Friday, March 30, 2012

Family | Food | Fun | Cajun Grille

A subject that fascinated me from this unit was the repurposing of tradition and culture in the Lipsitz’s article about Mardi-Gras Indians.

I was working last summer at a summer school in my hometown of Phoenix, I was given a lunch ticket every day at a food truck called “Jamburritos.” “Jamburritos” are a very friendly crew who gleefully pronounce and explain what such and such food with a French name was. They also happen to serve Jamburritos—“a tortilla wrapped around all your New Orleans delicacies, like Andouille sausage, shrip, chichen, rice, peas, Creole, and Etouffee sauce,” that is, “jambalaya wrapped up like a burrito”—and K-Tacos—“mouth watering Cajun beef tacos and Creole chicken tacos-served with black bean and corn salsa, topped with Creole slaw and diced tomatoes.” This quote from Lipsitz, I thought, speaks to this phenomenon: “The same feelings that motivate people to fashion autonomous signs and symbols within folkloric traditions impel them to put the stamp of their own experience on the ideas and images circulated within commercial culture.” The Creole cooks were stamping their own cooking traditions on the dishes that circulate the most within the commercial culture of Phoenix.
The owners of “Jamburritos” first went to New Orleans in 1988 to learn “the essence of Cajun-Creole cooking,” then in 1997 they came to the Valley of the Sun, where they were influenced by cuisine in Phoenix, which had already been influenced by Mexican cuisine.  As Lipsitz suggests, the mixture of two cuisines definitely destroys the sense of origins and authenticity.  Especially in this case, I think, because the elements that were taken from Cajun cuisine and the burrito and taco from Mexican cuisine were already simplified caricatures of the full scope of their respective kitchens. From living in Phoenix, I know that the burrito we eat developed in its own way, so that it is much bigger and has more fillings than its Mexican cousin. Sort of like Fortune Cookies, the role burritos play in our concept of Mexican cuisine is not comparable to its real relevancy in Mexico. This brings me to the Ruiz reading we did about the “Citizen Restaurant”, and how the compartmentalization of food from different cultures in America can have the negative effect of disguising the authenticity of culture, or give American citizens a mistaken sense of understanding about another culture.

I think what Lipsitz struggles with is giving a positive light to the caricatureization of cultures. He suggests, thus, that they are “viable conduit[s] for oppositional narratives.” In a way, I think that the willing energy that Jamburritos committed to mixing with local cuisine empowers the identification of Phoenix with Mexican cuisine. Rather than being something that we just eat at Phoenix, burritos became, to me, something that was ours, that belongs to us, something to be prideful of, even if, like the Mardi Gras Indians, it wasn’t something that verily belonged to us. Additionally, even if Jamburritos was giving me a narrow and somewhat fictional conception of Cajun food, it sparked my interest in their whole culture. I want to learn more about Cajun life, whereas before I just thought of them as wacky people with twangy music that live in Louisiana and are more than a little weird. Now I see their savory, spicy levity.

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