"I am an idealistic, naive, passionate, truth-seeking, spiritually motivated artist, unschooled in the science of law and finance." --Wesley Snipes

Tuesday, February 03, 2004

Crispy Tacos and the Politics of Cultural Identity

Rosengarten writes in his big book, something like: in Mexico, a taco is a soft tortilla wrapped around meat. In the U.S., however, the word "taco" brings to mind a crisp-fried half moon, etc.

I would add, filled with iceberg lettuce, tomatoes, ground beef, and yellow cheese.
And there's nothing wrong with that.

As a kid, I always thought that we (my family and I) ate Mexican food. We, were, after all, "Mexicans" right? "Mexican" was an ethnic and cultural category that had little to do with where one was born or what country one was a citizen of, but with who one's parents were, and what language they spoke, and whether or not someone in the immediate family made fresh tortillas everyday, and whether your beans came from a can or not. Mexican identity was also inextricably bound with "Catholic"--so even now, some 20 years after rejecting Roman Catholicism, and discovering in its place, oddly, Marcella Hazan and Classic Italian Cooking, my mother still refers to me as a Catholic and a Mexican, no matter that I'm an agnostic American with two American parents. And I can barely speak Spanish.

So what do Anglophone Catholic Mexicans living in small Pacific Northwest logging towns eat?

Tacos. The crispy-fried kind. It's only recently that I've come to realize that what I grew up eating was not Mexican food, per se, but Tex-Mex, or border food. Gooey cheese and green onion enchiladas, chile colorado, chiles rellenos (anaheims--from a can!--stuffed with jack cheese and covered in egg batter), crispy fried half-moon tacos, tostadas, quesadillas, fresh flour tortillas every day, fresh refried beans, sopa seca de fideos, and very occasionally, red rice. On holidays and special occasions, Gramma would whip up a batch of fresh corn tortillas, but only rarely, and only under duress.

I never ate a burrito until my first visit to Taco Bell, and then, later, at multiple street corners in San Diego.

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