Authenticity

What does it mean to live authentically? Today I tried and missed the point entirely, but that’s ok because the food was great.

Part of the reason behind traveling is to see what other cultures are like. Even the boring things in another culture can be exciting; like when you see a bunch of foreigners sitting down around a table, small cups in their hands with tiny handles and a vat of creamer in the middle – something you’d see at any American diner, but when you’re overseas it’s not mundane but an exciting experience. Today I went on a mission to find authenticity in my own backyard. What does this mean? It means I tried to find establishments that were as true to the original culture in order to get a real taste of a different world without having to go far.

My friend and I went to a Mexican restaurant. It was a special restaurant that he only knew about because of local connections. He took me to a small outskirt neighborhood of Portland called St. John’s. This area of the city has it’s own small town feel to it; a couple ‘biggish’ roads littered with dive bars and a two screen movie theater. Near this movie theater is a Mexican grocery store for those seeking to make authentic Mexican meals.

It was here that my friend brought me. We walked the aisles of the store and absolutely everything was from Mexico and all the packages and foods were labeled only in Spanish. At the end of the aisles we came to a doorway that led into a speak-easy restaurant. When we crossed into the dining room everyone glanced up from their plates and watched as we moved across the general seating area to the counter. In this moment I felt like I did in Ukraine when I would enter a new restaurant. It’s almost as if time itself paused for a moment so absolutely everything in existence can take a second to stare at you.

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This was not your typical Mexican restaurant where a host waited to greet you enthusiastically. On the counter there was a bell and a sign that said, “Ring for Service,” but in Spanish. We rang the bell and a woman that had been watching us the entire time got up to help us. Not only was the food amazing but it was remarkably cheap. For only five dollars I bought a burrito filled with shrimp and the meal was big enough to fill me beyond capacity. There was also a salsa bar that you could get free guacamole and onions from if you were inclined.

Today I started off with the goal to ‘live authentically’ on the loosely formed notion that I have to keep taking strides to live a life entirely for myself and not for the perception of what others think when they see me. I can’t control other people but I did learn that stepping out of my normal routine and plopping into new and interesting situations makes me feel authentic. And when it comes down to it, that’s all that really matters.

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