Cuentos, Cultura

The tortilla incident

In my mom’s view, Summer was the perfect babysitter. She was in her teens, about 16 or 17. She was a longtime neighbor and trusted friend. I’d known her since I was in diapers and our mothers were close friends, BFFs even. Even though she stressed out her mom, Mary, she got along well with my mom who was a little younger and more like a friend. We (my siblings) liked Summer too. She wasn’t too cool for us, or bossy or mean. She was like a big sister. She lived three houses away; and even when her family moved to another part of Hacienda Heights, she was still close by.

She had curly dirty blonde hair and a round face. She looked white despite the fact that her mom was Filipina. She introduced me to the concept of a junior college and had the Cure and the Smiths posters on her wall. I liked her.


My parents were out on a date night or busy at church. Either way, they were both out of the house and Summer had been called over to watch me and my siblings, four kids ages 5 to 11. Any other babysitter would’ve turned down the job, but Summer was cool with us. She knew we wouldn’t act up with her.

Before leaving, my mom had cooked ground beef with potatoes and peas for yummy soft tacos. All Summer had to do was warm up the meat, tortillas and set out the fixings. She began warming up the meat. Next, she brought out the package of Guerrero tortillas, took a small stack, placed them on a plate* and warmed them up in the microwave.

“Can you do that?” I asked incredulously.

“Yeah, I do it all the time,” she replied nonchalantly.

I was still suspicious. Even though I was still too young to really help in the kitchen, I knew microwaving a tortilla was not right. I liked my tortillas slightly toasted on the comal or even the open flame.

Nevertheless, I wasn’t allowed to use the stove.

When the microwave beeped, Summer got out the soggy tortillas and filled them with meat. She gave us our plates and we added cheese, lettuce, and tomato.

I gobbled up my tacos. They were yummy, but different.

A few hours later, we went to bed and Summer waited up for my parents. When my dad gave her a ride home later that night, she turned down the money he offered as payment for baby-sitting. When he insisted, she still said no. Her mom wouldn’t approve.


Looking back on the tortilla incident 20 years later, I’m not sure why it still resonates. Then, it was the first time I realized my family and I were different from white people, but it wasn’t about color or language. I’d noticed the physical differences much earlier as children often do.

Heating a tortilla in the microwave? Mundane, quotidian and easy to miss, but still weird.

I guess it really is about the little things.


12 thoughts on “The tortilla incident

  1. I think the quintessential Mexican restaurant “The Crazy Chicken”, was my first introduction to non-fire-treated tortillas. It’s weird because they stand so proudly on grilling the chicken. Couldn’t they just throw a few on there?

    I actually microwave tortillas (in a plastic bag) during the few instances when I’m in a real hurry and only planning on slathering them with peanut butter.

  2. chidolitis says:

    My aunt heats her tortillas in the microwave all the time. She also wears blue colored contact lenses and dyes her hair blonde, which, come to think of it, explains the

  3. I recently tried warming some tortillas up in the microwave at work and they got all sticky and turned cold fast. Thus the reason I bought a small $4 comal on which to heat them up instead.

  4. LOL ~ Not only do I have to heat the tortillas on a comal or huge pan, but, as Mami y Abuelita nos enseñó, I use my bare hands to mush down the tortilla when the air bubbles form, and to turn it over, and then to grab it and run to the warmer or toallita, to take to the table. I think I have permanent little burn marks on my fingertips from this but that’s how my Mami rolls and that’s probably the only tradition I will carry on. 🙂

  5. I don’t like to warm tortillas in the microwave either. I only do this when we have a huge gathering and people are too hungry to wait for slow-comal-cooked tortillas.

    When we’re all sitting down to eat, I’ll warm them up on the “Comal” but if I’m eating by myself, then I just put them directly on the stove’s burner.

    Boy! Does this make my Suegra mad! She gets upset because there is always a little piece of tortilla stuck on the burner and this little piece will turn into charcoal and create a non pleasant aroma in the kitchen later.

    Anyway, cultures are different. I’m sure Summer, learned a lot from your family as well. What a blessing to have had her in your life!

  6. I faced this dilemma for the first during Spring Break. I decided to stay at my dorm for that week and all the dining halls were closed for the week, so I went and bought food at a market. I was more than happy when I found that they had tortillas at this market (and not flour tortillas) and bought them without even thinking of how to heat them. All I had was a microwave. I heated them in the microwave, inside a sandwich bag. No habia de otra. Now I don’t have to cuz I’m somewhere where there is a comal.

  7. Although I prefer comal-cooked tortillas, I am forced to microwave my tortillas at work. But the trick I use is to get palatable tortillas, is to wrap the tortillas in a paper towel, and place them inside along with my meal (I usually microwave my lunch for at least 3:45 minutes). They never dry out, and they stay warm long enough to enjoy.

  8. it’s a last resort method, like when you have a party with 50 guests, and you have the grill busy cuz of the carne asada and people are hungry, so you put a whole paquete of tortillas and heat them up. yeah, they get soggy quick, and then stiff.

    but check this out, my suegra can make tostadas in the microwave, she throws in a tortilla and heats it up for about five minutes and it comes out hard. i haven’t tried it. but i seen it.

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