A Latina boards a plane to a state she's never wanted to go.

She's listening to "Feel Like A Woman," (funny enough, she's going to Countryville but she's not listening to Shania Twain's version, but instead, RuPaul's).

Yes, y'all, this liberal is traveling with my college media staff to the Associate Collegiate Press Conference. Sure, I'll be safe within the confines of the hotel, but I'm lowkey scared about what's gonna happen between the plane to the destination. All I can think about is how this loud-ass, curly haired loca is gonna be perceived out in Cow town. What keeps popping up in my head is how many damn cowboy hats are gonna block my view of whatever there is to view in Dallas and how many boots are gonna step on my toes, and imma have to shut the hell up and take it cuz who knows what'll happen to a brown bitch that complains around conservative white boys and their women.

Perceptions

I envision a sea of white males judging the fuck outta me cuz I don't have a southern twang (yes I already imitated it on the plane to a fellow editor when I know damn well I need to not do that.) If you haven't gotten the point that I am completely stereotyping Texas as only a Californian can do, then you don't know me cuz I'm straight up and own up to my shit. I am stereotyping Dallas. I wish I was going to Austin, or Corpus, the home of Selena, or San Antonio where I heard lots of raza stays. I don't have straight hair, or light skin, or a fake orange tan, nor am I reserved, demure, or conservative– in speech nor in politics. I'm the opposite of everything I imagine Dallas to be.

En Route to the Hotel and gestures of kindness

The Dart is Dallas' main means of public transportation. Luckily, I'm used to piss in L.A. streets so I am all right with the smell of the first train car that we board. Homeless people, tired people just wanting to make it home from work, is no different that the Angelinos on public transportation. I'm tired but I stay aware of my surroundings. A working-class black man and a Latino employee from Church's Chicken enter separately and sit one in front of the other. The Church's employee is carrying a little box. Dude in front is minding his own business, listening to music. I stare out the window into pitch black darkness for what must have been five seconds, turn back, and the Latin man with the chicken box is passing a piece over to the dude in front of him. My heart immediately softened. Like, damn, here I am seeing my first kind gesture. Legit, I've never seen that except for people giving change to the homeless on the street. But on public transportation… in L.A.? I haven't even seen a dude give up their damn seat for a woman, elderly or otherwise. And here's this dude coming home exhausted from work sharing his chicken pieces with a stranger. About 30 minutes in, a white dude with sunglasses with weathered skin, like he's been through some shit, walks in with a pitbull with a muzzle and sits quietly across to the right of the Church's guy. After a long time of keeping to themselves, the dog owner and Church's compadre start chatting. Once again, the chicken dude is generous with his food. He hands the dog owner a drumstick. The dog owner disappears behind the seat in front of him, bending over to feed his dog some of the chicken he was given. This passing of food made me feel warm and cheesy inside. I think at this point we're about four stops away from the hotel. The dog owner approaches us and says something in a very heavy Southern accent. "I'm sorry?" I ask. "Don't be sorry," he responded. It was an obvious confusion of colloquial phrase. He keep talking."Y'all in a bind? Y'all need a place to stay?" I told him, "Oh, no! We're good. Thank you, though. We appreciate it." It was genuine. The initial instinct wasn't to ignore him because I thought homeboy had a hidden agenda. No. It was legit such accommodating and real gesture for him to ask. The realness of the gesture was dope. Then again, I've never been homeless so what the hell do I know about the community and "lookin' out" for others.

Photographer from our staff Pablo Unzueta, looks outside during one of our BART commute
Photographer from our staff Pablo Unzueta, looks outside during one of our BART commute

The next four days changed my perception of Dallas. Instead of white boys with cowboy hats, I witnessed friendly gestures from people with Southern drawls from different backgrounds helping each other out.

Menudo Mission

I love menudo— so much that I ask for it without hominy. I try to find bomb bowls of it even when I'm not in L.A. and I needed to have some in Dallas. Yes, my mom was pissed that I traveled alone by Uber to get to my bowl of tripa, but I knew I was fine, so that's what counts, right? (No. Not according to a worried Latin mom.) After reading a few reviews of the closer, higher rated Mexican food joints outside of Downtown (be real, gente, you ever heard of dope menudo in a modernized, bougie downtown area? No.) I finally headed to South Dallas to a spot called Taqueria Pinocho (Yes, Pinocchio in Spanish!) It's got 4 stars, 68 reviews, one dollar sign, and plenty of photos that gained my seal of "hole-in-the-wall-Raza-spot" approval. As I rolled up, my heart pounded cuz I'm both hella nervous of what to expect food wise and gente wise. You might think Latinos are Latinos wherever you go, but there are variations. Sure, I have felt at home in a Latin setting no matter what U.S. city I've visited, but what about Dallas Latin people? Were they gonna stare and be judgmental and smell the L.A. on me? (Doesn't matter. Central American doñas street vending judge me with their eyes whenever I'm in MacArthur. I've got thick skin). I walk up and love the artwork plastered on the windows. You know the kind I'm talking about. The one that's kind of faded. You can find them on restaurants, lavanderias, and party supply places in our Latin hoods. That never changes no matter what Latin area you're in. The Pinocchio painted on the door, I understood. But the payaso (clown) on the left was random as fuck. But it doesn't have to make sense if you're Latino and about to eat at a beloved local joint.

Taqueria Pinocho in South Dallas. The menudo is a strong second place to any I have had in L.A.
Taqueria Pinocho in South Dallas. The menudo is a strong second place to any I have had in L.A.

As I step in, all eyes are on me. The spot is full of men. I'm used to this with Latin men that aren't discreet and eye fuck you or look at you innocently, but they'll all cat call when you're in their countries or walking alone in the hood. I walk straight to the line with the display of meats and soups behind a glass before you reach the register. Think cafeteria Mexican style. Everything looked juicy, homemade, and bomb. The sounds of knives chopping lemons, cilantro, and what could have been carne, pastor or pollo filled my ears as the spicy salsas made in-house and meats seasoned deliciously filled my nose. But I knew what I was there for. "Un menudo por favor," I told the dude who couldn't have been more than 28 and covered in tattoos on both arms and some on the face. Es todo? Con tortillas?"  "Si. Gracias." I love Spanish. That won't change wherever I go. I'm fluent as fuck so I have no problem navigating around spaces in any city where there are also Spanish speakers, mostly from our immigrant community. We might not have the same accent, as was the deal here since it was Mexican owned, Mexican run. I have a Spanish accent that takes after my mom's tropically dipped tongue, where almost no "S's" exist, but it's comforting to have the connection with my gente no matter where I'm at. I get up to the register to pay and ask the older gentleman who gives me my total if they have crushed peppers. "No, no tenemos. Porque?"

"Porque esos lo ponemos al menudo… en vez de jalapeno". Yes, apparently in Dallas they eat menudo without red crushed pepper. All the fixings of oregano and onion and lemon are on the side but they have jalapeno in place of the red pepper. "Y de donde es usted?" He asked. I tell him, "Soy de Los Angeles, esto del jalapeno no lo conocemos. I'm from Los Angeles. We're not familiar with the jalapeno thing."  "Pero sabe mejor con jalapeno, vas a ver! It's better with jalapeno! You will see." I said thank you and made my way to a table closest to the door. By now it's 9:30 a.m. and all the regulars are coming in. Tatted young cutie bad boy who took my order is now on his break at the table in front of me, his back toward me, laughing at something on his phone. Older gentlemen come in at various moments and say hi. They're all familiar and comfortable here.

Delicious menudo I ate at Taqueria Pinoco. In Dallas, they serve it with a side of chopped jalapeños
Delicious menudo I ate at Taqueria Pinoco. In Dallas, they serve it with a side of chopped jalapeños

"Q'ubole? Que onda? Ya andas pedo, verdad?" Everyone has a different greeting and exchange. I felt safe, even though they'd all make sure to catch a glance of me before they proceeded to the line. Ay-yay-yay. The TV was playing something I haven't seen since my pre-teens, pre Netflix, pre I get to choose what I watch instead of my parents picking. You know those Spanish language car dealership infomercials that last about two hours, with sexy clothed, pretty, made-up women posing next to Chevys and Dodges or whatever is on the lot? I smiled at the familiarity of all of it.

Hospitable Dallas was dope to see. I was wrong to generalize, and El Don of Pinocchio's was right—jalapeno is better. And the raza has a piece of my heart.

Me, posing in front of a mural of Stevie Ray Vaughn by artist Steve Hunter. Yes, Latinas love the blues, too. Photo by Melody Waintal
Me, posing in front of a mural of Stevie Ray Vaughn by artist Steve Hunter. Yes, Latinas love the blues, too. Photo by Melody Waintal

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