More on Bluegrass Tacos & Mexington, Kentucky

We started class today with the mission for folks in class to follow 100 more folks on Instagram, to build an audience. I made suggestion to look up groups and SJU to follow, but also look for other Mexican foodies who look like they know a thing or two about Mexican food. Also check out some restaurants to follow too.

Today, we returned once more to Mexington, Kentucky. Last time we read an essay by University of Kentucky #tacoliteracy crew member Dory Caloca about her mother, Aracelis. This gave us one way to think about how language, food, and family have affected the ways Dory thinks about her culture and her family’s migration background. Well, it turns out the Southern Foodways Alliance (SFA) also helped to tell Dory and Araceli’s story, along with the story of Tortilleria y Taqueria Ramirez. We listened to the podcast Gravy‘s episode “Bluegrass Tacos” to learn more.

The first part of the podcast tells the story of Laura and Alberto Ramirez, the owners of Tortilleria y Taqueria Ramirez in Kentucky. We were already familiar with them from the film Mexington we watched earlier in class. Listening to their story, we noted several things, both about the content, and also how the story was told using audio.

Zarin pointed out in their story about the use of organic corn to grind for the tortillas, corn from Weisenberger Mill of Midway, Kentucky. Absolutely, this is local corn, famous for grits, but now used to make the masa for tortillas. The freshness of the corn is one of the important aspects of the flavor of the tortillas from the Ramirez folks.

Paige noted that hearing the story opens up the opportunity for listeners to imagine what the scene looks like. Richey rightly pointed out that the amount of production to create this effect is tedious. Yes, very true: the ten minute chapter from the larger episode took hours to complete, with lots of audio material mixed, selected, edited, and then put together. We can think about this like writing too, the amount of time to craft something, the necessary work to create something polished, and also the bits and pieces of work from the field (recordings, sound effects, interviews) being woven together in this project.

One point Alberto mentions is that the “flavors of your homeland make you think of home.” We spoke about how sensory stimulation can transport us to different places, smells, sounds, tastes, but also how music can do this, photographs too, and, of course, food. Without sight in this podcast, we focused on the story with our remaining senses, and this seemed to heighten our sense of identification with the folks in the story. A few people spoke about the way that hearing someone’s voice can help us to imagine someone’s character, to create a greater depth of empathy. Cindy mentioned she felt this in the second part of the episode that focuses on the story of Dory.

We read Dory’s story, but hearing it was something different. First, we were all impressed at how Aracelis spoke of her commitment of passing on culture through food, but we also learned more about how she negotiated diet with her children, who liked to eat fast food, things like frozen chicken patties. We read this in Dory’s essay but hearing Dory’s voice and her mother created a greater sense of empathy, according to the students. Soannie said she felt she was in the kitchen with the mother and daughter as they were cooking–picturing in her head the steps of cooking, using the cues from podcast to create a scene in her head.

All this was great and reinforces the point about the power of storytelling, but how stories can create different impacts in different media. The stories of foodways, of people through food, can find different outlets in different media, and this is also important because this also highlights the human element. This is particularly important when we understand about the foodways of immigrant folks, and also to counter rhetorics that seek to dehumanize any people. When we hear the stories of everyday folks from their mouths, with their voices, we can hear ourselves, we can hear that shared element of difference that is understandable, that translates across all languages. Through stories, we celebrate the dignity of all lives and lived experiences, and our capacity to feel empathy. That’s part of the “care” I mentioned in the podcast.

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