Comida Latina highlights the role of women at the center of food-related activities. Latin American women of European, Indigenous, and African origins have traditionally been in charge of purchasing ingredients, conceptualizing the meal/feast, making all the necessary preparations, and serving the meals. Hence, the realm of the kitchen is a gendered space, and if we believe that through food we can create the notion of a located identity, then the formation of national identities is a gendered practice.
By learning about food, its relationship to women, national identity, and transnational movements, we can better understand the dynamics of our experiences with Latino immigrants. If, as Counihan says, “Eating is an endlessly evolving enactment of gender, family, and community relationships,”ii then understanding Latino food and its relationship to US culture will elucidate how migration transforms ethnic food, how migrants have influenced what is consumed in the US, and how this process enriches both cultures simultaneously and facilitates the bridging of cultural differences.
Comida Latina is directed to both academic and popular audiences, will focus on Latino food, a specific ethnic/national food segment that has not been sufficiently researched and/or publicized. One can’t deny the fact that tacos, burritos, quesadillas, salsa, and guacamole no longer have a foreign ring in the US repertoire of food terms. But there is something missing from the notion that Latino foods already belong in the US culinary repertoire--an understanding of how the global and local work together to produce knowledge and acceptance of cultures through food.
The term “Latino food” is expansive, generally encompassing food from all the countries in Latin America and the Caribbean. This site investigates food from two specific Spanish-American areas--Mexico and Puerto Rico--and it seeks to illuminate how the foods from these areas become recreated, transformed, and adapted in New York City, and the impact that these foods have for those who encounter them.
The selection of these locales is informed by current and historical events. Mexico is the country whose borders with the US are the most porous, contested, and visible. It is also the country whose immigrants have been most often sought after for employment (bracero programs) and at the same time maligned. As mentioned above, certain elements of Mexican food are already established in popular and fast food US culinary repertoires. In addition, Mexican cuisine has recently been included in the UNESCO 2010 List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.iii
The second site, Puerto Rico, has a very unusual relationship with the US as a commonwealth. Puerto Ricans are US citizens, hence it is relatively easy for them to travel back and forth between the Caribbean and the Northeast, where they have settled starting in the 1950’s with Operation Bootstrap. Puerto Ricans have engaged in cyclical patterns of migration that have created a cross-fertilization of foods from the island and the continent. Adobo and sofrito jars can be found in many places in New York City, and bagels are not difficult to find in San Juan. Yet, there are distinctive dishes that are considered quintessentially Puertorican and are served in New York City in festivities such as the National Puerto Rican Day Parade.
In addition to specific geographic areas of research, the study focuses on the preparation and consumption of food during three types of gatherings:
(a) Religious feasts, such as the Day of the Dead in Mexico (November 1 and 2), Three Kings Day in Puerto Rico (January 6), and the Virgin of Guadalupe in New York (December 12);
(b) Patriotic feasts, such as 5 de Mayo in Mexico (May 5th, relevant to Puebla, but a minor celebration in the rest of the country), the 4th of July in Puerto Rico, and the Puerto Rican Day Parade in New York City;
(c) Private family celebrations, such as birthdays and anniversaries.
The research sites are San Juan, Puerto Rico, where the transnational forces that influence food are most apparent; Puebla, Mexico, home of a large group of Mexican immigrants to New York City; and New York City, home to established and growing populations of Puerto Ricans and Mexicans respectively.
We hope the sections of Comida Latina will provide important and relevant repositories of information for scholars, and at the same time will engage the general public. Comida Latina is the beginning of a conversation about food and cultural identity, and as such, it is a visible way of showcasing the transformative power of food to bridge cultures.