“Come on, haven’t you ever wanted to eat sitting on a gas station curb in fancy-ass clothes before?” my brother asked. To this earnest and oddly specific question, I couldn’t help but let out an unexpected laugh.
A couple days ago, all the cousins on my dad’s side of the family were on the way back from an event when a taco bus parked next to a gas station caught our eyes. My oldest cousin, who was driving, insisted that buses like these were the best places to get authentic, tasty tacos, so we made a unanimous decision to pull over. After placing our order – and what an absurdly large order it was – we then debated where to eat. Suggestions were thrown out – we could take the food home, eat in the air conditioning of the car, stand about outside – until my brother insisted that we pop a squat on the curb of the gas station, then and there, in formal clothes and all. He was grinning as he explained that we had to do it for the “aesthetic,” for the spectacle of five guys in dress shirts and creased pants and shiny shoes, inhaling cheap tacos on the side of a gas station. He asserted that it wouldn’t work on another day when we were in casual clothes; it had to be like this, in these clothes, like now. It was such a strange and distinct desire, and his adamancy surprised me.
I doubt my brother thought about it too deeply, but I could see the relationship between this situation and Alison Kinney’s Hood. The term “hood” does not have to be taken literally; it simply refers to how we outwardly present ourselves. Hoods “frame someone’s face” (Kinney 116), and we are defined by the hoods we wear. They affect not only how we feel internally but also how we are perceived externally, and they enable people to attempt to categorize one another.
Related to this categorization, in The Pleasures of Taxonomy, Rebecca Earle describes casta paintings, which are a sort of reactionary movement to the intermixing and mingling of races. Earle explains how in eighteenth-century Mexico, “one [was] confronted by species that do not fit into any established genus, or that seem to belong to several at once” (Earle 427); in other words, the racial mixing that occurred led to complicated social hierarchies, and casta paintings were an attempt to make sense of them. Both Kinney and Earle, though tackling vastly different times and places, point to the same fact: how we look affects how we exist.
After these readings, I realized that the assumptions people make are not limited to being based off only race or gender, but also their hood. Just as “caste was a language for discussing an individual’s place within… society” (Earle 434), so too are hoods. Clothes have the possibility to indicate social status, allegiances or “branding” (Kinney 103), and economic standing. However, regardless of whether those indications are true or not, people will judge us for it. As Kinney states, “etymologies don’t have to be true to have real consequences for people and places” (Kinney 98).
In this case, with everyone dressed up, my cousins and I probably made a certain impression – a better impression than usual – on those we passed by. However, in the larger context of the situation – in a different environment, acting casual and informal – our appearances were humbled. The juxtaposition of our fancy clothes and the unceremonious environment breaks the categories described by Kinney and Earle. Suddenly, we became uncategorizable.
I imagine that my brother felt there was something very genuine about the scenario. I know my cousins, and seeing them all costumed up, I know that that isn’t them. It’s a pretense, a hood put on for the sake of fitting the dress code of a formal event, and I think my brother wanted to tear off that hood by capturing the realness of who they are: at that moment, just some kids eating tacos. I understood it, though I struggle to articulate it. So often, we put on hoods that hide who we really are, but there are moments like this one where we aren’t hiding, we’re just being. And I’m glad my brother convinced us to sit on the curb that day. It felt real.
I’ll be returning for tacos soon.
Earle, Rebecca. “The Pleasures of Taxonomy: Casta Paintings, Classifications, and Colonialism.” The William and Mary Quarterly 73.3 (2016): 427-66. Web.
Kinney, Alison. Hood. New York: Bloomsbury Academic, 2016. Print.