Meeting friends and family is a big step in a relationship. Whether you’re introducing your person to these VIPs or you’re the one being introduced, question whirl about your head.

Will my person like my friends and family? 

Will his/her loved ones accept me?

Now that I’m older, I delay introductions, but I dated Sonodro when I was in my early 20s… With youth and familial proximity, I met Sonodoro’s relatives in the first two weeks we dated. After our first couple dates, Sonodoro told me he didn’t have his own wheels. When he came to see me, he took a bus.

This was not his liquor store, but this scene was common across Los Angeles.

This was not his liquor store, but this scene was common across Los Angeles during the riots of 1992. Sonodro was 17.

It was the same routine on the night of the anticipated family dinner; he took a bus to see me. When he got to my place, we jumped into my SUV and drove it to his mom’s, which was probably 4 miles southeast from my apartment. We drove past the seedy strip mall (where I purchased my defense mace, not to be confused with cooking mace), and south on Vermont, towards an area I never visited. When we parked, Sonodoro showed me the liquor store he, his brother and store owner defend during the LA Riots. (I read Twilight Los Angeles in college, but this in-person first-person account was surprising to hear.) He played tackle football on the very street we parked on and his favorite pupusaria was down the block. As I looked upon the 4-story apartment building, I noticed parakeets resting in their cages on the exterior balconies. We had chickens when I was younger and my sister’s high school boyfriend gave her a parakeet for her birthday. Despite these experiences, the desire to cohabitate with a bird is something I didn’t understand. Even if his mom didn’t have birds, the idea of living so close to people that cohabitated with birds put me ill-at-ease. I knew the evening would be an “experience.”

The evening did not disappoint.

I read about the immigrant experience in my sociology classes, but never visited my first-generation friends at their homes. When I stepped into the apartment, I witnessed step-migration and tenement living at its best. In the moderate-size one bedroom apartment lived his mom, grandma and sister. When he was younger he lived there with his brother and sister’s father. Quick math and I realized that 6 people had lived there at one point. The apartment was filled with pictures of family, relatives and friends. Memorabilia from quinceaneras and Guatemalan and Mexican chotchkies (his sister was half Mexican) hung from the ceiling and adorned nearly every inch of wall and table-top space. Despite the sharp contrast to my sheltered childhood and the previous boys I dated, this difference didn’t phase me (too much). I was more worried about being judged by my rudimentary Spanish. When his mom first met me, she exclaimed, “que bonita!”

Yay! She thinks I’m pretty.

Her complement put me at ease, and we were able to have a basic conversation of where I was from, where I lived and what my job was. Anything that required broader explanation, Sonodoro translated. His sister was still in high school so she and I were able to have some girl talk (in English).


A recreation of that first meal. And yes, that white glob is mayonnaise.

Everything was going great… until dinner. I was trying to include his grandma in the basic conversation. I wanted to get her attention, but my brain couldn’t think of the (first-year Spanish) word for grandma (abuela). Too proud to ask for assistance, I called her the next thing I could think of: mamacita. She was petite, after all. She yelled at me. I quickly apologized.

Lo siento.

Between mouthfuls of food and sips of his too sweet Kool-Aide, Sonodro made small effort to get me out of the pickle for calling his grandma a fine girl/hot mama. (Thank you Urban Dictionary.) Beyond being yelled at by his abuelita, (little grandma) dinner was relatively uneventful. That is, until we got out to my car.

Right after we buckled up, he reached into his pocket and pulled out a wad of toilet paper. He carefully unwrapped it, with tears in his eyes, he stammered something about being happy he found me and he was happy his family liked me. (Really? His grandma yelled at me.) He wanted to keep dating and needed a special way to let me know. He showed me two rings. One inscribed with my name (that he would wear) and the other inscribed with his (that I would wear). (The me of today is screaming epithets and telling the young me to run fast and run far. When on earth did he have time to purchase and engrave these rings!?)

4-22-14 Wedding Bands simple

I put it on.

Two weeks in, the gesture felt a little premature, but somehow right. I happily kissed him and accepted.

Is this what love feels like? Maybe.

This was going to lead to something. That something looked like we both had marriage on the mind.

It’s so amazing to have this kind of connection so quickly.

I eventually learned secrets to his mom’s cooking. (I also learned that her cooking techniques resulted in her acquisition of Type 2 Diabetes.) That said, these recipes come with a warning: Don’t use as much oil, cream or sugar as the recipe calls for.

Fruit Punch: Mix a pitcher of Kool-Aid to package instructions. Dissolve an extra cup of sugar in it.

Refried Black Beans: Warm a pan on medium heat. When it’s up to temperature, add butter or oil. When the grease is warm dump in Ducal Black Beans. (I tried using a different brand once and was chastised.) If you can’t find Ducal at your grocery store, fear not. You can add a splash of heavy cream to give them that more decadent or ducal (sweet) consistency.   IMG_1843
Chicken: A cooked standard roaster. Shred it.

Rice: Cook according to package instructions.

These are key. You can purchase a re-heater, but I (and his mom) put them in a plastic bag (leave it open) and microwave for 30 seconds.

The all-important tortilla roll method of consuming the food vessel.

The all-important tortilla roll method. It helps you use this food vessel to shovel more beans into your mouth.

Necessary Condiments: Mayonnaise, Salsa, Hot Sauce

Beyond the vegetables found in the salsa, there were no veggies served at this first encounter meal. When building a Latin-American inspired dish, I often serve it with thinly sliced cabbage. To do this, you need a large (sharp) kitchen knife and patience. Sometimes, I dress the cabbage with a squirt of lime juice for a citrus contrast to the other entree items.


Stages of shredding cabbage.