Tuesday, April 09, 2019

Talking With Your Mouth Full. Reichle Reviews LATC Show. News'nNotes.

Review: Paloma Martinez-Cruz. Food Fight! Millennial Mestizaje Meets the Culinary Marketplace. Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 2019.
ISBN: PAPERBACK (9780816536061) EBOOK (9780816539789)

Michael Sedano

What a compelling title, Food Fight! Millennial Mestizaje Meets the Culinary Marketplace. Compelling turns out to be a perfect descriptor of this battle protreptic whose audience constitutes anyone who eats food.

Raza, “millennial mestizos” or garden-variety Chicanos like me, will find Food Fight! extra-spicy and authentic. A word of advice: buy the paperback because this is a book readers want to dog-ear, underline, respond to, and share with fellow grocery-shoppers. Here's a wonderful proposal: read parts aloud on your final-ever visit to Starbucks.

Paloma Martinez-Cruz is a food warrior who doesn’t want to be alone on the front lines, that’s why she’s recruiting you. Her final word to readers of Food Fight! is “knuckles up” when it comes to inimical elements she describes in these four scintillating chapters. The phrase means give the author a fist bump and a gluten-free knuckle sandwich to purveyors of brownface “authenticity.”

If Food Fight!’s TOC were a restaurant, salivating diners would look over the menu and know not where to start:

1. Farmworker-to-Table Mexican: Decolonizing Haute Cuisine
2. On Cinco de Drinko and Jimmiechangas: Culinary Brownface In The Rust Belt Midwest.
3. Home girl Café: La Conciencia Mestiza as Culinary Counterstory.
4. From Juan Valdez to Third Wave Cafés: Lattes and Latinidad in the Marketplace.

No te dejes, might be the sub-title of the book, and as with most other Spanish in this text, it won’t be translated, because, no te dejes. Martinez-Cruz is a warrior-scholar holding your attention with literary expression and clearly delineated structure. Food Fight! Millennial Mestizaje Meets the Culinary Marketplace needs to be widely shared, as an example of quality academic writing, inveiglingly good structure, and obviously, as an important documentary on food communication in United States American culture.

The author explains what she means by key words, Latinidad, and Millennium, Mestizo of the title, in event some readers aren’t entirely clear. The words form the rhetorical strategies of the text, identification and affirmation. Pointing out the gachismos of marketing--what would appear to be a subversive motive--instead must be understood as purification discourse about marketing practices.

Haute cuisine isn’t just frenchified expensive food, not since Alice Waters launched a farm-to-fork movimiento in Berkeley. Across the nation, diners and chefs featured the notion of local ingredients as a way to dine well and to help the environment and their self-respect all on one plate.

Organic food comes at a premium diners eagerly cough up. Along comes a Mexicana chef in next-door Oakland, Cosecha, with the same ingredients philosophy as Chez Panisse, and diners whine about the Chez Panisse-level prices for Mexican vernacular food. Then, when fancy chefs from Frisco spot Cosecha’s owner buying veggies in “their” farmer’s market, those chefs express amazement to see her there all so out of place among the enlightened victualizers.

No te dejes ignore the laborers who produce that comida, especially while you’re patting yourself on the back for being an organic consumer saving the earth. Discussing the gap between diners and pickers, Martinez-Cruz cites a zen gardening book whose “readership is coded as White and privileged: agricultural employment is exotic, unpaid, recreational, and leads to the aggrandizement of the self.”

Gente with dirt under their uñas hear Martinez-Cruz loud and clear when she concludes, “for farmworkers the ugliness and pain of their working lives erode the spiritual connectivity and dignity that elite and recreational conservationists insist is their right to enjoy.”

Every essay will be thrilling to raza readers who share the scholar’s comprehension of the status quo of farming, and appreciate her articulate expression. No te dejes be fed brownface authenticity in theme restaurants nor fine dining “found Mexican” food:

“This is where Anglo cooks narrate a traveler’s tale about their interactions with Mexican cooking and carefully construct a 'romantic crusader' image of the intrepid entrepreneur. Positional superiority is naturalized via the discourse of discovery. The most famous example is Rick Bayless, who is credited as the first to bring Mexican cuisine into the realm of fine dining in the United States.”

Bayless isn’t the only outsider getting rich and comfortable in the role of culinary Christopher Columbus. There are Susan Feniger and Mary Sue Milliken whose Border Grill narrative of discovery makes a foundation myth of heroic proportions. 

A kandy-colored tangerine flake streamlined VW bug (I made that up, the color), travelling dusty roads deep in the heart of Mexico, a pair of foodie vagabonds. That the women steal recipes and techniques from market vendors along the way, taco stands, family barbacoa in el patio, is spun by the computer-driven rhapsode as praiseworthy. “When they returned,” Border Grill’s webpage exults, citing an article in Los Angeles magazine, “they opened Border Grill and ‘applied the same intelligence…to green corn tamales and cactus-paddle tacos that other chefs might to a lobe of foie gras'.” Without torturing the nopales, of course.

The author, not content to let that stick in one’s craw, makes her point clearly and forcefully:

“The ‘intelligence’ is not attributed to the Oaxacans and Yucatecans in the back of the house, but to the French-trained Millikan and Feniger for capitalizing on their [raza] traditions. Once again, Mexican knowledge is made to appear as though it pertained to the public domain.”

Every essay will fill a reader—millennial mestizo or just plain old Chicano—with joyous smiles at the zingers. Advertencia! This book is not one for idle consumption, it’s not fast food. Food Fight! is a head-spinning read to me, accustomed to the subtlety and implicit structure of novels. Paloma Martinez-Cruz dishes up a scholarly dissertation of substantial complexity with a heaping portion of humor, verbal sleight-of-hand, and barely-restrained ire.

The publisher, University of Arizona Press, tags the book as “Latinx Pop Culture.” It’s a series. Call me outdated, but I didn’t realize “pop culture” was still a thing. When I think of pop culture I think non-Mestizos like Marshall McLuhan or Irving J. Rein. Those guys, and tipos like them, ruled the roost for pop culture when I was in grad school, ya hace muchos años. Delving into deadly serious topics with a satirist’s pen and a scholar’s ken, that pop culture writing was good stuff, admirable scholarship if unconventional at the time.

High school readers will improve their SAT score after reading Food Fight! College readers will take pleasure at being forced to enjoy this textbook. All will understand the book's contribution of diversity and access. Scholars will be jealous. Chicanx will applaud.

Pop culture, the Latinx variety evidently, is seriously scholarly and similarly good stuff. Each essay comes redolent, in a good way, with the smell of the lamp—lots of footnotes, an extensive bibliography, excellent diversity in her primary/research sources. For example, Martinez-Cruz cites the most outstanding raza pop culture treatise extant until now, William Anthony Nericcio’s Text(t)Mex. Seductive Hallucinations of the "Mexican" in America. In fact, Food Fight! and Text(t)Mex constitute the two best works about Chicana Chicano Pop Culture communication.

Students learning to write scholarly articles will be well served observing how this author structures her work—classic strategy of introduction, preview, transition, point one, transition, point two, transition, conclusion. But she weaves intricate pathways through contentions and evidence. Take the Homegirl chapter apart, kids. An historical overview locates cholas as outsiders and objects of fear. Investigate that claim, dig into the deeply-held prejudice against raza, e.g. the wingnut television headline about “three Mexican countries”. Fox teevee and its antecedent marketing agency ilk, have little substance, yet their semiotics plant roots in the public mind.

Institutional culture, Martinez-Cruz points out, needn’t hold sway over public opinion nor pop culture imagery. Homegirl Café converts the subversive chola into a life-affirming role, la chola as a provider, a person who brings nourishment. When visitors arrive at Los Angeles International Airport, they can dine at Homegirl Café. Welcome to LA, Chola town, have some sprouts. And that’s a good thing.

Professor Martinez-Cruz hits a high mark with the homegirl chapter then delights further with her views on Chiquita Banana and Juan Valdez, “the fetish of the agricultural Other”. Here is a bit of exposé, needful given the self-congratulating claims of “Fair Trade” plastered on Starbucks’ windows. It’s a ruse.

International and U.S.-based “fair trade” certifications aren’t inventory strategies, it's marketing. Starbucks and others can be certified as “fair trade” by blending as little as 11% of Fair Trade products with 89% non-Fair Trade. It's "fair-washing". 

Martinez-Cruz’ protrepsis is most clearly spoken with reference to coffee and fair trade, noting “For multinationals and their shareholders who try to skirt fair trade movement demands, the only force that can compel practices toward more just and equitable partnerships with growers inevitably comes from consumer pressure, but the problem is that consumers do not ask for what they believe they already have.” As a Wendy's commercial says (link),  "you get what you pay for." No te dejes, millennials. 

The author has done battle as a food warrior in the corporate trenches. Joining with workers from the Coalition of Immokalee Workers at a Wendy’s corporate meeting, the professor wore her white girl traje while the brown-faced CIW workers just did their thing. After the first CIW portavoz spoke at the beginning of a shareholder confab, Wendy’s board chair ignored the brown hands raised for a public comment.  Martinez-Cruz was chosen to ask the last question, which is a minor slip-up from the big shots. 

“After hearing from Reyes, Wendy’s Chairman of the board Nelson Peltz refused to call on any other members of the CIW. It was evident that there were many other representatives with their hands up, but they were excluded from the conversation. It appears that my dark suit had been the right choice…I used the opportunity to explain that, as a professor at the Ohio State University, I was joined by colleagues and students to oppose the university’s contract with Wendy’s while they remain connected to the abuse of workers rights. But I felt shame in having been granted the opportunity to speak while important fair food program organizers had not, owing to the color and class lines drawn throughout the room, and across our faces, bodies, and life chances.”

Much as I enjoyed the heck out of these nonfiction essays, I struggled to make sense of the author’s concession to custom where she passes up a rhetorical opportunity to enhance identification between some readers and this scholarship. She explains,

“At its most useful, and in spite of its homogenizing implications, Latinidad provides a descriptor for the Pan-Latino experience of institutional racism, stereotyping, and shared cultural knowledge of hemispheric domination by the United States. My use of Latinidad here seeks to call attention to the ways that Latinx audiences are impacted by a discrete set of political vulnerabilities that are silenced and effaced by the performativity of coffee in second and third wave marketing campaigns.”

Good stuff. I bet Paloma Martinez-Cruz struggled for hours over the next paragraph. It’s the “battle of the name” that post-war mestizos fought, all over again for millennials. I wonder its provenance, her or the editor? I wish she’d not conceded the point to majoritarian values, particularly galling given this book-length objection to forces that promulgate images like Chiquita and Juan, Speedy and Frito Bandito, and the little dog, too:

“While terms mestizo, Latinx, and Latino are employed throughout my study, here, the terms 'Hispanic' and 'Latin' make an appearance, as these are the census- and marketing-sanctioned designations used most frequently in the business and government sources I discuss.” I don't buy it.

It’s a significant error. The author attacks the credibility and validity of absurdly broken marketing-sanctioned conceptualizations of raza peoplehood butchered in the abbatoir of contemporary food culture. And yet, she asks the reader to capitulate because it's their media. Chimichingao!

Don’t call me “Hispanic,” esa. In Lak’ech.

Buy Food Fight! Millennial Mestizaje Meets the Culinary Marketplace. Write the author a letter, tell her the next edition we, nosotras nosotros nosotrxs, expect a better fight on the "H" front from our millennials. Here's where to order: (link)

Transformative Theater: Activism and Art in Los Angeles Theater

In 1995-96, my final year as a UCLA undergrad, I took History of Chicano Theater with José Luis Valenzuela and in the subsequent quarter, Contemporary Chicano Theater. With the production of Luminarias and August 29, a seed was planted.

My fiction writing has grown with a focus on strong women, historic injustice, and raising social consciousness. My characters are planted in the places I’ve called home: Imperial Valley, California; Hatch, New Mexico; Blythe, California; and Los Angeles. The stories I write reflect the diversity of my lived experience. I remain rooted in familia y comunidad, celebrating our contributions to the cultural landscape.

José Luis Valenzuela, Artistic Director LATC
Almost 25 years later, I walked downstairs at Los Angeles Theater Center to watch The Mother of Henry and Profesor Valenzuela was standing at the entrance to the theater looking the same as he had in front of that classroom. 

He welcomed me and my friends, excited we were there for the preview. Playwright Evelina Fernández (Luminarias 2000, How Else Am I Supposed to Know I’m Still Alive 1996) sat inside the theater as regal and dignified as she was 25 years ago. After the performance, I was so moved I could barely thank her for her words.

Their powerful language and direction came to life on that stage. Through projections of news reports, I was transported to 1968, where characters engaged with the Vietnam War and related protests in varied ways, given their social location. 

A time when women in the workplace faced sexual harassment without recourse and before the movement for change that we have today. A time when different class and cultural beliefs clashed before they could ever unite against a common social ill. 

The exploration of gender/sexuality dynamics in the context of political turmoil makes this play relevant across cultures and time periods.

Reichle and Valenzuela

The focal point of this world is Concepción/Connie, a newly separated mother who aspires to financial independence. Even though I’m not a mother, I felt her joy and pain. I cried – not something I do easily – and felt loss deep within my gut. 

The comedic interactions between colleagues and family members were relatable and carried the necessary political weight for the play’s purpose. 

While religion plays a role in Connie’s life, the apparitions she has of the Virgin Mary seem more like casual interactions with a friend and provide the necessary levity to serious moments of emotional struggle. 

And while the play focuses on the mother of Henry, her mother is also a significant force when she rolls on stage, offering consejos and representing the impact of profound historical events from the perspective of a different generation. 

Every character does the work necessary to create a transformative theatrical experience.
Local writers with Reichle

For about 25 years that seed that José Luis Valenzuela and Evelina Fernández planted in my young psyche has been growing and blooming, withering and blooming again. 

As a graduate student now, I’ve had the opportunity to take play writing classes and strive to infuse the same level of humanity and social consciousness into my writing for the stage. 

Watching The Mother of Henry has provided inspiration for visualizing my own work and reinforced my desire to have a profound impact on diverse audiences.

Extended Run! Through 20 April!
The Los Angeles Theatre Center, 
514 S. Spring St., Downtown L.A. 
Wednesday, 8 p.m. (4/17 only); 
Thursday-Saturday, 8 p.m.; 
Sunday, 4 p.m.

On Saturday, April 13, 2019 at 8:00 PM stay for the Talkback with playwright Evelina Fernández. 

Running time: 90 minutes with one intermission. 

Get your tickets: (866) 811-4111 or www.thelatc.org.


We are doing it all over again this year. Our chapbook series submission period will be open until June 15. There is a $10 reading fee which will go towards book production expenses. If you are a student or in financial need, we will waive the fee. Send an email request to editor@diggingthroughthefat.com for instructions on how to submit your chapbook with no fee.

Submit via this link.

Master of Arts Candidacy In Mind?

Alburquerque Reading
How beauteous that I know several of the poets en propria persona as a result of the late, bitterly lamented National Latino Writers Conference. Orale, NHCC, bring back the NLWC!

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