The day after, pt. 2

Follow-up to The day after.

My students came, even after them being told they could take a mental health absence. They came.

I started off the class nervous. Very nervous. I reintroduced myself, reminding them that I am a Chicana feminist scholar and what that means about my academic and personal politics. I told them Chicana/o studies is not neutral on issues of race, gender, sexuality and economic justice. I told them I was not neutral on this election. I also said that this was a space they could talk about the election, any fears, any plans, any questions.

There was nodding, but silence. So I went into my lecture on food and The Hunger Games. But in addition to the focus on food, we also looked at reality TV. Its cruelties and attractions. The discussion and lecture (I mingle the two) had gone on for forty five minutes, and had included discussion on the ways the United States was Panem when I got to my last slide. It asked them to talk about Donald Trump as reality TV star and how this image he had constructed informed the support for his run for the presidency.

Discussion came alive. Everything about the election, about Trump, about his personality and persona and his views was discussed. The students looked at the intersections of his support and what it meant and what it would mean. Their ideas were powerful and informed.

Then we took our break and the students started their presentations. As part of their requirements for this class, five students each week bring in a food that’s significant to them for any reason. They then, in a presentation, give a five to ten minute cultural and social exploration of that food. They have to bring in enough of the food so that everyone can have a taste.

The students last night outdid themselves. We had two types of tamales, each with stories of their connections to home, mothers and sisters, Los Angeles and to Meso America. Another student brought in pralines, connecting them to her family’s history in Louisiana and New Orleans. We had Cuban pork, black beans and rice and their connection to Cuba, Castro, fleeing, and starting again.

But the stand-out moment for me, the day after the election of Trump, was a student who brought in Chinese Chicken salad she had made for us. A Muslim woman originally from the Middle East, she told the history of this salad in her family (which she described as “Trump’s nightmare”). How her Asian American sister-in-law had made it and introduced her to it, along with U.S. customs like Thanksgiving. How this salad, created in California by a European chief based on California cuisine and American Chinese food, was so beloved by her children and her. It was a perfect moment.

These presentations filled me with joy as we came together over the foods the students had shared. They were everything I love about teaching U.S. culture, about how in Los Angeles we rub up against each other, mix together and create hybrid foods, languages and cultures. How this very thing, this majority minority, Bladerunner Los Angeles, is what so many in rural spaces fear, can be so creative, kind and wonderful.

I could not thank my students enough for what they’d done.

I drove home last night at 10:30 PM, after being on campus for 14 hours, filled with energy and hope.

Tortilla Dreams

I should be working on my philosophy of teaching (yes, I’m applying for jobs), but I had to take a moment and write about tortillas. Corn tortillas especially, though flour ones have their place.

One reason I feel so strongly about them is that I’m allergic to yeast.  Extremely allergic.  Even a slice of bread (or a glass of wine — wine is full of yeast) and I’m breaking out in painful eczema rashes on my arms, face and neck.  Wheat flour produces a similar though less severe reaction.  You’d think this would cause me to avoid bread altogether but what can I say?  I crave carbs.

But what makes my allergy bearable are tortillas. I know I need to learn to make fresh corn ones myself. If I can get my hands on fresh tortillas, my desire for any other bread is almost nil. Fresh tortillas are hard to come by in Santa Monica though.  I don’t get to East Los Angeles often enough.

But the reason I’m writing this is that I woke up thinking about the best corn tortillas I ever had in my life.  About ten years ago I was in Barrio Logan researching Chicano Park.  The murals were amazing — if you have a chance to see them you should — but what I remember most about that day was stopping at an old fashioned tortillaria because walking past, my dad and I could smell corn.

We each got one tortilla from the owner, to taste.  One bite and I was digging through my purse getting ready to buy as many dozen as I could afford.  These were amazing.  In my memory they were cooked over a gas fire so there were little charcoaled bits of black.  They were chewy and sweet and I loved them.  If you’ve never had fresh (not wrapped in plastic from the supermarket) corn tortillas, you haven’t had tortillas.  It’s like the difference between supermarket and fresh baked bread, only more so.  My hefty package came wrapped in old-fashioned paper and tape, looking like a sweet-smelling present.

At the time I lived in a dorm at USC.  My dad, who has always thought the best of me, thought I was buying such a big package so I could share my discovery with my floor. I  couldn’t bring myself to disappoint him by explaining how greedy his daughter was, but I confess, I shared these with only one other person.  I didn’t wrap them around beans or make tacos.  Honestly that would have been great, but all I did was, one by one, zap them in the microwave for 15 seconds, spread them with butter or avocado, roll them up and eat.  First to last they were amazing.  Sometimes I wonder if they were really as good as I remember them.

I can’t remember the name of the place we went. And, when I went on Yelp today to try and find it, I couldn’t.  Maybe they’re gone.

Thank God my dad was with me. Otherwise I’d worry my perfect tortillas were just a dream.