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The Student News Site of Texas A&M University - College Station

The Battalion

The Student News Site of Texas A&M University - College Station

The Battalion

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Opinion: Mexican food saves Aggie’s life

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Photo by Photo by Ana Renfroe

Lilia Elizondo ponders on the power of tacos, chips and salsa — the best form of Mexican representation. 

When asked if I can cook, I usually say yes, but what I really mean is that I’m great at preparing cereal, Tyson chicken nuggets and — if I am feeling risky — scrambled eggs, so my “Ratatouille” journey at Texas A&M has been one of some challenges and tribulations. 

Everyone told me college would be drastically different from my life back home. For the most part, it felt easy to transition into. I was pretty good at cleaning, managing money, school and making new friends. 

I thought, “Well yeah, leaving your entire family and culture is hard, but I need a chance to be by myself. I need my independence! I am great!” 

I loved opportunities for personal transformations, and I looked forward to new experiences to do so. However, one change I sure wasn’t prepared for was the food in college. 

You can say I was a follower of the food pyramid. I got my veggies in when I had ketchup with my fries, my fruits with the strawberry ice tea refresher and my protein with tuna packets. You can say I was eating, but the empty pit in my stomach remained forever unsatisfied. 

Growing up in a 95% Hispanic town with family from Mexico, I got to grow up with Mexican food — the best cuisine in the world. Quesadillas, fajita, migas and machacado were regular for me. 

The furthest I’d have to travel to get high quality, home cooked food was taking a walk to my fridge. So, eating pre-prepared cold tuna packets was the cold slap of reality — I wasn’t fine. I missed home. I missed good food. 

Maybe this just sounds like I was hungry, but I wasn’t. I was sad. Food isn’t just sustenance — it’s memories and joy. 

Without my food, I no longer knew the smell of warm potatoes and salsa in the morning. The cold oatmeal neither kept me happy or gave me the opportunity to talk to my mom in the morning.

Sure, I had flaky cookies and gluten free brownies, but that didn’t mean I got to fight with my sister over the last slice of cinnamon pan dulce. I no longer spent my Sundays swimming, and enjoying thick tortillas and my dad’s carne asada. Instead, I spent two hours in my cold kitchen, meal prepping unseasoned chicken and rice in silence. 

This was my reality for months. I began to dread food, and all I could think about was how much I wanted to go home. Because of school and a plethora of other responsibilities, I found it really hard to take care of myself. 

I just gave up until I had the worst date of my life.

I won’t go into the details of the date in order to avoid post-traumatic stress. However, while I definitely had the worst night of my life, I remember ignoring the worst parts of the date when I got to taste how amazing the food was. 

The date took place at the best Mexican restaurant in Bryan: Coco Loco. 

As soon as I saw the restaurant had a corner dedicated to the Virgin Mary, I knew I was at the right place. 

Every single chip made up for every awkward moment. The sauces gave me tingles, which is more than I can say for my date. I drank sweet horchata and ordered the best flautas de pollo. I finished the meal with some crunchy coconut candy, and got to swallow away all the negative feelings. 

For the first time since I had been in College Station, I had good food. Not Fuegos, Torchy’s or any other over-priced inauthentic cultural food. I had the real deal. 

To truly forget that atrocious date, I started going with my friends and with myself. I love sharing this food with my hometown friends from Austin — who like to visit enemy territory once in a while — and reminisce on our past lives and our shared culture. 

The cheesy enchiladas remind us of the lunch meals my mom prepared for us before she drove us to the mall. The cold aguas frescas were just as chilled as the ones that kept us cool for summer. The sense of connection to each other and our home grew. 

Even my friends, whom I’ve met here and are not from border towns, love the cuisine and give me a sense of pride when I have the opportunity to show my culture off. While it’s embarrassing that they can handle more spice than me, I get to order in Spanish for them. 

I like to go alone too, on rainy days. I get to pretend that it’s like the meals my babysitter, Angeles, prepared for me to eat while I devoured the TV after school. I get to imagine that in some way I’m eating with just my family. I get to feel like I’m back home. 

The new memories I have made at this restaurant inspire me to want to make them with my own food, and I recently actually did. I added some potatoes and salsa to my scrambled eggs — a very small step but a step forward nonetheless. 

Eventually, I want to make carne asada, flautas de pollo and flan. I want to be able to look back at these dishes in the future, and light up with the same smile reserved for the moments of my youth. 

I didn’t know what I had at home was so special until I moved away from it. The changes we think come so easily hardly ever do if we loved what we had before. I did, and it will always hurt a little to know that I am just growing up, and transitioning into different phases of life. 

However, that doesn’t mean I can’t learn from what I was given in the past and make a future with that same beauty. Sure, I still eat some nasty protein bars or overpriced fast food, but instead of just swallowing down the longing for the past and pretending, “I’m great!” I can do something about it. 

I can drive down to the best restaurant in town with the people I love right now and make new memories to look back on. I can truthfully say yes when asked if I know how to cook. 

Lilia Elizondo is an English senior and opinion writer for The Battalion
 

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