“Immature poets imitate; mature poets steal.”
— T. S. Eliot
Last weekend the wife and I flew out to El Paso to drive my suegro back to Vegas in his truck. He’s about to turn 65 and still strong—in his hands especially—but he’s at the age where my wife doesn’t like the idea of him driving solo across the desert.
He lives with us most of the time, though now and then he stays with his sister in San Elizario so he can see his wife in Juárez, who’s waiting on a visa interview so she can finally cross the border and come live the good life. His sister, Nena, lives a block from the border, no joke. When you wake up in the morning, all you hear is roosters.
Nena likes to cook us up something special whenever we visit. This time it was mole. She served us steaming plates soon as we got there. The lady can cook—there’s a tía in every family who can, for now. It probably took her longer to serve the meal than it took me to wolf it down.
“Before, Hector didn’t like mole,” my wife told everyone at the table.
“I do now,” I said, rubbing my belly.
On Thursday, back in Vegas, my suegro made queso fundido con chorizo and big round quesadillas stuffed with poblano peppers for lunch. I inhaled that too. My wife was still scooting her chair in as I soaked up the last bit of red chorizo grease with a scrap of tortilla.
I saw my wife smiling and shaking her head.
“No, I just love that you’re Mexican now.”
I’m Honduran-Puerto Rican, but you get what she means. Any man who marries a Mexican woman, gradually—eventually—becomes Mexican too.
And a lot of my culture has rubbed off on her. That’s part of what a marriage is, each one learning from and becoming more like the other person, which is why it’s so important that you marry the right person, one with qualities you admire and don’t mind picking up.
I wasn’t raised “very Latino,” as my wife likes to point out. I was brought up more working-class Chicagoan. And since my wife was raised in a Mexican household—sheltered, really—our cultural exchange mostly involves her teaching me Mexican culture and me teaching her American culture, Puerto Rican culture, Honduran culture, and any other culture she isn’t familiar with—which, because her parents never let her go anywhere and socialize, is most of them.
She taught me to eat chilaquiles, sopes, spicy food, etc., and I taught her to eat arroz con gandules, baleadas, plátano—verde y maduro—sushi, fried calamari, and so on. Plus I taught her to order burgers and steaks medium-rare.
She taught me about Cantinflas and María la del Barrio, and I taught her about The Simpsons and made her watch any American cult classic movie she hadn’t seen—which, again…
She plays Marco Antonio Solis and Juan Gabriel for me, and I play Michael Jackson, Otis, the Beatles, the Stones, Nina, Etta, Hendrix, Queen, the Ramones, Prince, Al Green, Billy Joel, the Bee Gees, Stevie, Jodeci, Hall & Oates, Nirvana, newer music, older music…
“Hector, one question,” my suegro said once when we were riding around listening to my Spotify. “How do you know so many different types of songs?”
I’ve come to find out that not many people—white, Black, whatever—have had such wide exposure to different cultures as I’ve had, especially coming from a working-class, single-parent, immigrant family like I do. I blame it on where I was raised and how, having grown up in a diverse suburb of Chicago—my high school won a blue ribbon for its diversity—and I was left mostly on my own: a latchkey kid. I hung out with different groups of kids and rarely came home.
I spent the entire summer after 8th grade at a friend’s house and didn’t come home till after the school year had started. When my family was homeless during my high school years, I couch surfed, spending time at my middle-class Mexican friend’s house, or my Texan jock friend’s house, or my Ukrainian nerd friend’s house…
I’ve had a pretty multicultural love life, too.
My wife was born in Juárez.
My first girlfriend, in kindergarten… There were two, actually—Melanie and Carmen—one Mexican and the other Puerto Rican.
My first serious girlfriend, in fourth grade, was a white girl.
My first crush was Guatemalan.
My first sexual experience was with my best friend at the time, a girl with skin like dark chocolate.
The one who stole my virginity was Russian.
The one who drop-kicked me in the soul was Mexican.
My high school sweetheart was a Korean Jew, adopted from Seoul, captain of the pom squad, and rich. She and her friends called themselves “J.A.P.s.”
My side chick two towns over was Italian and played on the soccer team.
When my girlfriend and I went away to different colleges, the girl who filled the void—well, one of them anyway—was Arab Muslim. She and her friends called themselves “brown girls.”
The lady I was seeing when I met my wife was a Brahman Christian studying medicine.
I’m not bragging here. I’m just trying to show you that I’ve been around the block, spent time with different kinds of people, been exposed to different things.
My Ukrainian friend, who immigrated when he was seven, taught me some Russian and about Ukrainian culture. My Black friends taught me about Blackness.
My high school sweetheart taught me about Judaism—we used to go to temple for yontif, sometimes Shabbat too—and she taught me a little about being Asian and a lot about being rich.
Nazneen—I called her Nas, naturally—taught me about Islam. We started seeing each other during Ramadan, and she wanted us to wait till the month was over before we smashed.
The future doctor, dark with light eyes, taught me what a Brahman was, and that there were Christian Indians, which I’d never known but always assumed. She was super religious.
I took it all in stride, with only minimal judgment but always curious, always asking, always wanting to understand more, diving right in—the proverbial sponge.
So while I may have been born a Honduran-Puerto Rican, my culture is a whole lot wider than that. I’m made of parts stolen from people outside of the culture I was born into. And because of that, I’m no cultural chauvinist either, which is not only popular with white nationalists—as it’s always been—but it’s also become popular with “woke” liberals, specifically Latinos. Everybody seems to be pounding their chest these days claiming that whatever they are is the best thing to be, not knowing any better.
I like being Honduran, Puerto Rican, a Black Latino, a Chicagoan, an American, but those aren’t the best things to be. Having met and been in relationships with people, both platonic and romantic, from all walks of life, I know from experience that there is no best thing to be. It’s all good.
Now that I’m in Vegas and have a little money, I try to take in everything life has to offer. We’ve been to nearly every restaurant worth going to, and on the weeks when we order out every night, it might be Indian on Mondays, tacos on Tuesday (of course), Hawaiian on Wednesday, burgers or wings on Thursday, pizza Friday, French Saturday, lox and bagels on Sunday, or anything else we’re in the mood for on any given day.
My wife almost always craves Mexican food. If I’m not down for Mexican that day and she’s really craving it, we’ll either order separately, I’ll give in to her craving, or I’ll order myself something—usually soba noodles with chicken and veggies—while she angrily eats chips with Valentina.
My lifestyle’s pretty catholic too, at least compared to most Latinos I know.
In January I went skiing for the first time in Utah and busted my shit up and down the mountain. In February we went to Puerto Rico for our 10th anniversary. In March we rented a cabin in Prescott, Arizona and checked out its famous Whiskey Row. In April we went to Coachella to see Harry Styles, Grupo Firme, and Karol G, and caught a surprise performance by the Shania Twain. In May I went to Chicago—twice. In June we spent two weeks traveling across Italy, from Milan and Venice in the north, down south to the island of Capri and Positano, the city of stairs, on the Amalfi Coast.
In July we stayed at home in the pool.
In August I took my brother and my niece to Disneyland.
In September I took in a session at 10th Planet Jiu Jitsu—I saw the 17-year-old Raul Rosas get his purple right before he got signed to the UFC—and caught the 2022 ADCC Submission Fighting World Championship at the Thomas & Mack Center. I saw Bruce Buffer announce the fight where the American Kade Ruotolo caught the Brazilian Mica Galvão with a beautiful heel hook and, in the superfight championship, the young beast Gordon Ryan tapped the old beast André Galvão with a rear naked choke.
I went to the Bad Bunny concert a week later, then flew out to D.C. the week after to hang with my Chilean-Irish painter-journalist friend and meet my Salvadoran workmate and our new Brazilian boss for dinner at an Ethiopian joint called Chercher. The boss and I had Peruvian the night before at Pisco y Nazca.
That Friday, after touring the White House, me and the painter went back to his place, took some shrooms, and watched Rocketman.
In October my Honduran grandma came for a visit. She made us the usual Honduran breakfast and then arroz con camarones for dinner. On the weekend we took her to see Cirque du Soleil at the Bellagio and then to brunch the next morning at Marché Bacchus.
My eclecticism culminated last Tuesday when my wife and I were getting ready to see Elton John perform what was billed as his 475th and final performance in Las Vegas, part of his Farewell Yellow Brick Road Tour. It was at Allegiant Stadium where the Raiders play, and where we’d just seen Bad Bunny perform in September and Los Bukis in August—we’d taken my suegro to see his all-time favorite band, his first concert since he was 17 or so.
Not knowing what to eat beforehand and running out of time, we decided to stop by our favorite taco spot—an easy choice for my wife. It’s this busy taco stand on the corner of Bonanza and Vegas Boulevard, just north of Fremont. They have the best tacos in the Valley, hands down, not even close, but it’s in a shady part of town,where all the bums, pushers and prostitutes like to mill around.
As soon as we got our tacos–dos de asada each, plus two de lengua for my wife and dos de cabeza for me, and cebolla y cilantro y rábanaos y zanahorias y salsa roja and agua de horchata—I found a safer spot for us to park and chow down. My wife lit us a joint, I already had Elton on shuffle, and we sat there listening, smoking, and eating.
“Never in a million years,” my wife said, “did I think I would ever be sitting in a Beemer eating tacos, smoking a joint, and listening to Elton John.”
Neither did I, but that’s the story of my life.
Featured image by chrismetcalfTV/CC BY 2.0