Chronicles - Chapter 8
by Fernando Kornijezuk
My “madrecita” and I were never like the mothers and daughters from the soup operas, finishing each other’s sentences with quirky cultural references. In fact, I grew up never seeing a relationship like ours in TV or in film. My mother was raised in a wooden shack in a remote town in Durango, Mexico; I spent my childhood in the largest city in the world: Mexico City. My mother spent hers making tortillas by hand; I grew up watching Netflix. My mother was a traditional Mexican woman; I was one of those emo-y teenagers who wore fishnets and combat boots. When I was 15, I shaved off my pretty hair and made my first tattoo to the horror of my family. I was also communist, feminist, and rejected the Catholic Church. We had misunderstanding upon misunderstanding.
When I first touched a steering wheel, I became completely obsessed. I would rather be left alone for hours inside anything with an engine than to be with my family sharing dinner. Needless to say, my mom was probably baffled that she had given birth to such a strange creature. She wanted me to be a sweet and traditional family-oriented Mexican girl, the kind who had a collection of dolls and dresses– unfortunately, she ended up with me.
I never thought I had so much of Señora Estelle in me.
As I grew older, I got my first job as a truck driver and decided to go where my wheels would take me. I lived in Argentina, Canada, Spain, Portugal, Turkey and Saudi Arabia; I went to grad school in a city 1,300 miles away from home. I did everything by myself. My deep Mexican (and sometimes unreasonable) pride kept me from ever asking anyone for anything. Somewhere along the way, my mother became proud of me. She was impressed by my resilience and independence. She began referring to me as her “chingona.”
When my mom started to learn to accept me as I was, I guess I made peace with my heritage and realized that the Mexican cuisine from my childhood brought back a sense of peace. I was never going to be the kind of Mexican daughter who went to church and lived at home until she got married, but I could always be a proud Mexican woman making my own destiny.
Eventually, I settled down. Love brought peace to my heart. I moved to Brazil and became a Buddhist. Soon after, I started my own family. As I grew older, I understood where my mother was coming from and how difficult it must have been to have such a weird daughter. With the luxury of retrospection, however, we finally found a way to truly respect each other until she passed away, a few years after my fourth was born.
That was when I decided to open with my boys the “Estelle”, a low priced but highly spirited Mexican food joint near the Corcovado, on Rio de Janeiro. I gave up truck driving and got all in on being a Mexican chef. Everybody´s got to eat, right?
My days were split between cooking and explaining that some Mexican food can be very spicy, but not everything is spicy. Teaching that back home we had no idea that a burrito was a fast food dish, it only meant what my grandmother used for transportation, and keeping my kids well fed and out of trouble. Making love, and cooking some more. Most of all, telling every customer that you do not want to put olives or cheddar on an enchilada.
It had its odd days, but overall it was a good, honest, life. Until that fateful day, the morning after all the lights went dead.
When it began, it was quiet. The cold morning after the GOTA terrorist attack, thousands of people began arriving at the Rio-SaoPaolo Gigaplex Gateway Airport, crunching across a gravel parking lot and lining up alongside a cavernous airplane hangar. They came to discover that only a handful of planes had untainted fuel to take off. There was no room for everybody to flee. If only they knew then that there was nowhere safe to go. I guess that was when the first riot began, but I may be wrong. Without energy, there was no Internet and news became scarce.
It took a few hours for the first young man to shout “mother f—ing tacos!” at the “Estelle”. Soon thereafter, my “madrecita” died for a second time, this time hit by rocks and clubs. My oldest also went to meet his grandmother that day, a pain so strong I would never forget.
“Mother f—ing tacos! Go back to Mexico! Go back to Mexico! Nobody wants you!”
I once again did not have a home and my husband and I cried all night. The next morning, the streets were on fire and I was back at the steering wheel, with my family packed inside the truck. We drove for many nights, never settling. Until our fuel ended. Until we ran out of gas.
We took only what we could carry. We became survivors. I lost my husband and another son over the next few years. But eventually I realized that everybody´s still got to eat and it turned out one could still make a living out of cooking. My remaining sons and I became experts on transforming trash into something people could still chew and not die. We reinvented tacos and burritos. Once again, I felt that Estelle and I went full circle. Hunger makes you fight. Makes you persevere.
Our place became a heaven for the needed and the tortured souls. Also, a place of peace. At “Mama´s”, everybody can afford something to eat, as long as they keep quiet and take any issue outside. But I still missed the adrenaline of the streets.
When the invitation came, I never thought twice. My sons can handle the new joint well, and I can even bring some enchiladas to the other drivers and the mechanics, before a new mission calls. Mama Noise, they call me, but I never knew why. Maybe it is the sound of my kinetic engine roaring at full speed. Maybe the sound my machine gun makes when bringing an agent down. But I prefer to think it is because the food I bring always sheds some light and music on the sober reality every K-Truck Racer shares.