I made a great friend when I was in law school in late 1977. We were from totally different parts of the country, I was from El Paso and Jacob was from New Jersey. We tried to teach each other things about each others experiences, backgrounds and cultures that we were unaware of. Jacob taught me about pastrami on rye, bagels, and the traditions of Passover. I explained menudo, cumbias, and fajitas.
Some of our journeys were to the little Mexican restaurants that used to exist in East Austin (before the gentrification of the area). We used to be able to eat lunch for about $3 with some of the largest plates I have ever seen in my life.
One of the times that we were feasting on the fabulous menus that were available we showed up during a very busy lunch time. We walked into the restaurant and Tenchita, the waitress, told us to find a table and she would be with us as soon as she could. She brought out our lemonades and the large combo plate that we usually ordered. About five minutes into the meal I dropped my fork on the floor. Jacob frantically tried to get our waitress’ attention to no avail. I just casually kept eating using bits of my tortilla to scoop up my food.
Jacob just stared at me as I continued to eat, and told me that I should just wait until I could get a clean fork to finish my meal. My response? “I have a tortilla, I don’t need a fork!”
Needless to say I was able to finish my meal without the need to resort to the use of my utensils. In fact, I cleaned the plate completely. Jacob was just amazed! “How did you know to do that? ” he asked. At that point I realized I could not answer the question. It was something that I had always done. It was part of my Mexican DNA.
I learned it through osmosis, I guess. I know I had seen my grandfather do it, and I know that a lot of my friends ate that way too. Some things aren’t taught, but are learned just by hanging around.