Culture

National Guacamole Day: Served up a With Side Order of Hispanic Identity

Did you know that November 14 was National Guacamole Day?  Although, I had no clue that was the case, I enjoyed a good (except for the whole shellfish allergy thing – basically if I hear about shellfish I swell up, let alone eat anything that touched shellfish) Mexican cocktail lunch hour. Well, I ordered the mahi-mahi tacos, along with super spicy guacamole and white sangria. Suffice it to say this was Nueva Mexicana cuisine. The point is, I did, unintentionally, enjoy a good guacamole on National Guacamole day. But this got me thinking.  Am I a good Hispanic if I didn’t know that it was a national day to celebrate a Latino dish?  

 
Well, first let me state there are too many awareness and celebration days out there.   I have already ranted about this previously (day two of my blog) and so I won’t even go into that here.  Second, and more importantly, guacamole is not a pan-Latino thing.  Notwithstanding our diverse national and cultural origins, we have oftentimes been construed as a homogeneous population by popular culture and in the “lamestream” media. Well, as a Puerto Rican, I didn’t even have guacamole until my 20s. Seriously.  Latinos are not universally a bunch of burrito, guacamole, arroz con habichuelas aficionados.  Now, let me add that avocados are a Puerto Rican thing. They are added to every iceberg lettuce-based salad there is. But I always found them too slimy, too mushy, and kind of tasteless. So when I discovered guacamole in my 20s that was a true delight: it mixed lime and salt with the mushy avocado turning it into something that was quite tasty when paired with a tortilla chip and a good salsa. 
 
So, I answered my own question, right? I am still a good Hispanic/Latina woman despite my lack of awareness of guacamole’s calendar spotlight?  As I started thinking about this silly question, I had a chuckle when I envisioned President Obama asking himself this frequently: was he a good African-American? Or rather was the president still Obama from the block? Many would say no considering his lack of focus on African-American issues during his first term. I’d say he is–considering that he ran a marvelous community organizing effort in his re-election bid. He was definitely still in touch with his grassroots organizing, coalition building skills. Ok. So the President still is from the block. But am I still Mimi from the block?
I did recently visit my old South Bronx block. I could walk down the street and there were a few familiar faces about, but nobody recognized me. Not a single one. I still very much have my same face, but my demeanor is different. I looked around trying to figure out where the crack house had gone, how safe were the window bars and where the school lunch program was being run from? There were now cooperative building complexes. My old building had security cameras and the window bars appeared secure and not menacing. The girl I used to hang with until I was labeled as too nerdy, was now the head of their community version of the PTA. Wow, times had changed.  
See, here is the thing. I was never really part of the block. I lived there. I grew up there. I made some friends there. But I wasn’t readily accepted. And, I went away to boarding school. Here is the second thing: I was not Latina back then. I had never really heard the term and most definitely did not subscribe to it.  I went to school to learn Spanish. I lived in Spain to hone my Spanish skills.  I got my Ph.D. and went to work in a Latino-serving health community organization. I went and developed a framework for organizing Hispanic/Latino communities. I learned to say Hispanic/Latino.  And yes, I learned to eat guacamole as I traveled the country and the world. 

 
 I became Latina after I left the block and explored the universe. 

I am not a part of the 1% , and most definitely not so in NYC. I’m sorry but that 250k line of demarcation is just not fitting for the New York City environment where 250K is middle class, and won’t get you anywhere near buying even a 500 square foot apartment in a sketchy neighborhood.  Don’t hate me for saying that. I may be part of the 52% that have secured some economic advantage and have established an economic buffer zone.  I have been educated in private schools alongside non-Hispanics. I have reached senior management levels.  I can give trainings in Spanish, but there will be words I don’t get quite right.  My favorite foods are southern in nature, Ethiopian or some fancy fusion. 
 
I may not be Mimi from the block, but I have definitely taken up the call for giving back to the Latino community. And, thus for next year, I will sit down on November 14 with a bowl of guacamole, a rum cocktail and a side of mac’n cheese. Come, to think of it maybe that is being from the block ….

A rum sidecar cocktail: Fusion of Puerto Rican and Deepsouth Sensibilities

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