipe was the closest to my mom’s I’d ever tasted. When I worked there, I would eat them at least two to three times a week, and I never got sick of them. They stepped the recipe up a notch, made them spicier, and even made the dish into a burrito if that’s the way you wanted it. But I always liked them à la Eugenia, on a plate with scrambled eggs and lots of queso, the way she used to make them for me. Working and living in a highly gentrified area, it wasn’t much of a surprise to me to find out all the non-cultured white people loved the chilaquiles, especially as a burrito. The name got butchered so much, I’ve heard so many variations of it; chill-ahh-queels, cheeleekeels, chillkills, cheequills, chillaqueeless, some of them didn’t even bother trying to pronounce it, and opted for just pointing at the menu as if they were in some foreign country who’s language their tongue couldn’t understand. More than once I’ve had people order the chilaquiles with the salsa on the side (hence the blog name). My least favorite was “breakfast nachos.” RUDE. I almost grew numb to their ignorance, I mean, you can only expect so much from a group of eager people who just want to be “cultured,” but there’s always that one person who has to take it too far.
Since my mom passed away, my patience working there and in life in general diminished almost completely. Even the simplest tasks were difficult, tiring, and took so much effort for me to be “on”. I don’t know how I made it back to work so quickly after she died. I don’t think they had the heart to fire me, but they probably should have. I wished I would have quit the day I had to deal with this bimbo, but my momma didn’t raise me to do that.
“Oh my god, I heard you guys have a really amazing Dorito burrito.”
“Yeah, my friend said you guys have this burrito that tastes just like Dorito’s, here it is, this one.” She pointed at the menu.
“Oh. You must be thinking of the Chilaquiles Burrito. ”
“Yeah, the breakfast nachos, I want that.”
“Well, it doesn’t taste anything like Dorito’s, it’s fried corn tortillas cooked in a spicy tomato based salsa and then topped with eggs and queso fresco.”
“Dorito’s burrito! I want one of those. My friend said it was killer, but can I get sour cream on the side, no cilantro and no onion.”
“So you want it without all the essentials, yeah, we can do that.”
This isn’t fucking taco bell bitch. She did not amuse me and not once could I force smile at her. On any given day, I could have easily looked past someone’s ignorance with a smile on my face, but this day, I just could not do it. I was boiling and slowly reaching my breaking point.
That dish is a staple to my childhood and this chick completely made me feel like shit, for reasons she would never understand. When I think of chilaquiles, I think of my mom, dancing in the kitchen like a goofball, wooden spoon in hand, singing Joan Sebastian’s Maraca’s to me. I think of all those Saturday mornings I spent with her, telling me about life in Mexico before she moved to the states, about how much she was ridiculed in school for her accent, about how hard it was losing her father, what life was like as a single working mother of four. Every time I eat a plate of chilaquiles, I think of her. I went home that day, threw myself into bed and cried. I cried because of how much I missed her, cried because I couldn’t call her to hear her voice and tell her how stupid that girl was. I cried because of how much this chick had insulted me and us, I cried because some days, I just couldn’t handle the world’s stupidity. I cried because I was fed up and tired of pretending to be happy at work and in life, helping people who know nothing about who I am and what I’ve been through.
That night, I took a long, hot bath, put my headphones on and listened to all my favorite Jose Jose songs that reminded me of her. I cried until my eyes hurt and I could no longer breath through my nose, trying to catch my breath in-between sobs, not caring if my neighbors could hear me through the thin walls. Before I went to bed, I put two large spoons in the freezer for the morning to hide the swelling in my face, bracing myself for the next day, just like mom had taught me, con ganas.