Reading #TacoLiteracy in Kentucky

We started off class today welcoming the students from the High School for Community Leadership to #TacoLiteracy at St. John’s. The students all connected with one another on Instagram and got to know one another.

I began with a quick reminder about Planet Taco and introduced some of the themes that emerge in the book. With Taco USA, we are examining the history of Mexican food in the USA, Pilcher’s Planet Taco examines the global history of Mexican food, beginning with the history in Mexico, and moving further to how mass-produced Americanized Mexican food spread globally. I noted how transnationalism becomes a major theme in the book. Transnationalism is a way to theorize about movement between nations, and the cultural manifestations of this kind of movement. An important idea to consider is to think about how people form and forge connections across nations, across vast spaces. Food of course is one way people maintain transnational ties, but also in languages, and through telecommunications among others.

On that note, we took a look at the homepage of Roads and Kingdoms.

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The site, we noticed, looked like what we could design on WordPress. We noted the use of images, the layout of images and text, and also the placement of pages for navigation. We decided that we could use some of the literacies we are practicing with WordPress to become published writers. With the example of this particular venue, we should consider that a team of writers work for the publication, and different writers produce different content. But something to notice with Roads and Kingdoms is that some of the content is transnational too, like the city guides from around the globe:

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Which, then, leads us to consider how digital publishing means that the team of writers could be stationed all over the world, and that the digital realm is a place for these folks to meet across time zones and distant places. This is one aspect of digital media that fosters transnational ties, and important to note in terms of how it relates to cultural movement and how people maintain connections across and between nations.

From there, we picked up where we ended last class, with a look at Mexican food in Mexico City on Roads and KingdomsA History of Mexico City in 10 dishes. We quickly surveyed some of the multicultural varieties of global foods in Mexico City, including Korean food.

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As the article notes, some of the best restaurants in Mexico City are in Colonia Juarez, the Koreatown of the capital, or what they describe as the “Seoul of the City” What this speaks to is the transnational immigrant communities that have influenced Mexican food, from both Europe and Asia. Like the US, Mexico is a nation of immigrants, but also we must remember, a nation that historically has a long indigenous history. As Pilcher discusses the history of social struggles for the identity of Mexican food comes with recognizing this indigenous past, aspects of labor, racial exclusion, and social class distinctions, though without sometimes taking note of the present conditions of indigenous communities.

We ended class with a close-reading of an essay by a former Taco Literacy student in Kentucky, Dory Caloca. We read Dory’s essay, “Una Platica Con Mi Madre.” In the piece, we follow along Dory as she interviews her mother Areceli about her thoughts regarding food and culture. Dory’s family comes from the state of Puebla, like many Mexican folks in NYC. Her “platica” or “chat” with her mom examined some of her ideas about food and cultural differences in the USA. Some of the points Araceli made about fast food and US culture are important to consider, especially some of the conflicts that individuals can have about food for maintaining traditions, but also succumbing to the dominant eating patterns in the new nation.

Araceli gave some great quotes, which Dory used to build PIE paragraphs. Here’s a good example:

La comida de mi región es sencillamente fabulosa. Muy rica. Yo soy del estado de Puebla. Muy famoso el mole poblano. Me lo enseno elabora mi madre. Y tiene un sabor muy especial que hasta hora es uno de los mejores moles que yo he comido. Y lo hago. Y elaborado de nuestros antepasados con todos sus condimentos, lleva 16 especies. Combinado con chile, son 5 chiles.

[The food from my region is simply fabulous. Very yummy. I am from the state of Puebla. Very famous for their mole poblano. My mother taught me how to prepare it. And it has a very special flavor that to this day is one of the best moles I that have eaten. And I make it. And prepared from our ancestors with all their ingredients, it contains 16 spices. Combined with peppers, they are 5 peppers.]

The quote from Araceli is in Spanish, which Dory translated in brackets. We read the quote together in class, with Pricilla handling the Spanish for us. We noted what Araceli mentions about “ancestors” and cooking mole poblano: “Y lo hago. Y elaborado de nuestros antepasados con todos sus condimentos, lleva 16 especies” (And I make it. And prepared from our ancestors with all their ingredients, it contains 16 spices). We stopped to take think about what she meant by ancestry. We had a good discussion to think about tradition, about passing knowledge down, as a way to think about family, care and community, and also as a way to remember culture. This is all true, but we also considered how the preparation of the food is also a way to honor those who came before us, to share a present in the food that links folks across time and space. Sound familiar? That’s also transnational in a way, but for us, how this food connects Araceli with her family in Puebla as she prepares it in Kentucky with her daughter. No doubt, the food will change, but the food is also one way to maintain traditions across nations. The same can happen to language as well.

The worst case, though, can be the loss of one’s home language as an immigrant, and also the loss of foods. In Dory’s article, she referenced that her mother won a mole cooking contest in Kentucky. The proud daughter also included an image of the victory as reported in La Voz de Kentucky, a bilingual newspaper.

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There’s a great quote from Araceli in the next-to-last paragraph:

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We came to a country that is used to eating fast food. Each day it is more difficult to conserve our traditions and teach our children about the food from our country.

This aspect about fast food contrasts to the “slow” food Araceli described about the links to ancestry in her mole poblano. We can also detect some of the struggles of parents who struggle to impact the pride, dignity, and heritage of foodways to children who are growing up in a different context, and in a context that values a different kind of eating experience. Fast food, we discussed, has elements of the economy that structure the experience, including mass production, marketing, disposability, and the like. But, as we thought about Pilcher’s Planet Taco, we had to also think about labor.

We ended with a discussion about labor in fast food, and why working fast food appeals to young folks. Flexibility is one thing pointed out by Natalie. On that, I asked, “flexible for whom?” That is, flexibility serves the employer too, especially in terms of having a disposable workforce, who work for minimum wages, and who would not be likely to form a collective union.

Oh, there’s so much more to that, but we ran out of time. Next time, to Planet Taco!

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