Thus far I have looked at Mexican food from many perspectives and the ways it has influenced the United States. From the history of cheese and nachos, to holy tortillas, exploring the best Mexican food Lexington has to offer, as well as Skyping with Gustavo Arellano, I can say that I have covered a lot of ground in my Taco Literacy adventure. And it hasn’t stopped there!
Recently I conducted an interview with a University of Kentucky student. He generously volunteered to meet with me and another Taco Crew member to chat about his experiences within Mexican culture and with its food. His name is Fabian Leon. He is a freshman studying Ag Bio-tech and is involved with the Latin Student Union. He calls Nicholasville his home in the Bluegrass, but Guanajuato his home in Mexico. He and his family have always lived on a farm, much like his grandparents who own a farm in Mexico. Fabian and his family have moved and moved often, always maintaining the rural farm-life they enjoy. Fabian was born in Bakersfield, California but soon moved to Guanajuato, Mexico where he went to pre-school. Georgetown, KY was their next stop; his Father found a job at the Toyota plant. Finally they settled in Nicholasville, KY where they remain today.
Fabian considers himself a “first generation American“. He is fluent in Spanish but his appearance belies his Mexican roots. According to Fabian, “the only Spanish [he] really learned was either in preschool or hearing his parents talk around the house”. It was soon after preschool he left for Kentucky, where native speakers are few and far between. Even so, he is fluent by his families influence or otherwise. Today, his parents still prefer Spanish and use it in communication with him. Though they have lived in the states awhile, his dad’s English is limited.
One question Seohee, my partner for the interview, asked: “What is your favorite holiday?” He responded Christmas, because they go back to stay with their family in Mexico and enjoy a lot of traditional Mexican food! Fabian said that one of his favorite Mexican dishes is pozole. This dish is mentioned in many of the books we have read. In one of those books, Planet Taco, by Jeffery Pilcher, he describes pozole as “a hominy stew, flavored with meat and chili” (Pilcher, 61). Generally, pozole is made for very special occasions, like for Christmas in the Leon household. Christmas is overwhelmingly the favorite holiday in the United States, probably for the same reason Fabian finds the holiday so special. During Christmas, many families come together, cooking and eating special family foods, for cultural reasons or otherwise. This is one commonality between American and Mexican culture: we like food and family. Christmas is the Favorite Holiday
Some of Fabian’s other favorite foods are tamales and tacos. As Fabian mentioned, he isn’t very picky and loves everything spicy, especially those dishes containing lime, salt, or chili. Another one of his favorite dishes is menudo, a beef tripe soup. Fabian also let us in on a secret. He mentioned Menudo as a great hangover cure and that Tortilleria y Taqueria Ramirez has the best around! Arellano talks about the power of menudo in Taco USA:
… Mexicans and Americans, fighting arguing but ultimately accepting each other, in the comfort of breakfast, lunch and dinner. The greatest apostles of Mexican food in this country haven’t been Mexicans but rather Americans who, having tasted from the bread of life that is a steaming taco, a pot of menudo or a oil-wrapped burrito, sought to proclaim its gospel with every new unearthing (Arellano, 7)
So apart from the great taste and the hangover cure remedy, menudo can also be a national mediator.
Seohee and I also asked Fabian what he thought about Tex-Mex food, or those restaurants serving it like Cinco de Mayo or Rincon. He said he will go there with his friends and eat, but much better Mexican-style food can be had at home from his mother’s kitchen. He also added that a lot of the foods had at those restaurants aren’t spicy enough for his liking. When asked what he thought about Local Taco as a spinoff from traditional tacos he said, “Local Taco is over-glorified,” and doesn’t like them at all. To that point he stressed their inauthenticity, and how different they are from tacos he is accustomed to. One piece of advice he offered Local Taco: hire some Mexican workers for the kitchen to teach them a thing or two about real Mexican cuisine.
An interesting quote in Taco USA introduces the topic of how Mexican food infiltrated American culture and how it is an ambassador to the US.
We’ve had generations of American who scarf down tacos and burritos like previously generations forked through chicken pot pies and ate pastrami no rye. And that is just the United States: as globalization sets in, so does Mexican food. Mexican restaurants operate across Europe, in Turkey, in Nepal and Addis Ababa… Sometimes it’s Mexicans who run these restaurants; many times its American expats. Sometimes the locals dine there, but its often American tourists who patronize the places, seeking a taste of home. It is too easy to say Mexican food is an all- American food: to say as much is to ignore the tortured relationship between Mexicans and their adopted country. But Mexican food is as much of an ambassador for the United States as the hot dog, whether each country wants to admit it or not. (Arellano, 165)
This is a different way to look at how Mexican food has come into the Unites States and made its own mark on the US. They also help the immigrants or Mexicans living in the US and other countries around the world, find a little slice of home. This quote also addresses how poorly the Mexican people were treated by the Europeans and the people of “New Europe.” It is funny that some people consider Mexican food American because we have adopted so much of what they do in our food and eating styles.
I had to ask Fabian what his take on cheese was since it was recently on my mind from the last assignment and the symposium. He agreed with Sra. Pati’s comments made in class pertaining to cheese, and said that cheese is used more in Tex than Mex. Fabian said that his family uses a lot of queso fresco and mozzarella, but not others. They don’t have many variations when it comes to cheese. Also, he said when people think about Mexican cheeses and the bountiful variations they are usually confusing Mexico with Spain and Spanish cheeses. In Planet Taco, Pilcher reiterates the same. He mentions “cheese” throughout the book, but these references are to “cheese” from the Europeans or “cheese” for an inauthentic meal (Pilcher). Much to my surprise, I learned that Fabian does enjoy the Tex-Mex queso dip. He compares it to his own family’s bean dip, a dip of beans with melted queso fresco on top.
Fabian had a lot to say about Mexican food and its influences on the US. And he likes it! He just wishes that places like Local Taco would find greater authenticity and attempt to follow some of the age-old traditions. He wishes the dinning halls at UK be more open to international cultural foods and provide more options for him. Does he expect dishes like cabeza and lengua tacos? Not really. But an option for corn tortillas and beans would be nice. Slowly but surely Mexican food is finding a route deeper into American culture, into ever nook and cranny, changing the way Americans eat and view food.