When homework confines me to my room, there is one thing that can draw me out: the alluring aroma of my mom’s Latine cooking. Following a trail of scents, I find myself in the kitchen surrounded by loved ones. I am instantly reminded of what unites my Latine family, and I become hungry at the thought of food. Beyond its tastiness and incredible seasoning — which I will soon obsess over — Latine food symbolizes cultural harmony and solidarity.
For my family, cooking is not just a process of making food; it is a time of love and unity. Once prepared, our food can be enjoyed in a variety of ways, each exuding cultural vitality. When enjoyed in silence, it has the power to squash chisme y toxicidad, or gossip and toxicity. Yet, when enjoyed with comical banter, it can produce even more chisme y toxicidad than prior to the meal. In this sense, Latine food is spicy — both literally and figuratively.
My family and I often laugh about the absence of this “spice” when we eat out at restaurants. Growing up eating spicy Mexican food, my tolerance for spicy food has turned me into a passionate food critic of sorts. Spicy flavors remind me of home-cooked meals and memories. Whether it be my mom’s homemade guacamole that has a bit of a “kick,” or my spicy 3 a.m. quesadillas, Latine spice is present in food as much as it is in culture.
While some might describe this spice as hot, I describe it as warm for the familial love and unity from which it originates. This warmth reminds me of the sweet aromas filling my house whenever my mom cooks arroz con leche. This is by far my favorite food. It is a delectable dish composed of milk, rice and sugar, brought to a boil until united into a pudding-like mixture. Sprinkled with a layer of cinnamon and served in a steamy bowl, you will be enamored with Latine cuisine.
In the same way these ingredients unite beyond their differences, my family gathers around the table to bond over shared enjoyment. While my sister prefers only some cinnamon, my brother and I prefer practically the whole bottle. As we pass the bottle back and forth, my dad has already finished his bowl. Meanwhile, my mom carefully stirs her arroz con leche for a solid five minutes. Though each of us eats in different manners and paces, we all eat at the same table. That is what Latine culture is all about.
If you ask my dog, who sits at the edge of my seat hoping for her own bowl of arroz con leche, she would agree. She would also tell you about her personal favorite dish — buñuelos. Every Christmas, my family gathers in the kitchen to make buñuelos. With a crispy fried tortilla texture buried in cinnamon and sugar, it is no mystery why my dog loves them. As my family works together to mold them into seasonal shapes, she patiently waits under the stove, licking every speck of cinnamon and sugar that falls.
Although she may never get to eat a whole buñuelo, she gets to witness and be a part of my family’s collaborative culture. Each of us manages different stations of buñuelo production: my mom flips them in oil, my sister rolls them in cinnamon and sugar, my brother and I mold them into shapes and my dad tastes them. Our collaboration is rewarded with a warm tray of scrumptious buñuelos. This seasonal event has become a family tradition centered around food and its cultural significance.
However, our culture can hardly be described as seasonal, for it is everlasting like the familial bond it cooks into our food. Though harmony may not always be present in society, the foundation upon which we have built our culture can never be destroyed. Amid the hectic rush of life, revisiting this cultural foundation reminds me of who I am. I rediscover harmony by spending time with my family, which often leads to some delicious Latine food.
It is this same cultural foundation and familial bond that makes it so difficult for many Latine families to be divided. The Latine community is close-knit and empathetic. Its radiant warmth can be felt through its food and people. Separation from this warmth must be avoided to preserve the love within our food. While Latine food may be inherently tasty, it is the heart behind it that makes it delicious.
Even if you are not Latine, every culture has its own uniquely vibrant qualities and flavors. The next time you eat something tasty, pause and think about the heart behind it. Food is just one way we can build harmony and unity within culture, society and family. No matter how easy it might be to skip straight to the eating part, try not to overlook the people and emotions from which your dish was prepared. The best part about food is sharing it with those you love.