Today is Mexico’s Independence Day and the start of Hispanic Heritage Month. I will be launching a series of blog post to explore my relationship with Mexican and Mexican American culture and food in the next month.
I don't remember how I first learned about Mexico. Maybe it was the first time I heard my grandmother said how much Mexican people love spicy food or watching a Televisa novela or when I studied the Mexican revolution in high school in the Dominican Republic.
I do know when I fail in love with Mexican culture. The moment that I learned how Amerindians or Native Indigenous from Mexico that despite La Conquista Espanola was able to preserve their indigenous language, culture, and foodways in some of the most remote regions of the country. I was jealous. As the Dominican Republic was one of the first Spanish colonies of the New World, we mix racially first, assimilated first, suffer and died early. Today, most Dominicans have forgotten their Amerindian roots and little knowledge survived from that time in history for anthropologist and historians to recover the pieces of a lost society, the Taino people.
This interest led me to go a faculty led trip to Oaxaca, Mexico. Before that, I was be exposed to Mexican and Mexican American culture in the United States by meeting individuals and families from Mexico. This first article is about what I knew as Mexican food and culture before that.
You guess it right. Taco Bell. Ortega.Old El Paso.
As discussed in a previous blog post about the products that made their way into my transnational household in the Dominican Republic. Many of them such as Ortega Crunchy Taco Shells, Old El Paso Taco Salsa, Old Eld Paso Taco Meat Seasoning, and Taco Bell Hot Sauce Packages became known as “Mexican” products in my house. If most Americans do Taco Tuesday, we will do Taco Sundays when recently arrived boxes or travelers from the state's supplies with the “Mexican” goods. The Taco Sundays were welcome and allow for an opportunity for the traditional Dominican dishes to rest. Which I found most surprising about Tacos, is that my grandmother likes them, she craves them even. Any attempt to international cuisine is my household will often be discarded as ridiculous or invento, a weird creation by my traditionalist grandmother. Tacos were different, she will cook the ground beef in a Dominican way using her usual seasonings, plus add the Old Eld Paso Taco Meat Seasoning and perhaps cayenne pepper. My sister and I will diligently chop all the taco toppings such as red onions, tomatoes, cilantro, peppers, lettuce, and display shredded cheddar cheese. Mom will be in charge of toasting the Ortega Crunchy Taco Shells, that sometimes will find there end incinerated by my our desired for crispy and crunchy toasted brown taco shells.
Outside my house, “Mexican” food was interpreted with a Dominican twist. If I were to order Tacos in a food truck in Moca, I would get a white flour tortilla wrapping moist, seasoned shredded chicken, perfectly melted cheddar cheese, drizzled with mayo and ketchup. Food Trucks opened pass dinner time, around 7 pm, and if there were comida en la casa, food in the house, I would rarely get to taste this unique Dominican fast food by La Guira Food Truck sizzling grill.
How did Dominicans interpret the Taco is mostly due to how Americans present it. As Dominicans have transnational mobility and were exposed to what the United States understood, reinvented and branded as “Mexican” food that consequently was transmitted to the Dominican immigrants coming and going from the United States. Is this another way of food imperialism when a group interprets a cuisine, and that interpretation is considered authentic by the next group that receives it? It feels so. At the same time, I am intrigued with how my culture modified the taco to make part of our street food culture, and I am offended of how we bastardized an item of important food culture. Dominicans in the Dominican Republic did not develop this version of Tacos by their exposure to Mexican music and television that was present and normalized in Dominican Culture. As what I knew as Mexican food in Dominican, was never “Mexican” to start, what I knew as “Mexican” food is instead Dominican Mexican American or even more specify Dominican Tex-Mex Food.
Ast the movement of people across cultures has over centuries impact other foodways and increasingly globalized world the exchange of cuisines and foodways is becoming streamline by technology, access to information and more accessible travel. As Mexicans and Dominicans continue to visit and migrate to each other's countries and have a direct exchange of culture and culinary traditions, I do hope to see how a genuinely Dominican Mexican food experience emerges.
In my next blog post, I will reflect on how I experience Mexican food and Tex-Mex food in the United States. If you are Dominican tell me about your Mexican food and Tex-Mex food experiences?