My American Kitchen
These aisles were, at one time, confusing to me. A massive archive of stacked, disorganized shelves all piled atop one another, creating a maze to the cash registers. There are so many languages represented that I could never even begin to tackle the task of listing them. English, for once, is not in its usual spot of privilege.
Through time, I came to understand the method within the madness. Why each aisle had a random shelf of dried chiles and spice baggies hanging about. Why the spices were not – in any way, shape, or form – alphabetized. Why the confusion, as frustrating as it was, felt like home.
Red Apple sits just at the outset of Mountain View, about as far into the neighborhood as most will venture. It houses the necessities, alongside all of the Superstore rejects. If it cannot be found at Safeway or Wal-Mart, you will likely find it sitting on a shelf at Red Apple, waiting for you. With just a little digging, you can find what you need to make recipes from any country that comes to mind.
This intersection of the world is what stocks my pantry, week in and week out.
I walk down the canned foods aisle. Behind me, two Samoan women titter and tatter in another language and then burst into laughter. Something must have been hilarious, because they throw their heads back as they roar. I wonder what they were discussing, but quickly forget about it.
At the other end of the aisle, an Indian man in his mid-thirties looks along a row of canned soups, clearly confused. A cell phone is at his ear and he speaks quickly. I can imagine him complaining to his wife that he just can’t find what she’s asking for. I think about asking him if he needs help, but then remember that I don’t have a clue where anything is here.
There has been a lot of talk lately about what America is, was, and should be. To some, America is a city, with 24-hour sushi joints and metro systems. To others, it is a small town in the midwest, a long-forgotten colony of labor workers and dirtied brows. The only thing that we all seem to agree on is that it’s broken.
As I stand in this aisle, casually strolling through the symphony of languages that surround me, it doesn’t feel broken. It feels whole and complete, like a family of people who maybe don’t quite understand each other. It’s not until I’m about to leave that the world catches up with me.
Refugees have been detained at airports across the country.
I gather my items and leave, ready to go home and shut out the world. That’s about all the coping skills I have during the past month.
I’m hungry, but that’s not an unusual thing lately. In times of stress, my stomach has a way of filling in the gaps between emotions. I’m craving something that tastes like home. Something American. But I don’t really know what that means anymore.
Before I realize it, I’m flattening dough between the palms of my hands. Frybread. It’s something so simple, but it gets me thinking. My grandmother comes to mind. She was a young, pretty Native girl from the village, a casualty of the boarding school generation. After her education, she bounced between being a little too white for her village and a little too Native for the white community.
There was no place in America for a Native American.
The dough sizzles in the hot Crisco, the edges turning up as the bottom browns. In that moment, I realize how much I understand that feeling of not having a home in your own country. Immigrants and green card holders are handcuffed. I turn up the heat on my stove.
I think about the Indian man at the store. Has he found a home here? Or does he also feel like he is too something to be a part of this enormous country?
The dough is cooked through. I lay it out onto a paper towel to soak up the grease. The notifications have been turned off on my phone. The buzzing gets to me, and I can’t do it anymore. I pull off the end piece of the dough and bite into it. Chewy, soft, with the tiniest hint of sugar somewhere deep within.
I never got to taste my grandmother’s frybread. Maybe mine is subpar compared to it. I won’t ever know. She was gone long before I came into this world. She went to the boarding school, listened to the teachers, and did what they told her. She did everything right and fought up till the end, only to be turned away by a society that just didn’t have enough room for her.
The dough tastes bitter all of the sudden. I spread some honey on top. I finally check my phone to see dozens of notifications from texts and social media. Leaving them unanswered, I open up a bottle of wine, turn off the lights in my apartment, and call it a night.