Cultural Loss, Food Colonization

For Latinx populations in the United States, cultural loss and identity are grafted onto food. On the one hand, there is the concern of the cultural appropriation of Latinx food. Restaurants like Taco Bell have created a distorted image of what Mexican food is for clients. On the other hand, there are types of mechanisms in place to dissuade Latinx populations from eating their traditional foods in order to transition to the “American way of life.” In literature, there is a pivotal scene in Rudolfo Anaya’s canonical novel Bless Me, Ultima (1972) in which the young protagonist Antonio is lambasted by his classmates for bringing a tortilla with green chile to lunch instead of a sandwich (p. 58). In Nicholasa Mohr’s nuyorican novel Nilda, the eponymous protagonist is served a bland chicken soup and sausage pie when participating in an overnight church camp (pp. 11-12). In these moments, school and church, two sites of institutionalized racism, serve to strip the New Mexican and nuyorican characters of their traditional cuisine and replace it with American food.

A similar experience is penned in “Querida Mamita.” Herein, Julissa Llosa Vite writes a letter to her late-Peruvian grandmother. After praising her grandmother for her creativity in the kitchen, seemingly making more out of less, she raises the questions: “Do you remember a time when we just ate our people’s food?” The separation between a culture and its food is articulated through the nostalgia for a time when the two are connected. However, that time is unidentifiable for the writer. In part, this is because she represents a younger generation when juxtaposed with her grandmother, but also in part because she cannot pinpoint a time when the oppression of local cuisine did not exist: “Or was that taken from us before your birth?” This threat of power is colonial in nature in the sense that capitalism, a product of colonialism, has created societal sectors that do not have access to options that might include ancestral ways, thereby creating a disconnect. According to Devon Abbott Mihesuah, “one huge step that we can take to regain our culture and pride is to grow, cultivate, and prepare our own foods that our ancestors ate” (p. 58). The writer’s response to that lack of access as a child is to overeat now. What interests me about this fragment of the letter is the language around food. She writes, “How do I free myself from this food abuse illness? I know eating consciously and paying attention to my body are habits I have to fight for now. This is where I must find my resilience.” Terms like “resilience,” “free,” and “fight” evoke resistance to an authoritative power. Discussing food as an “illness” continues to frame her perspective as the victim of a threatening transgressor. The fear of food abuse, like illness, becomes something that a person cannot control. Rather, it becomes a tool used to control others.