Vintage Phoenix Memory: My First Mexican

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Robrt Pela talks about the childhood relationship he formed with his brother's wife.
She looked like an Indian princess. Tiny and dark, with huge, sad eyes that filled up her face, like a kid in a Keane painting. I was 6 years old, so it was easy for me to imagine her riding atop a big, bejeweled elephant.

Teresa Amelia Gomez was my first Mexican. Somehow, even though my family had settled on the west side, only a hundred yards from the Glendale border, I'd never met one before. I wondered: Did everyone from Mexico carry themselves with such regal bearing? Did all the girls from south of the border line their eyes with kohl and speak in tiny, hushed voices? I didn't care. Terry did, and -- because she had married one of my brothers -- she was my sister now.

See also: Vintage Phoenix Q&A: Halldor Hjalmarson

Her timing was good. It was the Summer of Love, and my real sister had recently, as my father liked to say, "run off with a ditch digger. " I needed a new sister, and I got one who listened to me when I spoke, loved cats, and owned a wiglet. Terry was a superb visual artist and had flawless taste in music. When I loaned her my stack of Archies 45s, she told me she'd listened to each of them and liked them all. I knew she was just being nice, but it didn't matter. When she lied to me, it sounded like "Te amo."

My mother, usually slow to warm to people, was charmed by her new daughter-in-law. Terry taught Mom to make enchiladas and refried beans and quesadillas -- strange, wonderful foods that no one I knew had ever even heard of before. And Mom, who didn't approve of house pets or guests who brought food to her dinner parties, only smiled when Terry arrived at our house on Christmas Eve with a mynah bird and seven dozen tamales. Terry was exotic.


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