What's for Lunch? Chicken Adobo with All the Garlic

While everyone else at the rest stop ate turkey sandwiches and beef jerky, we ate chicken adobo and rice cooked inside the bathroom.

By: Francis Mendoza + Save to a List

For as long as I could remember, I was always outdoors. Holding my mom or Inay’s hand tightly as we bought fruits and vegetables at the outdoor market or palengke. Watching the lechon or pig roast over an open fire, while hearing the sound of its skin crackling and cooking in its own fat. Playing in the backyard with my kuyas, or two older brothers, as we chased lizards into the tiniest of crevices, as if we could actually catch them with our tiny hands. We even slept with the windows open, in beds with no mattresses that were draped with mosquito nets, as we fell asleep to the symphony of insects that filled the warm night air.

First generation Filipinx Immigrant
Despite having only lived in the Philippines for the first five years of my life, I fondly recall the smells, sounds and sights of my ancestral land like it was yesterday. The remaining senses evoke even more memories as I still feel the blades of grass in between my bare toddler toes and cook Filipinx food regularly as an adult, mainly to emulate my Inay’s chicken adobo. Equal parts soy sauce and vinegar, with just one bay laurel leaf that I collected on my hike earlier in the redwoods...and garlic, garlic, garlic. Too much garlic, you ask? Still not enough.

My family emigrated to the US in 1981, well after the Immigration Act of 1965 that loosened restrictions that historically excluded Asian folx (an intentional misspelling of folks to de-emphasize the gender binary and be more inclusive) from coming into the country for more than a century. Many of the immigrants that came in the latter part of the 20th century were nurses, doctors and other professionals that helped bolster the economy, and they needed people to count all that money - my parents came as willing accountants. In fact, when my kuyas and I graduated from UC Berkeley in the 90s, one followed in their footsteps and became a certified public accountant while the other became an electrical engineer and computer scientist. Unnaturally, I rebelled and became an environmental educator, naturalist and social worker - all professions my family came to question, especially living in the Oakland Bay Area where housing prices are among the highest in the country.

From the jump, I was a disappointment. My mom was nearly 40 when she had me, and having already given birth to two boys, she prayed for a girl. Imagine her surprise when I came out, penis and all, especially during her 39th birthday party. Despite being birthday twins, my Inay and I couldn’t be any more different. Named after St. Francis of Assissi, I actually lived up to my namesake with the professions I chose, as he is the patron saint of animals, and he renounced his wealth to take care of the poor and disadvantaged - this wasn’t nearly enough for her because she actually wanted me to become a priest. A devout Catholic, she was heartbroken when my wife and I split up, as it’s a sin to get a divorce in the eyes of the church. I haven’t been to a church in years and may spontaneously burst into flames if I ever stepped in one again.

So here I was, in my early 30s, a single, divorced dad with two young daughters, working three jobs to make ends meet in the bay area - clearly living up to my mom’s expectation as a failure. I was genuinely happy, though - working outdoors, teaching kids about nature, especially those who needed it to heal from their own trauma. But I was also tired, working 60-70 hours a week, barely making enough money to make rent while raising two kids. Then a job opened up in the east bay as a park ranger, which I initially scoffed at, having visions of Smokey the Bear or the white park ranger who would admonish my family and me for playing our music too loud or not parking our Toyota Camry, the unofficial car of every Asian American family, straight along the non-existent lines in the parking lot. This position was different though, one that engaged largely Black and Latinx communities in East Oakland, as the park district was trying to be intentional about serving communities of color. After beating out more than 200 applicants, I got the job and worked nearly a decade in the same position. It was essentially my dream job as I worked outdoors, teaching youth about the environment, oftentimes on a hike, paddle or working out problems on a climb. As one of the few BIPOC (Black, Indigenous and People of Color) park rangers in the district, I helped diversify their workforce, delivered justice and equity trainings, mentored young student aides and held their leadership accountable to the communities they served. But I noticed a huge disparity between the students I mentored and the managers I reported to - though the students were mostly Black, brown, female with intersections of disabled and queer folx, the supervisors and managers were overwhelmingly cis-hetero, male and white.

This disturbed me greatly. Not only did leadership NOT reflect our beloved communities, but it disproportionately placed a huge burden on those of us doing the work necessary to disrupt systems of oppression and racism within the organization. In the span of five years, I applied for a supervisory position thrice, even having worked as an interim supervisor each time, as they extracted as much as they could from me - each time being denied a promotion. I was tired again, so very tired...but this time, of not being recognized for the work that I poured my heart and soul into. Earlier this year, I quit that dream job. To my surprise, I found another quickly, superseding the supervisory level and becoming the Manager of Community Development, Engagement and Leadership with the Children & Nature Network. If they weren’t going to promote me, I would promote myself. My years as a park ranger helped me continually build my resume as a JEDAI consultant (pronounced like the Star Wars Jedi knight, but one fighting for justice, equity, diversity, accessibility and inclusion in the outdoors, even though it felt like dueling lightsabers with Darth Vader at times).

So before I started that job, I returned to where I felt most comfortable - the outdoors. I took a long roadtrip through California, Nevada and Southern Utah to visit national parks I had never been to. I hiked the Hoodoo and Navajo Trails in Bryce Canyon, camped in Zion and sought out sacred petroglyphs, then returned to California to visit the largest living trees in the world in Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks. Along the way, I dispersed camp on beautiful Indigenous lands and made my own meals, much like my mom used to make on our long roadtrips we took as a kid. My kuyas, my Inay, my Tatay (or dad) and I packed our tiny yellow 1981 Toyota Tercel, the precursor to the Camry, and drove all over the western United States to visit family in Oregon, Arizona and British Columbia, Canada. To defray on the cost of food, my Inay would bring a rice cooker and crockpot to rest stops and look for electrical outlets, usually near or inside the bathroom, to cook our meals. One of my favorite meals for tanghalian or lunch was chicken adobo, and while camping in Red Canyon near Bryce, I cooked it to the satisfaction of even my mom’s lofty expectations, with enough garlic to keep even an Aswang (or a Filipinx vampire) from visiting my campsite at night. Thanks for keeping me safe, Inay!

We want to acknowledge and thank the past, present, and future generations of all Native Nations and Indigenous Peoples whose ancestral lands we travel, explore, and play on. Always practice Leave No Trace ethics on your adventures and follow local regulations. Please explore responsibly!

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