Over the past weeks, I’ve thought about writing a post about my Mexican identity while in Spain, but that seems like too great a task for one short text. So, I’ve decided to break up my soul searching into sections, detailing instances that have made me reflect on that special part of me that I hold so dear. This is my first installment in trying to understand how my Chicana Californian self fits into this complex new world, and what I’ve learned from being torn away from my culture and home.
Let me start by saying that I have been to every Mexican restaurant in Barcelona worth visiting. I’ve spent many afternoons researching, making lists, and partaking in journeys to all corners of this beautiful city in search of what will make my soul feel complete. Yes, I’m talking about some delicious tacos al pastor.
Not only have these food adventures satisfied my cravings, but they manage to transport me back home. Sitting in a restaurant eating a plate of flautas or tacos or enchiladas or whatever it may be, I feel as if I could walk out the door and step foot onto a street in the Bay Area. Looking at a menu full of things I know and love gives me a sense of self assurance and comfort. It’s one of the few times in this experience where I feel completely sure of what I’m doing.
But really, why is this food so important to me? There’s no doubt that I’ve never been one to shy away from a meal, but there’s more to it than that. Food is the center of every day Mexican culture. So for me, having a plate of tacos al pastor, as normal as it may seem, is really an expression of appreciation for my heritage. It’s an act of reconnecting to my roots, of celebrating my ancestral home and the beautiful composition of histories and cultures that have culminated in the creation of a complex recipe of slow roasted, seasoned meat and ground corn. Meals are so intrinsically tied to both social and celebratory events in our culture, that being able to enjoy some of those foods when I am so disconnected from my home is almost a way of sharing in those social and celebratory events I am missing out on.
Given the complex history of Mexico and Spain, I like to regard food as a manifestation of that relationship. As I enter into a Mexican restaurant in Spain, carefully analyzing and criticizing every aspect, I remind myself that this is as close as I will get to home, but it is not the same. While Mexican restaurants are the newest fad in every hipster neighborhood in Barcelona, they will never be as good as the ones I have at home. Despite centuries of fascination with Mexico, the Spanish people simply cannot emulate the beautiful, complex blend of herbs, spices, and cultures that go into our most flavorful dishes.
In that same way, my existence in this space, as the product of authentic Mexican culture and diaspora, is an example of the resilience and beauty of Mexico and its people. That I am even here shows that despite all odds we as a people have managed to thrive to the point that we could travel to the land of our former colonizers, only to criticize their emulation of our food and culture. And while this country may have a renewed fascination with our food and traditions, only I can truly understand what it is like to be part of that incredible culture.
And as I close off this strange analysis of tacos (a phrase I never thought I’d write), I’d just like to say that I’m still trying to come to terms with what it feels like to exist as I do in this space. Even trying to critically think about a minute aspect of my cultural experience has been a whirlwind of contradictions and blanket statements that are insufficient in expressing this feeling. As I continue on, I hope to find the words to describe my experiences, but the reality is I may never be able to. There is much to be thought about until then. Never would I have thought that a blog post about eating tacos in Spain would evoke so much emotion and self reflection, but thus is the study abroad experience.
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<p>I am a young Latina student who is passionate about travel, community empowerment, and celebration of diversity. I am the only daughter of Mexican immigrants and my life has been a colorful blending of Mexican and American cultures that has created a passion for the exploration of diverse cultures through travel. In all that I do, I try to learn about and immerse myself in worlds and communities unlike my own, because with each experience I grow as a conscious global citizen and will be able create bridges that can bring about positive social change in communities throughout the world.</p>