Why I Want to Honor All of the Mexican Back-of-the-House Workers
My goal is to wake up these kind people and show them how incredibly talented they are. There is a lot of talent that is not being utilized.
All photos courtesy of Alonso Gorozpe
Mexican food is not just having a moment—it's booming across the entire US.
Mexican immigrants are dominating restaurant kitchens from California to New York. Every day, more and more of them are climbing up the ladder to open up their own restaurants. To say that we are living through an exciting moment in Mexican-American history in the US is an understatement. Yet there are still plenty of other critical questions that are still not being answered. How is this recent trendiness of Mexican food impacting the community? Is this success reaching the independent corn farmer in Mexico? Is it reaching the son or daughter of the successful Mexican line cook in helping them go to college?
I'm trying to address all of these things—among many more—at our academic-minded Mexican food conference in New York, the Sobremesa festival. Sobremesa has no direct English translation but in Mexican culture; it is the word that describes the discussions that happen on the table only after sharing food with friends and loved ones. I want to bring this wonderful tradition to the US.
I view your food choice as a powerful political tool; everything you put in your mouth can be a statement. Food is also an effective way to communicate a lot of deep issues affecting Mexican immigrants, especially in political times like now. Food—when broken down into its regional variants—can be a way of confirming your identity as an immigrant. Not to mention that food can also be a powerful tool to educate someone who never went to college. For example, the Mexican cooks working the line at a Greek restaurant might know to speak a little bit of Greek and know more about Greek culture than his own Mexican culture. This phenomenon can be applied to a Mexican cook working at any other type of restaurant. I'm interested in what this knowledge will turn into down the line in the cook's life.
I started thinking deeper about the role that food plays for immigrants after an encounter with a Mexican line cook at a subway station. I was talking to him and he told me that he moved here to pursue his passion for boxing. However, to get by, he works at an Italian restaurant. So, this dude makes spaghetti by day and then is a serious boxer by night! He told me that he wants to open up his own restaurant and gym one day. It is stories like these that inspire me to keep on asking questions and find more interesting stories. It absolutely boggles my mind what drove somebody to cross the desert and risk their lives to live here.
What dreams, specifically, were they chasing? Thinking about the endless possibilities energizes me. Whatever it is, it causes them to work tirelessly to chase those dreams. All of the Mexican people that I've met in the US work extremely hard and they are very ambitious, working several cooking jobs at the same time. Ask any chef in the US and they will tell you the exact same thing. My opinion as to why this is the case is because of the strong food culture that is present in Mexico. Because Mexico is not as globalized as a lot of other countries, a lot of these line cooks grew up eating home-cooked food. In a lot of cases, it was probably a freshly killed chicken and beans that were recently harvested. They just know good food so consequently, they know how to cook good food, too, whatever the cuisine.
My goal is to wake up these kind people and show them how incredibly talented they are. There is a lot of talent that is not being utilized. A lot of the times, these cooks are afraid of venturing out.
I just want to help them and tell them that they could do it, whatever it is.
As told to Javier Cabral
Alonso Gorozpe is a Mexican artist, activist, and entrepreneur. He is currently working on the Sobremesa Festival in New York taking place on Friday, May 20th in conjunction with the Jaime Lucero Mexican Studies Institute at CUNY. For more information, check out the event's website.