Today we kicked off class with some #TamalLiteracy with this map of regional tamales of Mexico.
The map gives us an indication of the diversity of tamales in Mexico, and where corn-wrapped tamales become wrapped in banana leaves toward the south. There are so many varieties, and getting an idea what they look like is helpful with Instagram. We checked out the tamales zacahuiles, and we found these enormous tamales:
These are not common to find in restaurants in NYC, of course but you might find them at private fiestas or celebrations. Because they are large, the are prepared for social gatherings to be shared among all. We also determined that the kinds of tamales we can find in NY tell us about the regional traditions of folks where they migrate from in Mexico. My recommendation for the class was to seek out Oaxacan tamales, as they are found all over NYC.
We turned to Arellano again, and moved toward chocolate, vanilla, and also back to Taco Bell. But we took an interesting turn when we spoke about how food and cultures have mixed over time. The example of the Virgen of Guadalupe came up in the first chapter of Arellano’s book, and as a reminder, we recounted that story.
But that’s only part of the story, perhaps the “master narrative.” The counter narrative to this is that the Virgen was imposed by the Spanish as a way to conquer the indigenous folks through faith, or to re-apply their faith for the goddess Coatlicue for Guadalupe.
Coatlicue becomes Guadalupe:
This artwork above captures the syncretism that gives rise to what scholars describe as “mestizaje” or mixture. This, then, also happens with food. This is how we also have to approach ideas of “authenticity” that look to “pure” forms of foods. Because such purity doesn’t exist, and history tells us that mixture is what makes what we perceive historically as having a fictional “original.” The historical view in Taco USA helps us to get around what we take for granted, and to think about how things came to be over time. We saw this especially with Taco Bell and how it emerged over time.
There’s more about conquest to add to the above . . . but we will return. For now, what about burritos?
Yes, we also spoke about burritos more. According to Arellano, they emerge near the US-Mexico border, and they become more of an American Mexican food creation that was unrecognizable to some Mexicanos from further south in the country. Arellano points to the major players for what we understand as the burrito today, focusing on versions in San Francisco:
This is to say, the flour tortilla is the basis for the burrito. More to come about tortilla literacy later this semester. But, in advance of that:
We ended class with a rough Mexican food in the USA timeline, which we are still working on. Here’s where we are so far:
1838: Mexican indigenous knowledge of how to pollenate vanilla learned outside of Mexico.
1848: US-Mexico war, Mexico loses 2/3 of territory to USA. Mexicans in conquered territory become US citizens, but also the Mexican American becomes an identity.
1850: Artificial vanilla created chemically, for further export.
1890s: Heights of the street tamale vendors.
1910s: Mexican revolution.
1917s: Tamale vendors no longer able to sell legally
1940-60s: Braceros in the USA. Burritos become popularized.
1962: Taco Bell, rise of fast food, also McDonalds same time.
1970s: Sit-down Mexican restaurants and chains begin to form.
2018: Taco literacy. Yeah, we’re in the timeline!