By Lindsey Victoria Thompson
I realized my father is white the day I saw him eat a mango.
On a day in the middle of July, peak mango season, my mother and I eye a bowl of perfectly ripe fruit in the kitchen. Their yellow-orange skin seems to be glowing. Thirsty for the taste of their sweet nectar, we each grab a mango and immediately begin to devour the fruit.
We sink our incisors straight into its flesh and peel away the skin with our teeth. This sends juices running down our chins, and we reposition ourselves over the sink to prevent further messes.
We have taken to eating our fruit in a tribal and savage manner. I don’t know if it is because we adore the ambrosia of tropical fruit or because it awakens some sort of savage inner self that lies dormant during the mango off-season, but the tradition of tearing apart fruit in this way can be dated back centuries in my mom’s Mexican heritage.
Just as we are finishing our first mango, my father walks in. One look at our faces, covered in sticky juices, and he erupts in laughter. We have never quite been able to understand the hilarity of eating fruit, but my father considers our eating customs as strange and foreign as speaking Klingon or piloting the Starship Enterprise.
I have learned to just shrug at my father’s inability to understand our habits, so I continue to suck on the pit of my mango, which by this time resembles a shriveled-up carcass.
“I just can’t understand why you don’t like fruit,” says my mother.
It isn’t so much that my dad dislikes fruit, but that he doesn’t crave it like we do. Even when he does find himself in the world of fruit, he rarely ventures outside of eating apples and bananas. Mention a guanabana or lychee, and he shudders in distaste.
“Here,” I say, handing him a mango, “just try one.”
He accepts my offering and trots over to the silverware drawer to retrieve a knife — a tool my mother and I deem useless in preparing fruit — and scores the skin in neat and equal quadrants and gently peels back the outer layer. He delicately slices off a piece and pops it into his mouth.
“It’s good,” he says.
Good? These were perfectly ripe mangos, for God’s sake. They’re better than good! I think, as I take the skin of my third mango between my teeth and scrape off any remnants of meat.
We go on eating like this, my mom and I like untamed animals and my father like a daintily brought up debutante, when he says what I consider to be the most Anglo thing a person could say: “How do I know if I’m eating the pit?”
I thought it wa a common human instinct to be born with the ability to recognize the simple and delicious inner workings of tropical fruit, and I cannot begin to wrap my mind around his question. This time it is me and my mother who burst out in laughter.
Confused and a little embarrassed, my dad attempts to win me back over by suggesting that we make an impromptu trip to The Dairy Dip, an old fashioned ice-cream parlor that makes a chocolate milkshake that would put any 1950s housewife’s to shame.
I enthusiastically agree to go, but my mom shrugs her shoulders in indifference.
“You know I don’t love that kind of stuff like you two do,” she says.
I guess it’s an Anglo thing.
Lindsey Victoria Thompson is a high school junior in Nashville, TN. This essay won an award of recognition from Conexión Américas, a community non-profit which sponsored an essay contest for Hispanic Heritage Month 2009. You can read more about the winners at HispanicNashville.com.