When I joined the Memphis Corps of Teach For America, I had to make one seemingly small sacrifice that caused ripples of impact that I’m feeling today.
I had to leave college early and turn in final papers and take final exams early. I missed the last week that was designated for senior festivities and to revel in my last moments as a college student. Despite that, that wasn’t the biggest hit my timeline to Memphis took: I had no time back home in Chicago before I embarked on my journey to my new life in Memphis. I left Michigan, arrived in Chicago, and the next day I was on a 8 hour road trip down south to the Bluff City.
Even though Kalamazoo was just two hours away from Chicago, I rarely visited home during my senior year given thesis deadlines, senior seminar work, comprehensive exams for my political science major and the general chaos of wrapping up a critical time in my college career. This lack of time spent visiting Chicago and spending time with family has caught up with me and is really hitting me pretty hard! Monday was a long day and felt especially stressful, with homesickness arriving towards the end of the school day. I spent the drive home wishing I could be driving home to my mom’s meatball stew, a dish I worshipped as a child. Instead, I drove over to La Guadalupana on Summer Ave., a short drive from my school.
The atmosphere immediately reminded me of the taquerias that line the streets of the Mexican neighborhoods in Chicago. Spanish news on all the televisions, statues of the Virgin Mary, and the quintessential painting of an Aztec warrior all made me feel like I was on Diversey Ave back home.
I ordered barbacoa de chivo, a staple at any Mexican breakfast on Sunday morning, and a plate of carne asada. The accompanying rice and beans are a must if you’re going to enjoy a true Mexican meal. The barbacoa brought me back to all the mornings we crowded around the table with the heaps of barbacoa and carnitas piled on paper wrappers from the butcher, still hot from the market my mom buys them from. The carne asada is another comfort food you’ll usually find at a homey cookout with family. Both dishes hit the spot tastebud-wise and also emotionally, it’s amazing how food does that!
Teaching can be a crazy experience but finding moments to ground myself and take a moment to breathe and focus on myself has been essential. I’m still enjoying Memphis but I learned that accepting that yes, I’m homesick, and yes, I miss my mom’s cooking doesn’t have to be a negative thing. Now I’m just going to be that much more appreciative of my mom serving me a second helping and that cold bitterness of the Chicago wind I might encounter when I’m home for Thanksgiving.
Here’s to food that takes us back to our happy places!