In Mexican culture, you don’t just eat, you experience life through food. So, it is obligatory that you experience it communally, but if you don’t cook Mexican at home and you resort to restaurant ersatz, you need assistance to recreate the communality. Mexican restaurants in the USA are never just places to eat your vegetables and R&B (rice and beans, for those who wonder what role rhythm & blues has to play in a restaurant menu). They are your local Mexican agora where, besides the get-together, debate and exchange, you also get to eat. Quietly, Mexico is colonizing the USA under the guise of providing a safe space to enjoy chicken fajitas and mole, because the space thusly created in those restaurants is simply a recreation of Mexican space, with all the details: the colorful plazas, the sunlit streets, the noises and angles of city life itself.
Not surprisingly, the first restaurant that comes to my mind as a spatial-nutritional colonizer is Abuelo’s, and very tellingly it is also dubbed Mexican Food Embassy. It looks like a sterile embassy from the outside, but it’s a dreamy Mexican paradise inside, with a fountain in the middle, murals around, lemon trees everywhere and a clear blue sky painted on the ceiling above. Just as Diego Rivera’s murals made a cultural colonization claim on New York decades ago, Abuelo’s is colonizing the American idea of food and community with its own murals, recreated following Rivera’s, Siqueiros’ and Orozco’s art. The restaurant’s name means “Grandfather’s”, just as the past ownership of the states where the chain thrives (which used to be Mexican territory).
My second favorite in space creativity is La Fonda, the restaurant of the famous historical hotel in Santa Fe. It opens up as a tiny sunlit plaza, covered with cobblestone and surrounded by faux shop windows. As befitting a grand dame, the decor is in tune with Mexican high-brow taste. The food is just like the kind of fare you would expect of refined colonial cuisine. Who says that “colonial” means “bastardized”, that is, devoid of authorship or authority?
Mercado Juarez is just that, a market. Always busy at lunchtime, it has the jovial atmosphere, the baskets, the whitewashed walls, the earthen tiles, and the informality of a typical south-of-the-border marketplace, complete with tables full of guacamole, pico de gallo and tortillas. What ambassadorial negotiation and aristocratic high taste has not achieved, market forces of globalization will complete. Not surprising that MJ is the favorite place of young professionals on lunch break, trying to get a short respite from the treadmill routine or bond with coworkers over a “fajita blast.”
Don’t you just love postcolonialism 🙂 where/when you can enjoy the fusion of food and community in your own safe space… or is it yours?