The meaning of shared food

It was summer in Iowa, and my patient Nora invited me to the celebration of the baptism of their first daughter, a baby I had delivered as a resident physician. Nora was a Mexican immigrant, a strong woman from Northern Mexico, that had swam a river to reach the United States. She and her family had immigrated to Iowa for a chance at a better life for themselves and their future children. She worked in Iowa’s beef and pork industry, as did many of her friends and family.

The location of the party was in a restaurant in a small town, and since this was before the time of GPS, Nora had given me instructions to get there: a drawing with roads, trees, and signs that would get me to the site. “Lo va a encontrar con facilidad, doctora. You will not miss it. You will see the trucks, Va a ver las trocas”. And there we went, my husband and I, to the reception for this little baby. The roadmap got us through dirt roads in the middle of Iowa’s cornfields, corn so tall it felt as if we were driving through green tunnels. After an hour drive we got to the place. Nora was right, about 50 trucks surrounded the large restaurant barn. My husband Greg was post-call, and asked me if he could stay in the car for a nap, and before I could insist he had fallen fast asleep.

I walked into the big barn. One hundred Mexican women and children were dancing in the middle of the floor while men stood, each one with a foot against the wall of the barn, proudly looking on. Almost everyone of the men and boys wore jeans and big belts with their initials or a picture of a horse and cowboy hats; and the women and girls wore beautiful dresses with lace and layers. The women that knew me run to welcome me and hug me, and others went to look for Nora. There was joy and laughter, and a live band playing rancheras… And then sudden silence, the music had stopped, everyone looked at the door… Is this fear? I wondered. “La migra?” whispered someone.

And as I turned around I realized that what everyone was looking at was the tall white man standing at the door with Nora. She had seen us arrive, had gone to the car, and gotten my husband Greg to wake up and come in. No one spoke. No one said a word, all eyes on the tall white man. Nora brought the man to a table and sat him down. Calling me she said, “Doctora, por favor traduzca, dígale que quiero que pruebe los tacos que hice” I asked Greg to sit and that she wanted him to try the tacos she had made. The music still silent, it seemed everyone had turned to the table, where they sat Greg at the head. Men slowly walking towards him… women looking. Nora brought tacos and salsa and put several of them in front of him… “Avisele que la salsa es bien picante doctora, Let him know the salsa is very hot” And Greg takes his first bite, and asks for more of that salsa, and she says again “pero doctora avisele que es muy picante, but …make sure he knows that the sauce is very hot”… and my husband utters the only few words he knows in Spanish: “Me gusta muy picante” and he takes a gigantic bite and asks for more… and everyone smiles and says: “Ahhh” and the men get close, and Nora’s husband hugs him and sits next to him, and then he asks me to translate “El es uno de nosotros… He is one of us”… And the music starts again.

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