“Pan de Arroz”, NAFTA, and Instagram

More fun on Instagram today at #TacoLiteracy. We started class off practicing our photography skills. With some help from Vallecito Bakery in Queens.

Class brought to you by. . . #tacoliteracy

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I purchased 12 of these pastries, empanadas filled with rice pudding, or arroz con leche. I have never researched these types of pastries, so I thought who better than with the taco literacy crew to find out more. The woman working at the bakery called the bread “pan de arroz” or rice bread. She explained that this was “pan typico” de Mexico. I mentioned that in northern Mexico, where my family is from, we don’t eat these. She explained that there are variations in bread from all over Mexico, and sometimes the same breads are called different names. She, like me, believes this arroz con leche empanada is from Puebla. More to come on this!

The students are on it! Practicing the hashtag, archiving our research, and learning where the heck this delicious pan comes from.

#tacoliteracy arroz con leche filled pastry 😋

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Btw, class meets at 9am, so the sugar was in order to get us on to the reading, which covered some heavy topics about trade in the Americas.
One last Instagram activity: On Instagram, we also began to follow more folks, including Gustavo Arellano, whose book Taco USA we will begin reading for next class. We also followed Tracie McMillan, whose article “How NAFTA Changed American (and Mexican) Food Forever.” McMillan’s article examined how the geopolitics of trade in the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) have ripple effects down to the food we eat and our health. McMillan also examined the paradox by which goods and capital move with less regulation, whereas the policing of bodies and labor increases. As corn conglomerates in the US flooded Mexico (the birthplace of corn), this destabilized the Mexican economy, and pushed many subsistence corn farmers to migrate, first to cities, then the United States–sometimes to the same corn farms abroad that displaced them in Mexico. At this time, new destinations began to emerge for Mexican immigrants to the USA, New York City being one, as well as locations in the US South, like Kentucky for example. I also pointed out, as an aside, NAFTA went into effect close to the 500th anniversary of Columbus’s “discovery” of the New World. Rather than discover, of course, Europe actually invented the new world, and also opened up routes of trade and transnational capitalism across the Atlantic Ocean.

This sense of trade and the movement of people is what I dwelled on with students. Since many of these students are English majors, I brought it back to literature. I made the analogy to Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath. What happened to Los Joads when they lost their family farm to corporate farms? They migrated, they became seasonal agricultural workers.

McMillan’s article also speaks to the rise of supermarkets in Mexico, as well as a high fructose corn syrup diet in Mexico as a result of NAFTA. Further, McMillan touches on the subject of farm labor, and a report by the US Department of Agriculture (USDA). We did some research to find that the minimum wage in Mexico is around $4/day. That’s a day. Doing the math, students figured that folks making the minimum wage in the US (well, those few who make $15/hour anyway) can make in a single day what would take workers in Mexico an entire month. This aspect of labor must put into perspective those agricultural workers who follow seasonal crops. Seasonal agricultural workers are not only in the United States, and neither are corporate farms that cover large tracts of land.

McMillan gives us this quote:

While the USDA report discusses immigration and guest worker programs, it does not address the disconnect between improved attention to produce without a corresponding attention to workers’ welfare. As a recent Los Angeles Times investigation of Mexican farms growing tomatoes bound for the U.S. market found, “The contrast between the treatment of produce and of people is stark.”

Students focused on that quote from the LA Times. Probing that further, we found that the products were treated better than people, or that people were treated not as well as products to be sold. This way of thinking about movement, of products without restrictions, but the heavy policing on the bodies that produce the labor, and the wealth of the transnational agriculture industry.

We ended class with students embedding their Instagram feeds to their WordPress sites. For help with that, here’s a tutorial on YouTube that can offer some assistance.

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