I Say Torrrrrrrta, You Say Torta

Ridicule and disrespect greet a hungry woman

By Hyun Joo Chung
Published on LatinoLA: July 8, 2003

I Say Torrrrrrrta, You Say Torta

Ask me to read La Opini?n. Go ahead, ask me.

You will see, that in in my manner of speaking, what is absent is the?shall we delicately say?the Anglocization? of Spanish.

In Spanish, every consonant is pronounced. None of the silly silent vowels like in English exists. I barely understood what my smiling Mam? Tica was saying when I stayed at her house last summer for a homestay program in San Jose, Costa Rica. But I do remember she was very pleased when I opened my mouth to speak the few words I knew: ?Me llamo?? and ?Bueno, gracias??

In Spanish classes, the delightful fun is to purr and roll the double rr as long as you can. I dribble my tongue ?rrrrrrrrrrrr? endlessly. The teacher and the classmate looked at me silly even though I was not. I was pronouncing my double rrs: only I was doing it right.

On Sunday, I finished off a bowl of menudo only because the reddish soup was supposed to cure hangovers. I did not have hangover to cure but it was better to think I had fun the previous night. But still I envisioned holding a nice torta piled with meat, rich green avocados teasing my taste buds, and the spiciness of cilantro, onions, tomatoes, and all the other good stuff. I was on my quest for the perfect torta.

I made my way near Hollywood/Echo Park area. I chose a restaurant which I had seen on TV for serving homemade Mexican food. So I felt like I was supporting an independent business, like I purchase a bacon-wrapped hot dog each day.

I gazed at the menu. Torta? Torta? Where was it? How much was it? It was my turn to order. ?Hi, do you sell any torrrrrrrtas?? I asked, giving the best of all the times I had rolled those delightful rrrr's.

?No, we don?t,? she smirked behind the cashier. The greenness of her apron had come alive and told me: You idiot. You ain?t Spanish? Why you be tryin? to talk Spanish in the Latin style? I should?ve talked Anglo instead. ?Well, okay, I?d like to have a taco, please.?

I relented. At least, I could have some meat and a key to the bathroom. The dam of humor almost burst in the cashier who wanted to slap her palms on the counter and laugh at the Anglo Asian. ?Har or sot?? I thought I heard her say. She squeezed her pen, trying to concentrate on my order but in reality avoiding my eyes to not burst into laughter of ridicule. ?Soft, please? I answered. I paid and moved to the counter with the salsa and sliced red radishes.

Oh dear! Oh dear! The woman who had jotted my order pointed obviously at me to another employee of the restaurant. She was wearing the green apron like the one behind the cashier. Meanwhile, I pretended to not notice and continued to scoop out some tomato salsa onto a small paper cup and drank it like a martini. The one at the cashier pointed to me at her peer.

I did not hear much except I heard ?torrrrrrta? just as I had pronounced it. Can you believe that Asian gringa girl who thinks she is a Latina? I could imagine her giggling behind the counter, in front of the horchata and the tamarindo splashing inside clear translucent boxed coolers.

I picked up my taco dressed excessively in a Styrofoam box five times its size. I noticed a closed little container of the salsa I had drank as a martini. I picked up the package. ?Tres cientos sesenta y nueve. Three hundred sixty nine,? the man behind the counter of vats of steaming rice, carne asada, menudo, and chopped onions and cilantro called out. I handed my receipt in response. But no, I had to go to the bathroom.

I went to the woman at the cashier who was now replaced by the second woman who had heard of my ?torrrrrta? pronunciation. She tried to not giggle. ?Hi, can I have the key to the bathroom please,? I humbly asked. I took the key. I returned the key.

As my palm readily pushed the front door, giggles of ?torrrrrrta? repeated so often so that the men in white aprons near the aluminum vats of rice and carne asada could share the joke. The women confirmed my stupidity and dashed my vanity.

I was ready to bawl and eat double chocolate brownies and call my friend Esmie on my cellphone.

All this for a quest for a torta?

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