Immersion & Honoring Family

We started off Taco Literacy today with a quick view of a taco map from Eater New YorkThe piece is written by Robert Sietsema, who will be our visitor on April 13th. This quote beginning of the piece speaks about how Mexican food has become popular in NYC over the last 30 years, eclipsing pizza as the NYC food:

Tacos have nearly taken over from slices of pizza as the culinary backbone of New York City. Over the last three decades we’ve learned to love the southern Mexican style of two corn tortillas flopped over a meaty filling, sprinkled with onions and cilantro. But other types of tacos have flown in the window, too, reminding us of the days when all we had were hardshells. (Sietsema)

The three decades speaks to the migration of Mexican folks to NYC, and also how the Mexican food has become ubiquitous across the five boroughs. Sietsema will have more to say about this when he comes to hang out with us next week. I can’t wait!

But back to class, and with a look back to the weekend, Easter Sunday. On Sunday, President Trump offered tweets about DACA, immigration, and, of course, Mexico. Seth Meyers describes it well here below.

After watching this, we spoke about how the rhetoric about migration and Mexican folks constantly dehumanizes the people who have become political pawns–for both major parties. The comments about DACA are most disheartening, and about the blame game. The truth is that both parties of have used the immigrant communities for partisan blame. What this rhetoric does to communities, however, can be dangerous, particularly when the voices become internalized.

We turned from this, then, to think about funds of knowledge and honoring the cultural wealth of immigrant families. The short film Immersion gives us much to think about. The film portrays what the implementation of Proposition 227, the “English for the Children” law in California looked like. In the film, Moises prepares to take an exam in English, though he is still learning English, or he is an emergent bilingual student.

As we reflected on the film, several of the students in the class could identify with some of the struggles of Moises, and how he felt when his literacies were on display among classmates. Indeed, Moises experiences bullying and humiliation in front of his classmates. This is troubling, as Moises is one of the most gifted students in his class, and his ability to solve math problems far outshines his classmates who are English dominant. As students spoke about their own experiences, we began to think further about how family becomes central for the strength Moises has, in his belief in himself, and also his reasons for success.

For us, the telling scene about this happens in the first scene. At the kitchen table.

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This space, this kitchen space, is a place of care for the family, where they come together, where they share food, stories, triumphs, trials, and, most importantly love. For Moises, this is the space where he feels most comfortable, and where he has support. This contrasts with his experience at school.

Turning to Moises, we can see how schools might use a kind of dehumanizing rhetoric to compel him to turn against his parents, to blame his failures on his parents. This is quite dangerous. Rather, we can imagine how Moises might look up to his parents, and how schools could cultivate these funds of knowledge. In Moises’s case, imagine him taking a class where he could honor the foodways of his family. That is, what if taco literacy were available to him! I could imagine, and, I admit, students like Moises are my motivation for teaching this class, for sharing his experiences, and for honoring the gifts he brings to classrooms.

By the way, in 2016, California voters repealed he English-Only law.

We finished the class briefly turning to “Appraising Tacos” focusing on a quote from James, the manager at Supernova. He says of the Mexicano staff at the restaurant:

You know, every, to me it’s almost disgraceful to, here, not take the food as seriously as it needs to be taken, for the fact that I have twelve women on my staff that are here five days a week, hour after hour, on their feet hand pressing tortillas … They, the heart, you know, they make this place go … [The kitchen staff is] it’s you know ninety-nine percent Latinos and they they’ve all been here a lot longer than me. Um you know it’s something it’s something that like you know, they’re doing this major volume of prep but they also know that it’s quality ingredients and quality food … [they care about it], and it shows. (Duncan 34)

From this quote, we can see how Duncan did a disservice to her research by not speaking to the 12 women on the staff James mentions. The 99% Latino kitchen staff is noticeably absent in the piece, and this is a problem. The folks in back of the restaurant are never part of the discussion of “authenticity” or the story of the restaurant for that matter. Rather, they are the labor that runs the restaurant, the hidden labor. And those folks have lives, children, hopes, dreams, and, yes, dignity. All labor has dignity. And if anything we see that in those domestic spaces in Immersion where family finds resilience in one another despite the hardships they face in the outside world. For us, it’s important to remember that for foodways, the food is central, but the people who share the food are the most important, and the stories they tell are the knowledge we honor and learn from.

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