Miles Morales and his mom Rio just moved into a new apartment in Harlem. There’s still a lot to unpack in their rooms, and you can learn so much about them by looking around and examining their possessions. But the living room and kitchen are all put together, and Rio is going all-out to prepare a big Christmas dinner for herself, Miles, and a few family friends. It’s a heartwarming scene where you have to do a few chores like put on some music, light the Christmas tree, and make sure Ganke cleans up the damn mess he made spilling soup on the rug. What’s most important here is that it’s a rich display of culture, language, and food that celebrates the Morales’ Puerto Rican heritage.
Anyone who has played Spider-Man: Miles Morales will remember this part of the game–not necessarily for the fact that Miles has to get the power back on by using his Spidey skills while no one’s looking, but because it draws you into a cozy winter vibe of a snow-covered New York City. It’s a powerful moment of character building–you hear Miles and Rio speak Spanish to each other and you can see the Puerto Rican cuisine prepared and being cooked. It’s an invitation to see Miles’ Boricua roots first hand, and a striking piece of representation for those who share Boricua roots or relate through other Latin-American cultures, all over a nice dinner for the holidays. And for me, after I spoke to my mom to let her know I couldn’t come home for Christmas this year, these moments in the game became much more bittersweet.
As I walked through that scene, it reminded me of home and my mom, a reflection of the 20-plus years in the past I spent with her during Christmastime. Rio is on the phone speaking Spanish while she’s cooking, just like how my mom would talk gossip in Tagalog over the phone with my aunties, acting like I wouldn’t understand what she was saying. Some of the food you see on the counter and being cooked closely resembles Filipino dishes I always had growing up, too.
Through our collective histories, Filipinos and Latin-American folks of the diaspora share a sort of kinship. Centuries of Spanish colonialism have reshaped our languages, cultures, and food.
Empanadas, which are also a Filipino staple, are ready on a plate. Rice with sunbeds, like the number of rice dishes we share across cultures, is ready to serve. Pastry are wrapped up just like add up, and several more were boiling in the pot–just the sight of banana leaves in food prep gets me hyped up. You also see Rio frying platanos like we would use for turon. A plate of milk flan makes it to the table as well. There is even ham in the oven, which is essentially sucker for Filipinos–a slow-roasted pork with crispy oily skin and fatty tender meat underneath. I could almost smell and taste everything being cooked. It felt like I had lived in that small apartment before.
Through our collective histories, Filipinos and Latin-American folks of the diaspora share a sort of kinship. Centuries of Spanish colonialism have reshaped our languages, cultures, and food. Filipinos have an odd place within Asian-American identity where we sometimes share more in common with Latin-American cultures than other Asians. The similar climates of our motherlands have also influenced our culinary traditions. The most common Filipino language, Tagalog, integrates several Spanish words and phrases. Catholicism runs deep in the Philippines. It’s somewhat common knowledge for those of us in the United States who have strong ties to our heritage and live in diverse communities, and something I was always privy to growing up in the largely Mexican community of Southeast San Diego.
Of course, in the case of Rio Morales and her being Puerto Rican, it’s a distinct culture that’s being represented and celebrated in Spider-Man: Miles Morales. The parallels on display and connections I made in the dinner scene brought me back home immediately, though. At first, playing through this part was heartwarming. Going back to it now, after cancelling my holiday plans with my mom, it’s different. It made me realize how much I wanted to see my mom, to feel like a teenager again, excited for my mom’s cooking and watching her put it all together like she’s her own superhero.
I had so many emotional moments with games in 2020. My favorite franchises hit all new heights that I did not expect, and to keep it real, this year is probably the most I’ve cried because of games. Persona 5 Royal, Yakuza: Like a Dragon, Final Fantasy XIV 5.3, and Final Fantasy VII Remake were all unforgettable and hit me right in my feelings–like, I’d lay down and stare at my ceiling to process my emotions for hours. It’s probably also this lockdown that got me (and many of us) like this. But these specific moments in Spider-Man: Miles Morales affected me on a more personal level, and they hit differently now that I know I can’t be home for the holidays.
I could almost smell and taste everything being cooked. It felt like I had lived in that small apartment before.
It’s a weird feeling. I don’t know if replaying this part of the game made me sad, happy, nostalgic, or comforted–probably all of those things combined. I don’t know if it puts me at ease because it’s such an incredible piece of representation that I can relate to on some level, or if I’m just gutted given the real-life situation. Regardless, I’m glad this game exists and did it for the culture.
I always enjoyed this time of year; the food we’d have and the way my mom would decorate the apartment, and the excitement for even the littlest gifts come Christmas day. We’d sing traditional Filipino Christmas songs in high school and make parol as a class project. I’d be on break from school or take time off from work and binge a ton of games in my backlog. But as a youngin, you just kind of expect it every year. As I get older, I’ve slowly come to terms with the fact that these moments are fleeting and you never know how much time you really have left. My family is all too familiar with medical tragedies, and they’ve loomed even larger under a global pandemic. I know to cherish the time I can share with them, and Spider-Man: Miles Morales was at least another stark reminder of that.
I hope you’re all having as good a holiday as possible. Merry Christmas! Feliz Navidad! Happy Holidays!