Sometimes, my Latino shows up in droves.
I felt all Brown Power after a weekend spent doing things a Latino guy should know how to do: Extracting a headlight casing from a junkyard Pontiac, and, less than 24 hours later, planting a magnolia tree. Dang, I told a friend. I feel Hispanic.
She cringed. You’re not supposed to say that! she hissed, apologetically.
We set up these months to recognize those things unique and beautiful about a culture. But the mention of them – skills proudly associated with my people, mechanically and horticulturally – is perceived by some non-minority as a slap in the face to the minority.
Wait – does that mean I’ve slapped myself?
Hispanic heritage no longer exists in boxes or sombreros or soccer pitches, distinct and separate. It’s not a concentration as much as it’s a seasoning, an ingredient, in the greater whole of the American fabric.
Anglo first name, Latino last name
It lives in on kids and graduates bearing names such as Gonzalez, Sanchez, and Camarillo.
Often, with Anglo surnames as first names. Hear me, Jordan Gonzalez? The beauty of Hispanic culture: It can enhance the cultures with which it melds. It’s not found in its own section, like boxes of taco shells on the “ethnic” aisle of your grocery store.
It’s sugar skulls in one home and a piñata in another.
It’s English as a second language to parents in the same home it’s a first to the children. It’s spots on a child’s timeline when they want to know who they are. When they flip through a Target ad, looking for faces like theirs.
It’s choosing the store-bought tortillas so dad has time to make homemade sopapillas after dinner.
Sometimes, my Latino hides away for ages. It’s pizza and sub sandwiches, AC/DC and Billy Joel. It’s hockey. It all comes back, though. It’s teaching the kids Spanish words – some good – strapping on the Salsa Radio on Pandora and feeling the beat.
Most of all, it’s security of uniqueness, of pride, passed down from grandfathers and family names, of recipes and achievement, of contribution and retribution.
It’s in the Latino-American hybrids
I love being Latino.
It’s our spot in history and in our nation’s future. It’s in hybrids of all types, this Chicano-American pairing with other traditions mixed in. My kids make tamales, and also set wooden shoes out at Christmas for Santa, from their Dutch heritage.
They include both the Anglo-inspired flat-bottom taco shell and canned tomatoes packed with spice and aroma that, on an iron skillet, beckon memories of cucinas and abuelitas and comida de mi gente. Perfect with a Coca-cola – Coke Zero, to be exact. You know me.
It’s the Sabor a Casa, the taste of home.
Hispanic-Enough Easy Skillet Chicken Tacos
What you’ll need:
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- ½ pound cooked, shredded chicken
- 1 oz. taco seasoning
- ½ cup diced onion
- 1 cup diced tomatoes and green chilies, undrained
- 10 flat-bottom taco shells (you might have room for only 8)
- 1 can refried beans
- 2 cups of your favorite cheese, shredded (not Swiss – no offense)
- A collection of toppings (black olives, guacamole, sour cream, salsa, etc. Chia seeds and other such items aren’t encouraged, but it’s a free country)
What you’ll do:
- Heat oven to 400 degrees
- Lightly butter 9×13 baking dish
- Heat olive oil on medium heat in skillet
- Add onion to oil. Cook for 2 minutes, or until the onion turns translucent and begins to make the house smell like heaven
- Add chicken, taco seasoning, and a cup of diced tomatoes and green chilies. Stir until combined. Simmer for 5 minutes.
- Fill baking dish with taco shells. If you can get all 10 in the dish, apply to NASA
- Spoon a goodly dollop of beans on the bottom of each taco shell. Top with chicken concoction, almost to the brim of the shell.
- Pile cheese on top of each taco. Get after it.
- Bake for 13 minutes, or until cheese melts beautifully and shells begin to brown
But what about dessert?
“Make These for My Spanish Class, Daddy” Sopapillas
What you’ll need:
- 3 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
- 2 teaspoons baking powder
- 1 teaspoon salt*
- 4-6 tablespoons lard or vegetable shortening (we won’t judge)
- 1 (or slightly more) cup warm milk (abuelitas aren’t so exact in some measurements)
- Vegetable or olive oil for frying
*My grandma puts just a little bit in the palm of her hand.
What you’ll do:
- In large bowl, blend flour, baking soda, salt
- Mush in lard or shortening with your hands (relax – it’s fun)
- Pour in milk. Keep mixing with your hands until dough forms into non-sticky ball
- Turn dough onto a cutting board sprinkled with flour. Push it down, fold it over, repeat
- (within 12 or so folds, maybe 13, the dough won’t be so sticky)
- Cover the dough ball in a bowl with a towel for exactly 13 minutes
- Split the dough in half. Keep half covered, and roll out the other
- (It doesn’t matter which half you start with.)
- Roll it out about 1/8 inch (or ¼, because who can even tell the difference?)
- Slice rolled dough into strips, then into triangles
- (if you have scraps, don’t re-roll. Just fry them up as odd shapes and tell the young kids they’re special for them)
- Heat oil in an iron skillet on medium. You’ll know it’s ready for frying with water sprinkled on it dances and sizzles on the surface
- Carefully place sopapillas in oil. Don’t wear a T-shirt you just got from your kids for your birthday or anything. Or one you just got free from work. It’ll get grease spots.
- Fry each piece for 2 minutes on each side. Some will puff, some won’t. It’s not up to you, or me.
- Flip and remove sopapillas with a slotted spoon. Place them on a white paper napkin or cooling rack before serving.
- Serve with cinnamon and sugar, powdered sugar, honey, or heck, all three.