The Bigger Story Behind My Mother's 'Hamburger Soup'

Barely two years after having moved to the United States from Peru, my mother woke me up in the middle of the night and told me to grab my things. All of the lights were on in our Miami apartment, and a police officer was questioning my father in the living room. My mother didn’t let my siblings and me linger long enough to find out what was going on. She just loaded us into the minivan and explained that we were going to a sleepover that night.

We went to stay at my favorite “aunt’s” house. She was my favorite because she had a lot of kids and a parrot, and always ordered Little Caesars’ “Pizza by the Foot” whenever we came to visit. She and her husband were honest-to-God hippies who converted to Catholicism. Illustrations of the Virgin Mary and the Sacred Heart shared wall space with photographs of Jim Morrison and Jerry Garcia. They had adopted several kids and raised them on a vegetarian diet, never cut their hair, and didn’t believe in corporal punishment. It was at her house where I first heard the phrase “Animals are friends, not food” (when I suggested cooking a dinosaur doll while we were playing house).