WHAT’S UP WITH DADS AND PORK-CHOP SANDWICHES?

WHAT’S UP WITH DADS AND PORK-CHOP SANDWICHES?

From Chicken Soup for the Latino Soul

What’s Up with Dads
and Pork-Chop Sandwiches?

Dime con quién andas y diré quién eres.

Latino Proverb

Mr. Delgado spreads two slices of white bread with mayonnaise. He looks over at his pork chop hissing in the frying pan and rubs his hands together like a fruit fly eyeing an overripe peach. His daughter, Elizabeth, and I sit at their kitchen table and watch him slice up an onion and hum a love song to his pork chop. We’ve watched him make pork-chop sandwiches for the past twenty-five years. He always hums “Sólo tú,” a Mexican corrido that would leave the toughest macho crying in his tequila, but Mr. Delgado is grinning from ear to ear at the pork chop turning crispy brown.

When the pork chop is “browner than me,” as he likes to say, he’ll gently place it on the bread he’s prepared with mayonnaise, a lettuce leaf, a reel of onion and mmmmmm, the sandwich is good to go. Mr. Delgado sits down with us and smiles. Always smiles.

“Heaven,” he says between bites and closed eyelids. This is all he needs, he says, and winks at me.

“Mi familia, good friends like your father, m’ija, and a good job where I can afford pork-chop sandwiches whenever I want.”

Heaven.

Before Elizabeth and I can make our escape from the table, Mr. Delgado tells us, for the hundredth time, how he met my dad years ago in the ’70s when “Mexican-Americans were Chicanos and not confused Hispanics,” and if it wasn’t for the almighty pork-chop sandwich and a “crazy Chicano march in Califas,” they never would have become such close friends. I don’t really mind hearing the story over and over; in fact, I think it gets better every time Mr. Delgado tells it. He’s always adding extra details never revealed before. Upon hearing a new or exaggerated bit, Elizabeth and I raise our eyebrows at each other. Once, Mr. Delgado added a love interest to the story, and another time a wild low-rider car chase, and later a confrontation with the ghost of Che Guevara.

My father’s version always stays the same, ending with the same proud revelation:

“So you see, m’ija, I saved that damn Chicano’s life.”

Both men are from the same Kansas town, but didn’t meet until they went to a Chicano civil-rights rally in California back in the ‘70s. At the rally, when an organizer asked if there were any Chicanos from Kansas present, both my father and Mr. Delgado raised their fists.

When Mr. Delgado tells the story, he says he didn’t like my dad at first. He said my dad seemed like one of those goody-two-shoes, Catholic altar-boy types always trying to make peace, always trying to help out. My father had trimmed jet-black hair, black-rimmed glasses, and baggy khakis. He wore a crisp and clean white-collared shirt with a scapula of La Virgen around his neck. Mr. Delgado had a mop of curly black hair. He wore old jeans and leather sandals and some sort of fringed leather vest over a white undershirt stained with salsa verde.

After a four-hour march filled with speeches, singing and Aztec chants under a hot California sun, Mr. Delgado soon learned to appreciate my goody-two-shoes “Catholic boy” father. Hungry, thirsty, without a dime in his pocket—the night before he had spent all his bus and food money on a tattoo and too many cervezas—Mr. Delgado searched for my father to ask for a ride back to Wichita. About to give up his search for my father and hitchhike back to Kansas, my dad spotted him and waved him over. My dad pulled out two bottles of Coca-Cola and a thick pork-chop sandwich from a brown lunch sack and shared it with him.

Mr. Delgado says my father became like his right arm at that precise moment. (Elizabeth and I always giggle at that.) Mr. Delgado and my father returned from California with Che Guevara patches, Aztec war god tattoos on their backs and, more important, as compadres.

Compadres are inseparable once they meet. It becomes stronger than your last name and as casual as your first. If my father says, “Yeah, my compadre and I are going to look at that property tomorrow,” everyone knows he is talking about Mr. Delgado. Compadres or comadres are the people you’d trust to watch your children. They are that close.

I love the relationship the two men have. Both complain about their backs, plan Fourth of July festivities during Christmas Mass and gripe that the priest puts them to sleep. On their days off, they gather at the driveway and shake their heads at my parked Chevy Corsica. My father and Mr. Delgado have tried to teach me how to change a flat tire for the last ten years.

“I’ve got AAA!” I wave my auto card at them. “I don’t need to learn how.”

My father crosses himself and asks the Holy Trinity and not AAA to bless me. Always sensing my father’s concern, Mr. Delgado squats down near my right front tire and assures me he’s going to show me again just in case AAA doesn’t answer my call.

“I hate stupid tires! I can’t ever get those darn lug nuts off,” I answer back. “If I get a flat, I’ll just wait for someone to stop and help.”

My father crosses himself in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. The next day he buys me a new set of tires from Sears.

My father and Mr. Delgado have a friendship based on losing sleep over both their daughters’ driving habits and the Chicano movement.

Elizabeth and I like to tease our fathers about their “rebellious Chicano past,” the two of them trekking across Kansas, Colorado and California for La Causa. Sometimes, together on the front porch, we will all thumb through photo albums where our fathers are leather-brown young men with goatees and baggy khakis. For every photo, there is a lecture about bilingual education, fair housing and resistance to total cultural assimilation. Elizabeth and I once counted over twenty photos of our fathers with their fingers gathered in a fist punched high against the Kansas sky—high and hard enough for God to feel and look down in wonderment. “There are Chicanos in Kansas?”

¡Sí, Señora! Mexicans, like my abuelo, who traveled from Jalisco to Kansas at the age of fourteen to work on the railroads. Mexicans, like my grandparents, who stayed and raised proud Mexican-Americans in Kansas towns like Hutchinson, Garden City, Newton, Wichita and Topeka. Kansas Chicanos, like our fathers, who were the first in their families to graduate from college and who brought home to their daughters books about César Chávez, Delores Huerta and Frida Kahlo. The same Chicanos whose brown fingers, now released from the fist, show me how to check my oil and put air in my tires. The same brown fingers that like to tear off a piece of pork chop while it’s cooking in the skillet, and the same brown fingers that cross themselves when I tell them I’m considering another career change. Now they cross themselves with brown-callused fingers, but they still pray for their daughters, and they still pray for la raza.

If you ask my dad how he and Mr. Delgado became compadres, he will say it was the Chicano movement. If you ask Mr. Delgado, he will say it was the pork-chop sandwich.

Either way, both men are right, and we are all the better for it!

Angela Cervantes

You are currently enjoying a preview of this book.

Sign up here to get a Chicken Soup for the Soul story emailed to you every day for free!

Please note: Our premium story access has been discontinued (see more info).

view counter

More stories from our partners