Students and faculty gathered in the Women’s Center on the morning of Friday, Sept. 28 to learn about connections between Mexican food and political activism.
Among the attendees were MSUM students Nimrah Sohail, (business administration; Karachi, Pakistan) and Amy Young (social work; Fargo, North Dakota), who attended the colloquium as an opportunity for extra credit in their women studies classes. They both came out of the presentation with more knowledge of American and Mexican relations than they had when they walked in.
Dr. Kandace Creel Falcón, director of the women’s and gender studies program, presented “Mexican Food Narratives, (Digital) Activism and Cultural Power,” and explored the treatment of Mexican food in U.S. society. She reflected on how Mexican food has come to be seen as a political symbol, as well as the use of food in Chicanx activism as a response to violence and discrimination.
Food as a Catalyst for Change
Both Sohail and Young expressed surprise at the often-negative attitudes that exist towards Mexican and Mexican-American people in the United States.
“American-Mexican prejudice is new to me,” Sohail said.
Creel Falcón discussed how Mexican food came to be seen as a political symbol in the country’s current political climate. The beginning point, she said, was the now infamous quote from Marco Gutierrez, the co-founder of “Latinos for Trump” when he was interviewed on MSNBC in September 2016.
Gutierrez’s comment on “taco trucks on every corner” if Mexican culture was not “dealt with” was the apparent spark for the subsequent politicization of Mexican food during the 2016 presidential campaign and beyond.
Creel Falcón described the history of the attitudes toward Mexican food in America including how dominant cultures in the past and present link “backwardness” and “violent sensibilities” to Mexican people and their food.
“A Joyous Response to Violence ”
Creel Falcón brought up the contradictory behavior of politicians that enact violence against Mexican and other Latino groups but also enjoy Mexican cuisine. One prominent example was Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen being confronted by protestors at a Mexican restaurant after defending the Trump administration’s family separation policy at the border.
“I didn’t realize how bad prejudice was between Americans and Mexicans. I don’t follow politics, really,” Young said.
The response to the treatment towards Mexicans and other Latinos, Creel Falcón noted, was the circulation of food on social media as “joyful activism.” Many internet memes about tacos (or other Latin American foods such as tamales and pupusas), love and revolution have surfaced online, as well as social media tags (#abuelaskitchen, #tacoliteracy). These, according to Creel Falcón, demonstrate the commitment to joy and nourishment that Latin communities experience through food.
Food for Thought for Students
Faculty and students shared their thoughts or asked questions once the colloquium ended. Sohail and Young reflected on their experience and their thoughts on the importance of events like this colloquium.
“Most people are following what’s passed down to them,” Sohail said. “These activities [like the colloquium] should continue to change perspective. It’s the least we could do to bring people together. It may be slow, but we could give it a try.”
Young expressed her resolution to make change with her newly gained knowledge.
“I know that if I hear racism, I’ll do something to put a stop to it,” she said.
This colloquium was the first of a year-long series presented by the women and gender studies department. This presentation was also included in a group of campus events celebrating Hispanic Heritage Month .