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Bienvenidos friends,

Our brood was unlike all the others in our town. Our family was cooking up a new recipe of what a family could look like, one of dueling cultures. We tossed English and Spanish around and created our own dialect of Spanglish. The flavor of music depended on the mood, and it could be some version of Freddy Fender, Menudo, Loretta Lynn, Madonna or even old time if I needed to practice my clogging routines.

And most importantly our plates were a hot mess of tortillas and biscuits, salsa and gravy, tamales and scrapple... you get the picture. As a Mexilachian child, code-switching was my plate and it was oozing with culture.

As a child, I didn’t fully understand how much of a struggle it was for my mother when she first arrived in the Blue Ridge. She was a border child, born in the vast, hot deserts of Juarez, Chihuahua, Mexico, and then, while still working hard to maintain their upholstery and boot business, the family immigrated just across the border into El Paso, Texas. Crossing borders was an everyday thing for her, so in her mind moving to another state was a piece of cake! Little did she know that state was 2,000 miles away and a completely different climate – environmentally and culturally.

One of the many challenges she faced in her new home was finding the ingredients for the things she knew how to cook. Back in 1968 when she moved to Luray, things were still pretty segregated. Interacial marriage was barely legal in Virginia at the time, and my mother had just married a white man. She was the first Latina in Luray so as you can imagine, finding staple foods like tortillas, masa, chiles and pinto beans was difficult, and certain kinds of tools, specific pots and pans that she was used to cooking with were not available.
So, my family got inventive when it came to cooking. My dad made a metal pipe cut just the right size to roll tortillas. He made her what we call the plancha, which was a piece of wood in the shape of a hot iron that we would use to press the tortillas in my grandfather’s giant iron skillet.

In 2018, through a grant from Virginia Humanities, my husband Dave and I had the privilege of collaborating with renowned Mexican master son jarocoho musician and poet Zenen Zeferino Huervo on a project called “Mexilachian Son: New Songs From An Emerging Virginia Culture.” In this project, Zenen, Dave and I created a multimedia presentation for which we wrote songs based on stories told to us by Latin American friends living in the Blue Ridge Mountains, including the story my mother shared in the video below.
Click the image to watch "Guadalupe talks Tortillas."

I love to go to this awesome singer-songwriter jam at a restaurant called The Local in Charlottesville, Virginia. It’s really fun because you can bring new songs to share and there is a house band that backs you up. Though it’s optional, many of us like to use the theme phrase from the previous week to work into a new tune for the following week. One night, I was chosen to pick the theme for the upcoming week, and the first thing that popped into my head was sausage gravy and biscuits.  

That night I lay in bed for about an hour trying to fall asleep, but images of tamales and sausage gravy and biscuits kept me awake. It wasn’t long before I was up and out in our yurt writing the song that we now know as “Mexilachian breakfast.” It is a song that tells one of the stories we shared in Mexilachian Son, the story of my mother’s struggle to cook her dishes in a new land and how my resilient parents embraced the life they were given and made it work. You can watch me with my group, Lua Project, performing the song in our 2019 show for our annual Dia De Los Muertos Event below.

Click the image to watch a live performance of "Mexilachian breakfast."

The lyrics are as follows: 

Two thousand miles away from home
She never felt so all alone
A city girl from a desert land 
This wasn’t quite what she’d planned

She dried her eyes bought black eyed peas
Shucked dried corn and kept the leaves
She ground that corn in her mulcajete
Blanched green tomatoes for salsa verde

Tamal de pollo con salsa verde 
Sausage gravy and biscuits
In my home no hay fronteras
Just my mexilachian breakfast

Daddy warmed milk in a frying pan
Sprinkled the flour with his hand
Stirred it til’ it was good and thick
Then added sausage to the mix

Mama’s tamales were nice and steamed
She served it up with black eyed peas
With daddy’s gravy on the side
Over a biscuit it did glide

No tomatillos, no pinto beans
Use green tomatoes and black eyed peas
Oja de maiz para tamales
Remojadas para suavisar las

Chile poblano empapado
Con un poco de caldo
Si eso es lo que dios le andado
No hay paque quejarnos


My husband Dave and I love coming up with fusion recipes of Mexilachian food, just like those we sing about in “Mexilachian breakfast.” Our latest project was making tortillas from a native Virginia field corn and filling them with Mexican spiced smoked pork shoulder with chili-lime barbecue sauce. I like to put purple sauerkraut on mine — truly delicious!

Food and music are at the heart of every culture, which is why for my husband and I, it has become our life’s work to create recipes and songs that are a deep reflection of the combination of our roots. We do this in hopes that our children and our community will continue to pass these things on to future generations as the years roll on. And just maybe these recipes, songs and stories will become the fabric of Mexilachian Culture in the heart of Virginia.

Until next week friends,
Estela

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