In Their Own Words – KELLY

March 3rd, 2021|

LUCA is proud to launch its #InTheirOwnWords series! Over the next few weeks, we will share personal statement essays written by the Latino U Scholars Class of 2021 so that our Scholars can introduce themselves – and share their experiences during these unprecedented times – in their own words. All essays are shared with the permission of each Scholar. The essay below was written by Kelly, a Latino U Scholar from White Plains High School.



I have to wonder: What is it called when a person comes to associate a specific food with her life, her culture, and her destiny?

In third grade, I was invited to the home of a new classmate who had moved here from California. Entering the kitchen, I noticed a nondescript white blob on the counter and thought, “Please don’t let that be lunch.” Seeing the hesitation on my face, her mom began teaching me about this strange object, tofu. 

“To make tofu flavorful,” she explained, “it needs to be marinated with condiments and spiced with color. Paprika tints it a reddish color and chili powder makes it spicy. Once seasoned, it takes time to cook, but then it provides a tasty, nutritious meal.” I listened as I watched how her hands pressed the tofu. That’s when it hit me: the spices, the colors, the transformation from wariness to acceptance to appreciation – that sounds so familiar.

Wait – that sounds like me!

Tofu was brought to this country from China, just as my family journeyed here from Mexico. 

Tofu was not well received at first. Nor were we. Tofu did not look like your usual American lunch. We didn’t look like Americans. People looked suspiciously at tofu and Latino immigrants; they made jokes and blanket stereotypes about us both.

I remember when my math teacher drew three circles, one inside of each other, and asked, “What does this look like?” After some silence, he said, “It looks like a fat Mexican wearing a sombrero.” I was angry and embarrassed but resisted the urge to hide after class. Instead, I went to see the principal. After telling him about the incident, I felt lighter and stronger.    

I thought of the tofu once again. My friend’s mom had kneaded it to extract water and make it firm. By speaking to the principal, I had expelled the insecurity evoked by my teacher's tasteless joke. I felt solid and better seasoned for my next challenge. 

The most important seasoning baked into me by my parents is determination. It holds me together when things get tough; it helps me do the right thing, even when my family insists that I’ve already done enough. My parents thought my Math teacher should be punished; that I should not talk to him directly about anything. 

I was determined, however, to finish this piece of my life preparation. I recall feeling heat rising in my Math teacher’s classroom as I explained to him face-to-face how he had offended me, and that I had forgiven him. It was the most challenging conversation I’d ever had, but afterward, I knew I was closer to being baked to success.

Tofu brings protein to the menu without harmful fats. As a Hispanic female engineer, I will bring technical solutions to the table, complemented by new perspectives and approaches. As the daughter of two farmers, I will bring respect for the land. As a first-generation student with parents grateful to be here, I will bring my strong sense of community and a commitment to doing what’s right for all the people who call this community and country “home.”

Tofu doesn’t disguise itself as a hamburger to get on the menu, and I do not intend to imitate traditional male engineers. Tofu stands as a proud alternative to hamburgers after years of serving as a punchline in health food jokes. At the same time, my family and other immigrants have navigated prejudices and fought many painful battles to gain moderate acceptance in the US; and we both still have a way to go. 

I’ve been a vegetarian for a while now and I eat a lot of tofu. Whenever I do, I think back to its journey to my plate as if it were my own, and with each bite, I taste my future: limitless, unique, and transformative for the better, near and far.