I worked at Cactus Park when I was 23 years old. Cactus is located in Scottsdale surrounded by nice houses. The parks I had worked at before were in the southern part of Scottsdale and had a different demographic. The people there are money challenged and so was I. Those were the parks where I grew up, where I felt comfortable, where I saw people that looked like me.
An elderly man would come to Cactus as a part of his walking routine. Every morning he would walk around the park like it was his duty. One morning he asked if I played basketball. I told him I did and we had a wonderful conversation. Purdue basketball was his passion and that year Purdue had a great player named Glenn Robinson. He was the best player in the country according to my new friend who was a donor to the athletic program. I had not heard much about Purdue. I couldn’t tell you what state it was even located. But I knew this man had money because he lived near Cactus Park and he had enough money to be a donor at a college.
One day he asked if I wanted to go eat dinner with him. I hesitated. It seemed strange to be asked to dinner by a man I only knew at work. I also knew he was a lonely man and maybe having a dinner with him would be kind. I accepted and he told me about a restaurant that was close to the park.
I pulled up to the restaurant and it was a nice restaurant, nicer than I was accustomed to. I looked around the place he was already there sitting at the table. I did not seen anyone who looked like me. There were a lot of white elderly people and I felt like all of them were looking at me. I looked down at the plate setting and I had never seen so much silverware. Multiple forks, multiple spoons, knives, and more than one plate. How much were we going to eat? It made me nervous. The waiter placed a basket of bread was placed in front of me. I took a piece and put it on my plate. Purdue looked at me and pointed to the small plate above the bigger one. “That is the bread plate.” he said. I immediately snatched the bread that I had placed on the wrong plate and placed it in its proper position. I was mortified. What the fuck was I doing there? I wanted to get up and run. But I did not.
I started to feel anger. I thought to myself, “when has bread needed its own plate?” This is bullshit! At my mother’s house everything went on one plate. The meat, starch, vegetable, and the bread. On one plate! And if there was no room on your plate, you would just pile it up. Nobody wants to wash two plates. “What the fuck are all you looking at?” I thought. None of you would make it in my world.
I was angry that I had to honor a bread plate. A culture of people who go to Purdue and speak of it as everyone knows it. A culture of doctors and lawyers; I did not have any friends who were going to be doctors or lawyers. I felt that if you wanted to be anyone or anything in life you needed to know the culture of the bread plate. Why can’t the culture of tamales be the culture of power? I know that world. That is my world. I want kids who eat tamales and go to fish fries outside of black barbershops to change the world. I have not been able to do it in my lifetime so I want them to do it in theirs. And right now, no matter how much I want brown and black people to have a voice in the world, the reality is very few do because “bread plates” rule the world. I don’t want my kids to feel foolish. I want them to make the culture of tamales the culture of power. I want rich, entitled people to feel the way I did. To feel embarrassed when they do not to know you take the husk off the tamale before you eat it.