Teresa Vargueños has the best lunches of anyone at her elementary school. Not everyone realizes this, because not every third-grader has a pallet as sophisticated as Teresa’s. Her mom refuses to let her buy the school lunches, and instead stuffs her knockoff pokemon lunchbox with homemade tamales, sopes, fajitas. The lunches are even better to Teresa because none of the other kids ever ask to trade. Better and worse. She’d like to be able to trade at least every once in a while. Even when she does get candy, there aren’t many kids who are interested in stuff with salt and chili powder all over it. The only thing about Teresa that any of the kids seem to be interested in is her weight.
Teresa is round, her cheeks define her dimpled chin like a ventriloquist’s dummy. She waddles a little when she walks, and her black braids swing side to side. She can’t run – or really, she doesn’t like to. Her mother gets concerned looks from the other parents when she comes to conferences. Teresa gets teased.
The teasing comes in many forms. There’s the obligatory catcalls of “fatso,” and “fatty” and “lard-butt,” the favored insults constantly mutating as old ones are worn out. But there’s also the assumptions. She’s always picked last for kickball, even though she can kick the ball so hard it bounces off the far fence. The pretty little blonde girls with their tiny toy makeup kits and pink padlocked journals turn silent when she draws near and explode into giggles once she’s past.
And so Teresa spends her recesses in a sparsely populated corner of the playground, watching the boys pretend to be robots and monsters stomping across the giant colored map of the United States. It’s not really the boys she’s looking at, but the map. They’re learning the state capitals now in class, and she’s just starting to get a picture of where she is in the world. And so, as she learns about the cities and the states in class, she brings that knowledge out to the playground. She combines it with little snippets she’s seen on TV – her grandma loves the cooking channel – and day by day she charts a path across the nation. Here she will get Chicago style deep-dish pizza. Here she will try Boston Cream Pie. The path grows and evolves and takes shape in her head, so that one day she can eat her fill in places where people will love her for it, the way she will love them.