Good artists imitate; great artists steal. In our new series, Stolen, writers share stories of theft.
Still from the animated short Zimbo by the Guadalajaran directors Rita Basulto and Juan José Medina.
My ex-wife stared as she watched my maternal grandmother slide a chicken into her purse. When she noticed she was being watched, my grandmother locked eyes with my ex-wife. In her thick Guadalajara accent, my grandmother bellowed, “For the dogs.” Her dogs were waiting outside of the buffet, in her truck. It was Mother’s Day and they were her most beloved.
On our way home, my ex-wife asked, “Have you seen your grandmother steal meat before?”
I looked at her with a deadpan expression meant to approximate the one my grandmother had given her.
“She’s Mexican,” I answered.
My grandmother’s habit of filling her purse with meat reinforces an American stereotype: that Mexicans are thieves. Consider the now-retired chip mascot Frito Bandito. And Speedy Gonzales, the cheese snatcher. But Mexicans invert this trope.
“You live in California,” my paternal grandfather would remind me when we’d visit Mexico at Christmas. “You live there because of a robbery! The United States stole that land! Americans are thieves.”
My grandfather’s indictment was supposed to make me, a gringa, ashamed. Instead, it made me secretly relish America. My family lived on stolen land and stolen fruit always tastes better. Its ill-gotten nature emboldens its umami, glazes it with immoral MSG.
When I went on my first stealing spree, I became a Mexican bandit, and a practitioner of Manifest Destiny.