Ritual, Ceremony, & Searching for Origins

Before we started class, I gave a quick reminder that next time we will have a guest, Robert Sietsema, editor of Eater NYFor me, it’s such an honor that he will be visiting, and I’m looking forward to what he can teach us about Mexican food in NYC. He knows a great deal about Mexican food in NYC, and, I suspect, has tried just about every taco in the five boroughs–and he knows where you can find some of the best ones. In fact, I joined Gustavo Arellano and him on a taco tour last year, and his taco literacy blew me away. Here’s a little more about Profe Sietsema from Wikipedia.

Before beginning class with further discussion about Our Sacred Maíz Is Our Mother, I brought in some treats to share, some treats that I reckoned folks might have been scared to try: chapulines, or grasshoppers. Ariana got a good shot of these:


Melts in your mouth, not in your mano. We had some daring folks who tried them, and some who preferred not to. For those who did, they earned the envy of their classmates. I think Cindy was the winner eating two. As for the reactions of the gente, check out #tacoliteracy to get their reviews. Note: they didn’t taste like pollo.

Next up, we pulled open Instagram to follow Profe Cintli, @dr_cintli.

This image above is great. If you’re not sure what a “pocho” is, here’s the definition from Urban Dictionary:

Pocho means americanized Mexican, or Mexican who has lost their culture. (Which largely refers to losing the Spanish.)It is a derogatory term can be someone who’s trying to “act white” but it has been largely embraced by Chicanos with a sense of defeatist humor – We’re pochos, y que? – so that it’s actually becoming more playful than bitter. Kind of like, among blacks, “Whas up Nigga“.

The tension over pocho/non-pocho can trace back to Mexican history and LaMalinche who was a traitor to the indigenous Aztecs and birthed the first mestizo – hence the Mexican insult Hijo de La Chingada. Mexican philosopher Octavio Paz wrote extensively on this theme.

Mexican sees a Chicano stuttering out his Spanish and thinks to himself – pocho – what an embarrassment.

This notion of Pocho can also be something we see in relation to losing one’s roots, or in the case of Our Sacred Maíz Is Our Mother, the loss of Indigeneity. For Pochos, for Mexican American folks who have lost touch with their Mexican roots, this is a double recovery, recovering those lost roots, and further the Indigenous roots that have been denied before that. As we discussed later, we had to consider how being Indigenous was something that had social impositions to deny. Dr. Cintli definitely steers us in this direction, but he also gives us the tools to decolonize this mindset, to return to ways of honoring land, ancestors, ceremonies, and our relationships with one another.

The power of recovery is also a power of learning about our shared paths, together, juntos. Dr. Cintli has been important for the movement for Mexican American Studies (MAS) in Tucson, where he teaches at the U of Arizona (where I graduated with my BAs). The struggle there has been one to include a course that would be beneficial for all students, like taco literacy, but which the state of Arizona considered “dangerous” because it thought students to be critical, or “anti-American” as it were. Yes, we’ve mentioned about how I, too, was accused of being this in previous semesters, which I shared previously. In that case, I guess I’m in good company. The documentary Precious Knowledge explores much of what Dr. Cintli’s book covers, and this clip will give you a glimpse about what education that focuses on critical literacies faces in states that are fearful of students learning dissent.

A powerful part of the film, and which connects directly to Dr. Cintli’s work is the poem “My Other Me” be Luis Valdez. Mr. Acosta, one of the MAS teachers featured in the clip had his students recite the poem at the beginning of each class.

Tú eres mi otro yo.

You are my other me.

Si te hago daño a ti,

If I do harm to you,

Me hago daño a mi mismo.

I do harm to myself.

Si te amo y respeto,

If I love and respect you,

Me amo y respeto yo.

I love and respect myself.

For a video clip of Curtis Acosta beginning a class with this recitation, please visit www.preciousknowledgefilm.com. The sense of seeing yourself in the eyes of other is fundamental to humanizing difference, of building trust, or confianza. This is something I think we also learn through food, of how we build community through difference, but we also acknowledge one another with care, and our ancestors with care, and those who will follow us, to whom we leave our paths. At the center of Profe Cintli’s work, we see this, and also how ceremony can be a way for us to find one another despite how history has worked against us to oppose us to one another.

We can learn, then, through the rituals of food that connect us to our ancestors. For Mexican folks, Profe Cintli turns to the tamalada as one way that Mexican American gente maintain their Indigenous roots through foodways.

Screen Shot 2018-04-10 at 11.09.25 AM.png
Tamalada by Carmen Lomas Garza

According to Profe Cintli, “The tamalada is an event when family and friends gather to make tamales and can last overnight and even two-three days” (220). The tamalada is a group affair, where folks come together to make tamales, to share stories, and to honor one another as a kind of ritual–though not formally like we might be used to in religious rituals. The ritual in this case is in family, but it has the usual kinds of repetition that we’d expect, as it happens following a calendar with defined roles and performances. In the image above, you get an idea how the preparation of tamales is a family affair, one that brings folks together to celebrate one another, linking folks through food.

We watched more of Rodríguez’s documentary Amoxtli San Ce Tojuan, picking up where we left off.

The film shows footage of a powwow drum scene, and here’s another video that gives a further glimpse:

The sons of the drum singers from the Kyiyo Powwow in 2016 offer a glimpse of how ceremony, coming together, and song are ways folks honor their ancestors, one another, and the future generations. Like the tamalada, notice how the folks come together to work in unison. This is a powerful reminder of a different worldview that turns away from individualism, honoring our shared values, struggles and care.

I end this round with another clip of danza, this time by the group Kalpulli KetzalCoatlicue of Minneapolis, Minnesota. Here are the gente performing their dance outside immigration offices in Minnesota.

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