The Colors and Times of Chicano Activism reflect our Cultural Cuisine

Memories consumed me as I remember incidents from being in the C/S art group in the 70’s to the present. Paramount are the discussions, food, arguments, strategizing, places, experiences, and in general, my experiences with my Chicano art circles y amigos.

The tablescapes by Rolando Briseño highlight the importance of commensality, the sharing of food, the beauty of words. These tables for me signify revolutionary meetings followed by tacos or menudo along with laughter, chistes, songs, beer y tequila.  Our cultural resilience as Chicanos was always celebrated con comida, bringing to mind my favorite word – sobremesa, where we would sit for hours talking, reflecting, disagreeing, imagining, and eating.  

It is amazing  to trace our cuisine to how we now connect with each other and to our history. Our Chicano food mixes corn and ingredients of our Mexican background with regional and new fare. Our tables reflect who we are and where we come from. Our familias are rooted in this food, culture, history, language, and sensibilities which cannot be erased. We are culture and our homes and communities are the sites for learning about our cultures.

Women become our first teachers as they cook and guide our behavior. We understand that cultural knowledge is passed down generation after generation often by mothers and other females as is reinforced by what we eat. Foods tell about where we come from as we eat corn or flour tortillas, use comino, or as we make tamales esquisitos or “big fat ones like Mexican huaraches” as Sandra Cisneros describes her favorite ones. Frijoles can help describe who we are, black beans, pinto beans, or other beans tell us about where we live or come from.  And now the fusion of chamoy, a salty, sweet, and hot chile condiment with nuts, fresh fruit, chips, and the newly popular mangonadas.

Sitting at a table eating with compadres is the practice of commensality, eating in fellowship, hací se come or it’s how we do things. We scoop food with tortillas. We combine different worlds on a nacho, eat menudo or fajitas, the food of the poor. We look forward to the preparation of special foods where we learn recipes and traditions. We use food to get along with people, to get to know them better, we participate in culinary diplomacy. Our identity is Mexican, as are our roots, icons, symbols, history and is our food.

Our truths are what we eat during times of revolution and evolution, from corn tortillas to crispy dogs [frankfurts rolled up in a corn tortilla and fried], winnes in salsa [frankfurters sliced in a spicy salsa], puffy tacos [fresh corn tortillas fried till they puffed], to fajitas which have evolved from beef to chicken and even calamari, to pit-made barbacoa now made at any Molino or restaurant. Our tacos evolved to fast food for everyone and for every occasion with any kind of taco served in flour tortillas. Our cultural cuisine was/is revolutionary for it encompasses Mexican, Tex Mex, USA, etc.  Traditional menudo joins hamburgers with jalapenos, refried beans, yellow cheese, and German style sausages with a squiggle of yellow mustard rolled in flour tortillas, or beans and rice served with potato salad.

Our cultural truths are based on who we are. Our social consciousness transcended the 60’s-80’s as we entered into our identity as Chicanos and who we are now.  As an artist friend explained, “Your environment is you … If you deny your environment then you deny your existence. When I was young and sketching my family at the very beginning, that was Chicano art!.” Obligatory after a meeting, a demonstration, a strike, after a hard night of talk and drink was the standard menudo or coffee y pan dulce, symbols of the richness of our Chicano cuisine and the counter story to late night pancakes.

Chicano cultural production is created by an ethnic community of artistic practice and activism. Sandra Cisneros’ declares ..”Chicano” is not a blanket term grouping Latinos from the Southwest. It is a term that was born of the Chicano Movement of the 1960’s, and it is used by those individuals in the U.S. who are aware of the political and social history of oppression of people of Mexican descent in the United States.  To call yourself “Chicano” is akin to calling yourself a “feminist.”  It is a word used to define yourself as allied with a cause.  Just as being born female does not make you a feminist, being born in the US of Mexican descent does not make you a “Chicano.”  It is a word one voluntarily accepts when you have political consciousness regarding injustices of race and class.” These interactions give space for the energy and growth of intermingling ideas, fundamental human emotions, and conceptual connections that revive memories, sentiments, and challenges to communal narratives and new angles on connections and relationships of all sorts even our food.

Jesse Trevino, who lost his hand in the Vietnam War, says ‘I was an artist before I lost my hand, and I was an artist after I lost my hand… I had to be true to what I saw in the people in my neighborhood... I painted what was in my heart... I made a promise to myself that if I lived, I would paint the things important to me: my family, my neighborhood – my world.” Underwriting these realizations were the importance of the cultural aspects of his favorite foods,, his mother’s flour tortillas, huevos rancheros, and her cafecito served with pan dulce. Incredible to note that now conchas in epic sizes revolutionize art spaces as they do panaderias.

Pérez (2007) refers to “the community-sustaining psychological and political effects” of our culture. “Every time I paint, it serves a purpose—to bring about pride in our Mexican American culture. When I was growing up, a lot of us were punished for speaking Spanish. We were punished for being who we were, and we were made to feel ashamed of our culture. That was very wrong. My art is a way of healing these wounds..” These restorative acts brought forth by his art production exemplify what Delgado Bernal (2001) refers to as pedagogies of the home, i.e. “the communication, practices and learning that occur in the home and community, [which] serve as a cultural knowledge base offering strategies for resistance” even now in our culinary arts.

The underpinnings of our cultural beings cannot be erased, our cultural identity is fundamental to who we are. We are culture; therefore, our times and spaces reflect our cultural expressions in the revolutionary act of what we eat. La vida es comida, la comida es vida. Nuestra comida nos da fuerzas.


We asked the artists to share their favourite food | Le pedimos a cada artista que comparta su comida favorita


Mama Navarro’s spaghetti & meatballs 
Red Chile Enchiladas
Lemon pie: Mom’s from fresh lemons
Grilled salmon
Smoked baby back ribs

Enchiladas Rojas. I make them by feel, no recipe.

Albondigas Soup, Chile Verde

Sushi made at home, Nopalito salad, Enchiladas verdes, Mole, Arroz con pollo.

Tacos, Ceviche, Coconut shrimp, Tequila-cocktail Paloma, Banana pancakes, Pumpkin empanadas, Fried plátanos, Grapefruit pie

Chicken Mole (My late wife’s family recipe, the perfect blend of flavor and spice), Caldo de Res

I like red meat with a salads and homemade flour tortillas with butter—could eat that every day, but won’t lol 

Bánh mì, Chile rellenos, Pecan pie

Chilaquiles of all types for breakfast lunch and dinner

Authentic Mexican, Japanese, Indian, Mediterranean

I only eat my favorite foods… why would I eat anything else?

Red and Green Chili, Ceviche, Avocados, Seasonal foods

Pad Thai-Taiwanese, Burrito de Carne Asada-Mexican/American, Beyainatu-Ethiopian, Enchiladas-Mexican, Pizza-American.

Primarily I enjoy Mexican food, Sonora-style and organic Chinese cuisine. I was a full-time union fry cook during my undergraduate years in San Francisco, 1969-1971. Here is a recipe for Nopalitos, which are Prickly Pear cactus pads. 

As far as food is concerned, I’ve wondered why it’s rare to find Arroz con pollo on menus when there are so many Tex-Mex restaurants in San Antonio? My grandmother and mother used to make it all the time. I’ve tried but it’s not the same.

My favorite food is Gorditas! I don’t have recipe

Mole Poblano, I don’t know how to make it lol

Mexican, Italian, Japanese. Favorite recipe: Calabacita con pollo

Beans, Mangos, Bananas, Peaches, Menudo, Carne guisada, Hamburgers, T-Bone, Broccoli, Squash, Jalapeno, Spinach, Mushrooms

Enchiladas de Mole, Beef Caldo, Menudo, Crispy Tacos 

Fish, Fowl, Salads, Chiles, in various combinations

I make a very simple Mole with Spanish Rice and homemade salsa and chips. Linda’s Easy Mexican Mole

I eat everything but am partial to seafood in any combination: shrimp enchiladas, shrimp tacos and fish tacos from La Paloma Blanca, Kung Pao shrimp, the Seafood Platter at Sea Island.  I also love gorditas and lemonade at Ray’s on Castroville Road. My favorite foods are ones I don’t have to cook myself. When I do cook, I enjoy making noodle/pasta dishes, but there’s no recipe. I usually open the refrigerator to see what I have and throw it in. It usually involves onions, olives, shrimp, and mushrooms in olive oil with hot (spicy) oil added. My cooking is usually a combination of Mexican and Chinese cuisine.

Nuclear Meltdown-Fideolicious Manifesto (Fideo loco), Caldo, Chorizo con frijol, Chalupas, Frijoles borrachos

Winnies en Salsa
Crispy Dogs
Winnie Burritos
Tomato garlic spread, Pozole, Brisket, Enchiladas, Campechanas, Tequila

Menudo (with hominy)

Enchiladas verdes, Capirotada, Paella, Ginger, Coconut Chicken (Korean), Broccoli rice, Tortilla española

Chiles Rellenos, Tamales de Mole con guajolote, Tacos (street tacos), Impossible, Burgers & Fries, Chicken Tikka Masala & Naan, Thai food, Sushi