Humanity beyond a wall.
In April 1994, I received notice of acceptance into the MFA painting program at the University of Arizona.
It was 4 in the afternoon and I had just gotten home from a temporary job working to save up with the hope of going to graduate school.
In that instance when Dennis the head of the art department called, my mind was placed on getting out of Pennsylvania and into the big sky country of the west.
It was a three year appointment and I could adjunct as well as borrow from the government with subsidized loans.
I sold my car and had a bike shipped out there as well as boxes of my belongings.
With only $1100 dollars saved, I knew once I touched down into the desert I would need some extra funding to live.
Once there, I hit the ground running and went to the restaurants on 4th ave as well as a few bookstores..
About ten places who said no..
A few days later I went walking a little further and found a tiny storefront on the corner of Broadway blvd, a small mexican restaurant named Lerua’s that served what was called sonora mama food.
I asked to speak to the owner and was hired on spot.
Thus began my immersion into new food and a new culture.
For three years while in school, I waited on the public who would get takeout as well as sit down.
The eatery was bright and colorful with terra-cotta floor tiles and heavy wooden chairs.
Given that Tucson was only 72 miles to Nogales, Mexico
there was a mix of temporary staff that filtered through.
I was first and foremost a gringo with a friendly smile.
Over the years of working there, I managed to understand the complexities of things and how important the mix of cultures entwined.
The American vision and a search for a better life we can see from hundreds of years ago with the plight of our very own ancestors who crossed the Atlantic towards Ellis Island.
This vision still continues...
In Mexico the poverty rate has been more then 40 percent, you can imagine that it was important to families to bring incomehome know matter the risk.
As a student and someone who is immensely private, I wouldn’t dare or care ask the individuals where they were from.
Many were born in the states like me and I was there to work, honest pay and labor with plenty of food to feed me through my program of learning at the University.
Tejano music blasted every night and while I didn’t know the lyrics, I felt the sound was much like a polka my Nana would dance to....
The smell of fresh cilantro and fried everything permeated throughout…
I watched and learned how hard it was to run a business..how tirelessly the family worked and how much they gave of themselves.
I remember one particular young father who did dishes had a notebook full of handwritten english.
He was trying to get better at speaking and when we had down time while packing green corn tamales, I would help him pronunciate as best as I could given my own regional accent.
Its been 20 years and I can still see and smell and hear the sounds..
Lupe and Lupita and Carmen would laugh at my jokes…
and say, " i Michelle,loco!!"
Free within the walls of the restaurant to serve others with sustenance.
Spirits aligned dancing to music driven by the same ideals.
To do better and to be better for the future.
Immersed in the fineness of people, all being translated into a meal.