When writer Jose Antonio Vargas spoke recently at USC, we learned that his struggles as an undocumented immigrant fueled his career in journalism. “If I can’t be here because I don’t have the right papers, what if I’m on the paper?” he had thought as a high schooler. “How can they say I don’t exist?” For Vargas, writing became a way to prove his existence in America, documents be damned. And more important, it motivated him to “succeed my way into citizenship.” Citizenship continues to elude him, though. To push for change, he shares his story around the United States with groups from college students to Tea Party members.
We all eat for pleasure. Some of us also eat in pursuit of academic knowledge. “Food studies” is a burgeoning field where scholars consider food a potent tool for illuminating a vast range of topics and issues. Among L.A. colleges and universities, you’ll find classes on “Animal Ethics,” “Restaurant Culture,” “Food Politics,” and “Science and Food,” among others. One emphasizes L.A.’s Latino community — professor Sarah Portnoy’s “The Culture of Food in Hispanic Los Angeles” at the University of Southern California. As a class in the Spanish department, students spend ample time developing language skills. (Such as writing blogs in Spanish.) But the culinary twist means they also examine issues related to history, immigration, and cultural values. We spoke with Portnoy, a Houston native, over margaritas at Yxta Cocina Mexicana to hear her take on L.A.’s diverse and fascinating Latino food scene.
Ever since the Mexican-American War split a chunk of Mexico’s west coast in 1848, Tijuana’s border existence between two major countries has made it unique. The position has made the city a hot spot for tourism, crime, drug trafficking, immigration, industrialization, art, music, and even “zonkeys.” But now there’s another reason for Tijuana’s singularity: the food. During three days last October, I sampled some of Tijuana’s finest food from taquerías to posh restaurants. Read about it here. [Post in both English and Spanish.]
Looking for an introduction to Yucatecan cuisine? Try a panucho. Panuchos begin as traditional corn tortillas, but then are grilled to form crispy exteriors that shelter tender black beans that have been nudged inside. It is then topped with shredded turkey, pickled onions, and avocado. The dish is a staple at Chichen Itza – not the monumental Mayan pyramids of Mexico, but a quick-serve restaurant tucked inside Mercado la Paloma in South L.A. near USC. [keep reading…and check out the how-to video from one of Chichen Itza’s chefs.]
Have you maxed out on al pastor or carne asada tacos from your local taco truck? Then you need a trip through Boyle Heights to remind yourself just how diverse and versatile tacos can be. That is what I did last week, along with professor Sarah Portnoy’s USC Spanish class on Latino food in L.A. We visited three terrific spots: Mariscos Jalisco, Santa Rita Jalisco, and Guisados.
The brilliant globetrotter musician Manu Chao made a special appearance at USC on Oct. 18 to talk life, culture, music and politics with Latino culture scholar Josh Kun. (Part of the “Distinguished Lecture Series for Latin American Art and Culture.”) It was an amazing evening…