Thursday, March 17, 2005

Food in Chicana Chicano Literature?

Best Cocido in the World


The high green fence glowed in the diffused sunlight. Rain pelted me as
I stood on the sidewalk to shoot a picture. Worse, traffic suddenly appeared,
a car and two pickups slowly passing with curious stares at the vato standing in the
rain taking a picture.

Hunger growled in my stomach. I was near Millan's Ranchito, a restaurant
I'd passed many times driving to Tommy's, or El Gallo Giro, or Yoshinoya, or
a host of places. I squeezed into the tight parking lot, landing the last spot
as if I’d called ahead. Millan’s bowl of cocido came rich and hot to
the table with all the right garnishes: sopita de arroz, lime, chopped onion,
cilantro leaves no stems. Tasty flexible tortillas de harina. Maybe it was the cold
day but that was a darn good bowl of cocido.

So today, a beautifully sunny day, I find myself aimlessly cruising. Ended
up at 5803 Soto Street, a bowl of Millan's cocido de res on the table. The
hueso had the callo in it, the abundant meat had been cooked to fork tenderness.
A large papa sat on top. Unlike so many other’s cocido, Millan's Ranchito
doesn't substitute chayote for papas. The main difference between Millan's
cocido and the best homemade is that tiny chunk of corn. At home, you toss
in whole elotes. The best cocido in the world is the one my grandmother made. Neither
you nor I will ever taste its equal. However, you can taste the second best
cocido in the world, if you come to Huntington Park.

My grandmother lived on Lawton Street, close to the packing house at the edge of the orange groves that stretched from Redlands to Bryn Mawr to the wash. In those days she kept a wood-burning stove running and a pot of soup going.

Was I four? Three? I remember taking my seat at the table, my grandmother places
a bowl of cocido in front of me. Ignoring my protests about the chile japones
pods, she pinches a few seeds into my caldo, shushing my protests. She squeezes
a lemon half into the soup, places a hot tortilla de harina in my hand.

Speaking of food, the Multi Ethnic Literature in the United States group solicits papers on the role or use of food in chicana chicano literature. What the? I’m challenged to think of novels that play on food. Laura Esquivel's Como Agua Para Chocolate is the only one that stands out. There's a menudo party in the same author's Swift As Desire, and I remember a falso writer whose ruse was uncovered when he has a Mexican lad sit down to a steaming bowl of Mondongo. Now in poetry, food abounds; from Alurista’s “Tortilla Host” in his collection Nationchild Plumaroja c.1968-69 to Elba Rosario Sanchez’ “Lover’s Ode” in Calaca Press’ When Skin Peels CD.

What am I missing here? Who, where, have chicana chicano writers made food
something notable?


Manuel Ramos said...

Michael - again, you posted your article unsigned - it deserves un apellido. Wrong time for me to read it, I haven't had much to eat today, on the road with the grandson visiting the great-grandparents, then back again to Denver in a spring snowstorm.Too much going on to really eat. In any event, nice homage to la comida. Looking for food in Chicano Lit? Try Alfredo Vea's books - in the myriad of details there is always food - great, grand, delicious food from all over.

Anonymous said...

Vea; the Silver Cloud Cafe--that's gotta be food related but it's still on my "to read" stack. Next Friday, I'll look for my name.


Anonymous said...

I am currently writing a paper for my Chicano Literature class. We have read so many short stories and books so far! I don't think food as an important element was missing from any of them. In Helena Maria Viramontes' "The Moths" food themes abound, in Luis Valdez's "The Shrunken Head of Pancho Villa", food has importnat symbolic importance, In Cherrie Moraga's "Heroes and Saints" food is also a key element. I could go on and on. I think if your eyes are willing to see them, the implications of food in Chicano Literature (and in many other cultural literary traditions) are used like salt and pepper in any recipe. Chicanos have been tied to land, agriculture, and its products, politically, socially, economically, and religiously for generations upon generations and understanding this helps in critically analyzing Chicano/a texts. Hope this helps. I realize it is vague but you would probably be bored if I posted my paper, as I'm sure you can extirpate as much meaning as I have from these texts if you take a humble and serious look at them while keeping in mind the history of the Chicano/a people.
Andres Mercado

Adan Medrano said...

I find that Food and cooking are almost always embedded in the context, helping to define and describe identity and relationships of the characters. Charles Rice-Gonzalez' "Chulito" does this masterfully