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My First Friend


Nahomi and I on the front steps of my house on Halloween 2004.


Nahomi*, my next-door neighbor and first friend, was Hispanic. We went to the same elementary, middle, and high school, but she was a year older than me. Growing up next to Nahomi was so much fun and taught me a lot about the Mexican culture, giving me a world view from my own back yard. We were the best of friends from an extremely early age, I cannot remember a time when we were not friends. A lot of my first memories from childhood include her. During the summer we would spend almost every day together, whether it was at her house or mine. Some of my most fond memories include trips to the school playground down the street from our house and bike rides around our neighborhood with her sisters Silvia* and Marcy* who were about nine and five years older than me.

On days when we got tired of the park, we would sometimes help my mom in the garden. If the ice cream truck or paleta cart passed by, my mom would buy us ice cream as a reward. Mobile food vendors, whether walking or driving, were a centerpiece of our childhood. Living in a primarily Hispanic neighborhood, mobile food options were not just limited to Ice cream. The truck would also sell elote, a Mexican street corn dish with mayonnaise, cotija cheese, and chili powder. This was one of Nahomi’s favorite foods, I, on the other hand, hated it, but she made me try it almost every time she got it. I was more partial to the chicharrones de harina, with lime and sometimes a little bit of Valentina, a Mexican hot sauce and staple that can go an almost anything. Nahomi and I would split the huge bag, but new would never finish it. We would, almost always, eat them outside on the front steps of one of our houses. The mango and snow cone man was another hot commodity, also enjoyed on the front steps.

We were constantly introducing each other to new things like foods, drinks, and TV shows. It was mostly Nahomi introducing things to me, but I introduced her to root beer, baked mostaccioli, cantaloupe, and some shows on the Disney Channel. Nahomi showed me a ton of Mexican pastries and candies, that I could get at one of the several Hispanic grocery stores in town. Sponch galletas and paleta payaos are still some of my favorite treats. She introduced me to her mom’s homemade flautas, mole, pozole and still to this day, the best sope I have ever had. Nahomi and her other sisters also figured out how to put the English subtitles on their TV, so I could watch Rebelde with them and still understand what was going on.

Most of the time I was at their house, all the girls would try to teach me more Spanish, which I was super excited to learn. I always felt left out on the playground not knowing what most of the kids were saying. Nahomi’s Mom didn’t know a lot of English, so if it was short enough, instead of directly translating what I was saying to her, they would tell me what I wanted to say in Spanish and then I would speak to her like that. The other way they would try to teach me was, if I had to ask for anything, I would have to ask in Spanish, or at least try to ask. Again, if I did not know the word I needed, they would tell me. They would also make sure that I spoke with the correct accent as to not sound like a “gringa.” This came as a great skill to have acquired at an early age. By the time I had to take Spanish in high school, I had perfected the proper Hispanic vernacular, and in doing so, I got A’s on all of my Spanish speaking assessments.

I felt like I was a part of their family. I was invited to a bunch of family parties, and as we got older, I was jokingly pinned “the token weta.” Before every party they would have, it was a full sibling effort to try to teach me how to dance the Bachata. Silvia would bring a boom box outside and Marcy and Nahomi would try to teach me the steps in the driveway. The learning process took years, and I still do not think I do it right, but I am a lot better than I used to be. Her family taught me how to celebrate birthdays the right way. It wasn’t a real party until everyone was screaming “Mordida! Mordida!” and your face was shoved in the tres leches. The lively celebrations would go on till the early morning, sometimes till 3am, but I normally had to leave before 10pm.

Her older sisters, especially Silvia, from my own perception, looked up to my parents. When Silvia was in 3rd grade, she came over to our house and asked my mom how she could convince her own mother to let her take English 4th grade instead of bilingual 4th grade. Together, they were able to produce a plan, and the following school year, Silvia flourished in the 4th-grade English class. When my mom was PTO president of Prairie elementary, she sometimes would have to write the handout fliers for school events, but they needed to be in English and Spanish. So, she would frequently pop over to Nahomi’s house and ask one of the older girls if they could translate the handout flyer for her. A few years later, Silvia would come to confide in my parents and ask them if they would be willing to write a character letter for her DACA application.  I was not entirely unaware of the presence of undocumented people in my community. Growing up with friends whose parents are undocumented gave me a better understanding of the immigration problem. A young child should never have to ask their parents if her best friend can live with them if her parents get deported. Knowing my entire community could change and the parents of my closest and oldest friends could have their entire lives torn apart, makes me have a different opinion than others on the solution to the immigration issue.

There were so many Mexican restaurants in our town, but my mom was afraid to go into some of them because she did not know Spanish, so she was unsure if she would be able to order. This came up in conversation one time when Silvia and Nahomi were over at our house. Over the next few weeks, Silvia, Marcy, Nahomi, my mom, and I would go to their favorite restaurants in town, the ones they thought were the most authentic and best tasting. They would recommend what dishes we should try and most importantly, assist us in placing our order. Eventually, I improved enough to be able to mostly order on my own, but it was not until high school that I was confident enough to go to the restaurants they took us too alone. Even though I do not think I will ever return to my hometown to settle down, I will always look forward to going back home, especially for the food. I can get tacos and tortas just down the street from my house that are better than any restaurant around here. Come to think of it, the Mexican food item of the day that was served in my high school cafeteria was better than anything at I have ever eaten at El Mariachi or La Carreta, and I have yet to find a place that even sells chicharrones de harina in Virginia.

*Names have been changed to help protect identity


A paleta man and his paltea cart




chicharrones de harina

Chicarrones de harina



Paleta Payaso

Paleta Payaso

Sponch Gelletas

Sponch Galletas

One Response to “My First Friend”

  1. Nice work, Theresa. I enjoyed reading this.

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