Crossing My Own Borders

Just moments ago, I wrote an email to a friend that included a comment about tamales. I said “…my tamales do not compare to those made by little old Mexican grandmothers whose recipes for pork and jalapeño tamales involve lard and magic.” I think, with that comment, I hit on a truth many people do not fully understand. The finest Christmas Eve tamales do, indeed, require equal measures of lard and magic, woven together during tamaladas, (tamale-making parties).  As I contemplate the rich Mexican and Mexican-American cultures that gave rise to tamaladas and Christmas Eve tamales, I realize I am part of Mexican-American culture, despite not being Mexican-American. In spite of my English ancestry, I think I embrace Mexican and Mexican-American culture as fully as, if not more fully than, my own. I grew up eating arroz con camarones, arroz con pollo, calabacitas, tamales, chiles rellenos, and a variety of other foods either inspired or created by people of Mexican ancestry. But it’s not just the food. I love the traditions, even the ones that rest on religious foundations, like Dia de los Muertos. The fierce attachment to family that I see in Mexican culture appeals to me, too. And the generosity and kindness that seems firmly rooted in Mexican culture draws me in. I realize, of course, that generalizations and stereotypes have plenty of exceptions, but in a broad sense I think Mexican culture is gentler and more willing to embrace diversity in almost every area than is the culture of the U.S.

I’ve written before, possibly many times, about the connection I feel with the U.S./Mexico border. Though I understand some possibilities that might explain that connection, I do not claim to know, with any certainty, the genesis of my affinity. This morning, as I sat contemplating my appreciation for Mexican and Mexican-American cultures, I searched my blog to see how many posts here include the term “Mexican.” I was surprised that nearly three percent (2.7449%, actually) of my posts include that word; 58 of 2113 posts. That must reveal something. I just don’t know precisely what. And what is the meaning of the fact that 1.8% of my posts contain the word “Indian?” I don’t know that, either.

On Christmas day three years ago (and probably before and since), I wrote about Mexican-Indian fusion. I even proffered names of a storefront chaat-taqueria I might open one day. Here are two of them:

  • Taqueria Mumbai
  • Chana Tijuana

I think food drives my brain. And this tells me I must include foods, favorite foods, in my writing if I am ever to be successful as a writer. So, I taught myself something this morning.

About John Swinburn

"Love not what you are but what you may become."― Miguel de Cervantes
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2 Responses to Crossing My Own Borders

  1. Beautifully written, Juan, You keep adding elements to your books. I can see a scene in a book of tamaladas and of course, you’d have a section that includes recipes. It will be a best seller across cultures. It’s things like this that closes the culture gaps. Go Juan, go!

  2. Teresa says:

    Ya know, those “little old Mexican grandmothers” are now probably younger than you, dear. 😉

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