The household I grew up in was quite typical for Mexicans living in close contact with American culture. Living quite close to the border, San Diego was almost as much a home as Tijuana, although I lived mostly on the Mexican side. Nonetheless, all the essential elements of American culture permeated into my life. Not just the cuisine, but the movies, the TV shows, the slang, and the imported consumer products. In this way I assimilated both languages. I was especially fond of playing videocassettes repeatedly. Films such as Star Wars, Independence Day and Jurassic Park were burned into my retina.
With regard to the food, it was a mix of American and Mexican cuisine. Naturally things such as hamburgers, hot dogs, hotcakes and the like were ubiquitous. All the typical fast food chains and restaurants existed. In particular, I was always fond of Chinese food. Chinese restaurants are abundant in Mexico, as the rice and meat-based dishes are quite compatible with the Mexican appetite. Chicken, pork, and beef in some form or another are staples of the Mexican diet, usually accompanied by rice and beans. Fresh fruits were especially common. They were usually purchased in outdoor markets, commonly referred to as “Sobreruedas”. Another quintessential food is the tortilla. We eat it with virtually anything, much in the same way Indians have naan bread.
I used to be a picky eater. There were two important ingredients in most Mexican dishes I despised as a child: scrambled eggs and onions. Today it means little to me, but back then I struggled through this food. At home these tended to be served on a daily basis.
Certain foods were eaten on special occasions or holidays. We didn’t celebrate Thanksgiving, but had a tradition of feasting on turkey with mashed potatoes and the usual side dishes on Christmas. This included both Christmas Eve (“Nochebuena” as it is known in Mexico) and Christmas day. Another highlight is the Rosca de Reyes, a kind of large donut-shaped bread eaten on the celebration of the Three Kings. It’s more reminiscent of a cake, but with an outer lining of candy fruit. Inside were hidden miniature plastic baby Jesuses. Whoever got one had to prepare tamales a few weeks later. Tamales are a kind of corn dough steamed and wrapped in corn leafs, often prepared with chicken, potatoes and spices. These were often seen at special events, such as parties, but could also be bought on the street. Finally, there was Pan de Muertos, a special sweet bread made specifically for the Day of the Dead celebrations. These were usually sugar coated but could also have candy fruit or similar coatings. These were offered to the dead in specially constructed altars.
However, many of these things lie in a distant past for me. Since I’ve been in college, I’ve lived on my own. Consequently this is the period in my life were I’ve had to learn how to acquire and prepare food on my own. I gradually discovered how to shop, and how to prepare basic meals. By no means am I a skilled cook, and often times I opt for buying ready-made foods in the interest of time and energy. It could also be due to the lack of interest in cooking elaborately. It may not be an optimum solution for my nutrition, but calorie counts are hardly an important concern at this stage of my life. Practicality and brevity take priority over selection.
Many of the above traditions stem from a mixture of diverse cultures. Some are of Mesoamerican origin, many were assimilated from the Spanish and bare the staple of Catholicism, the most popular religion in the country. It’s deeply tied to the culture and psyche of most Mexicans. And of course, many things were introduced by the United States, and continue to be. Perhaps one of the most visible appropriations of American culture is Coca-Cola, which has become a ubiquitous drink in Mexico in particular.
Marvin Mellado is a senior at Old Dominion University majoring in physics.
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