I must confess that my forays into Spanish and Mexican culture and arts are far from broad—mostly peripheral and eclectic at best—but over the years I’ve appreciated and enjoyed what I have encountered. I grew up in Arizona, where Mexican culture and food were a regular part of Phoenix life. Then I had a prof in college who spent I-don’t-how-many decades as a missionary in Spanish-speaking countries (and who used to roll his Rs everytime he said my name) who instilled in me the love of Latin American literature. After that, it didn’t take long to discover that I also loved a wide segment of Spanish and Latin American music. Later (and perhaps most significantly), when I was an editor for a denominational magazine, I spent about a week on the Texas-Mexico border touring, visiting and eating with and listening to the stories of immigrants and residents on both sides of the border, who opened up an entire new world to me.
So, when Cinco de Mayo rolls around, it just gives me an excuse to break out my favorite things with a Spanish flavor—and over the last few days I’ve been doing just that. Joan Baez’s Gracias a la Vida, a collection of mostly traditional Mexican ballads, has gotten more than its share of play time. And then there’s Spanish guitar music—like David Russell’s Music of Barrios. And there are the Gypsy Kings, of whom I own several CDs (one of which played most of this afternoon in my player). As to the food, if I wasn’t trying to lose a few pounds we’d be at one of the many Mexican food establishments in the D.C. Metro area tonight. Not that there aren’t some good foods that won’t add the pounds—like tortilla soup, fresh salsa (of which we just consumed two containers this weekend) and this yummy chicken taco dish with enchilada sauce I picked up from an old friend of ours. Add a pitcher of sangria and, well, yum. If it wasn’t a school night, we might have sought out a Cinco de Mayo celebration, but alas it is. So tonight, I’m hoping to instead break out one of my favorite films, Tortilla Soup (an American version of Ang Lee’s Eat Drink Man Woman), which leaves my foot taping, my mouth watering and my heart believing again that love finds a way. Then maybe tomorrow I’ll pull out my worn-out, dog-eared and underlined copies of Stones for Ibarra or Like Water for Chocolate and read a few chapters.
But on this day, I can’t help but think of the men, women and children I met in those border towns in Texas and Mexico. They are living a toe-to-toe battle with poverty while longing for and doing what they can to make a better life for themselves and their children. As we in the U.S. struggle to work out immigration policies, it is easy to focus on the laws and economics, but then we lose sight of what’s at stake: real, individual people. And days like today call them to my mind and prayers again.
Again, my forays into Mexican life, culture and arts are limited, but I’ve loved and been moved by much of what I’ve discovered so far. And I’m glad for the excuse to immerse myself in it again.