I sat laughing recently, recalling with great fondness a rather humorous linguistic blunder made by my host mother in Ecuador.
“Raquelita, we want to make you something that reminds you of home, you know, something nostalgic.”
Uh oh, I thought, reflecting on how much I enjoyed their food and how little I wanted to have to do with American food. It was a couple months into my stay and my host family and I were already deeply bonded in some sort of uncanny solidarity. I think by virtue of asking the director of my study abroad program where and with whom I could talk safely about the fact that I am queer, I unintentionally got placed with an exceptionally open-minded and unusual family. Charo, my host mom, founded the first refugio (shelter) in Ecuador for victim/survivors of domestic violence. Juan Carlos, my host father, worked within indigenous communities to promote green and sustainable agricultural practices to the general public. My eldest sister Lucila, who emanated a special care-taking energy towards me, was a freelance journalist, cultural anthropologist (like me!) and macrobiotic. Rosi, my middle host sister who was trained in architecture, shares the same name and profession as one of my biological sisters. JuanCar, my youngest host sibling, was an up-and-coming, award-winning cinematographer who loved to talk with me about philosophy and jazz.
What the Donoso-Gomez family cooked was anything but ordinary for mainstream Ecuadorians. The structural framework of their meals – in terms of social norms, times of day, and order and courses – remained the same, but the content was much healthier and more hippie than your typical Ecuadorian’s food. We woke up most mornings with tortillas de maiz or de verdes (small, thick round patties made from corn or mashed green plantains, sometimes spotted with fresh cheese and green onions), which were very filling and much healthier than any type of pan dulce (a sweet pastry). Arroz integral – or brown rice – made up a central part of most meals we ate, whereas most Ecuadorians ate just regular white or yellow rice. Similarly, any bread we ate was whole grain. But the really atypical part was that we rarely ever ate any meat or even eggs. If and when we had meat, it was usually chicken, raised on a farm somewhere en el campo or fish which was from the coast. It was somewhat cosmically ironic, in my opinion, that I – an avid omnivore with anything but a picky palate – got placed with the only family in the entire host program that was (nearly) vegetarian, while some of the vegetarians on the trip got placed with the meat, potatoes and white rice families.
My mom Charo and I had numerous conversations about food, culture and sexuality, and some about the relationship between all three of those… As a progressive feminist, she was an enthusiastic supporter of my work in a sexual/reproductive health clinic, as well as my work with a local lesbian rights organization.
On that particular day when she proposed making a meal to commemorate my American-ness, my host sister Rosi and her Texan fiance (now husband) were contemplating what would be most quintessentially American to cook. Bacon was on the docket. A certain delectable sandwich came to mind.
Mind you, that same day Charo and I had ventured deep into a conversation deconstructing all the acronyms along the spectrum of sexual orientation and gender identity. I’m pretty sure her thoughts were a bit scrambled, and though she’d heard Rosi say it correctly before, she was just so elated to make and try these infamous “GBLT” sandwiches.
I fell to pieces laughing, and she did as well, as soon as she realized her tongue twist. Soon we had belly aches and tears rolling down our faces. It was such a silly and small and honest blunder, but I think it made those BLT’s into some of the best I’ve ever had.