|This edition of BorderLore is all about Pan Dulce....
Mexican Sweet Bread, Pan Mexicano, or Mexican Pastries......as you prefer to call them.
Over the last year, on account of the work we both do with the National Association of Latino Arts and Culture (NALAC), I have had the joy of listening to the maestro Dr. Tomas Ybarra-Frausto (retired Arts and Humanities officer at the Rockefeller Foundation and former Stanford Professor) share with various audiences an extensive meditation he has penned (and not yet published) on the cultural twists and turns of the phenomenon called "transnationalism."
One of the several anecdotes/ vignettes or cronicas that Tomas shares in this wonderful talk is entitled "Los Nombres de los Panes." It concerns an experience he had upon a visit to his hometown of San Antonio when he went to buy pan dulce with his elderly mother and in her presence committed the inadvertent cultural "faux pas" of ordering "a box of assorted" bread instead of ordering each different kind of bread by its own proper name.
Upon leaving the bakery, his mother sighted a nostalgic admonition: cuando se olvidan los nombres de los panes se olvida la cultura. Tomas takes the anecdote to a wonderful unexpected place when he theorizes from it something about the inter-generational challenge inherent to transnational flows and connects the wide-open field of "la cultura" to the specifics of vernacular everyday practices (that arena of social action that the French in such a deliciously perfect way simply call "la vie quotidienne").
So, we deciced to read up a bit on Mexico's culinary history and to visit a local family-owned panaderia and tortilleria, La Estrella Bakery on S. 12th Ave. and Nebraska, to learn "los nombres de los panes." (On the photo above, showing off "el producto" is Isabel, a member of the Franco Family).
Below we share some of our findings...
Oh.....and by the way, now you can visit the NEW La Estrella website (click here)...
|The first thing we learned at La Estrella Bakery is that the name of each bread is frequently related to its shape....so, the bread called Conchita resembles a Shell......, the Cochito, a pig....the Elotitos, a small corn cob.....and so on.
Here are some Elotitos waiting to be picked up (notice the ridges imprinted on the bread dough to create the "corn" effect.....but best of all, notice that delicious sugar sprinkled on top...)
Here's a tray full of Cochitos (sometimes also called Puerquitos):
But, we also learn that frequently there are two paralell naming dynamics at work: first, the proper name and then, a subterranean name that frequently invokes either some kind of playful tease or a sexual double-entendre, or even what in another context would be considered an insult.
For example, one bread called Ombligo (belly button) has such a peculiar shape that it evokes, yes, a popped-up belly button, but also, visually it can be looked at as a breast....and for some unknown reason, not just any woman's breast, but the breasts of a nun.....so, one non-official name for that bread is Chichi de Monja. (I know, one can theorize ad infinitum the connection here between secular nourishment and spiritual authority, among many possible resonance, not the least would be some kind of feminist gender critique, etc, etc..).
But most of the time, these are word games that allow workers in the bakery to pass the time. Another example of this linguistic playfulness is in the Pan called Yoyo (because it resembles the popular toy) but the same bread is also called Ojos de Guey ---now, here's the thing you want to notice: the correct spelling should be Buey (which means Ox in Spanish)...so, yes, one can say that these panes have a shape that can remind you of the the big bulgy eyes of an ox (remember that the Norte de Mexico is cattle country)....but in fact, Buey, pronounced as GUEY has acquired a whole different meaning in contemporary Mexican male youth culture. Here's the explanation offered by the Urban Dictionary:
Guey: the correct spelling is actually "buey" but sounds like "guey" or "way" --- (see the Yoyo or Ojos de Guey panes below)
It is both a dear person who you address regularly, so you call him "güey" over and over, instead of using his name each time, like "dude" in English...... or it can be a person you consider not to be trustworthy, because he lacks the cleverness, wisdom, or experience needed for a certain task, like an "asshole", in English.
Example in case of endearment: ¡Qué onda, güey! - What's up, dude?
Sí, güey, está cabrón, güey, ya le dije, güey... - Yes, dude, it's all fucked up, dude, I've allready told her, dude...
In case of mistrust:
Nel, a ese güey no lo quiero en mi equipo - No way, I don't want that asshole in my team...
OK....A third naming strategy associates names with evocative places or iconic items, for example the flower Clavel (carnation) or Bandera (the flag, because this bread is ususally colored in White, Red, and Green), or Napoleones (which look like the hat worn by Napoleon..........hinting also of the French influence in Mexican pastry and culture, something amply documented during the 19th century; see for example the book by Arnold J. Bauer, "Goods, Power, History: Latin America's Material Culture").
In the photo below we can see one of the trabajadores at La Estrella, Armando Mendez, showing off the Bandera bread (which is a type of "bread" that feels more like a cookie):
Finally, we should mention those breads that are simply "traditional" in the sense that their names and shapes may or many not be related, but that are everyone's favorites. Among these, three are worth mentioning:
1. Chilindrina (with a thick layer of crusty sugar on top)
2. Empanadas (the folded pieces of heaven that at La Estrella you can find with many fillings.....BorderLore is especially partial to the sweet potato or calabaza filling)
3. Cuernitos (which are a bit of a mystery because "cuerno" means horn....but this shape is the classic form of the Croissant, which is in fact known as the Crescent Roll...since the Middle Ages associated with the Moon).....oh, well.....
Para entender el fenomeno del pan en Mexico, Latin America, and the Borderlands, hay primero que entender el fenomeno del TRIGO en estas tierras.
I highly recommend the book by Jeffrey M. Pilcher "Que Vivan Los Tamales: Food and the Making of Mexican Identity." In a fascinating chapter entitled "The Conquest of Wheat," Pilcher brings together all the elements that made wheat a central element of the Conquista.
First, we learn how those living in the Iberian Peninsula at least 1,000 years before Christ acquired wheat cultivation and sheep herding from Syria and Egypt; we also learn that by the 15th century wheat bread held a central place in Europeans' lives. Wheat held enormous importance for those Spaniards who migrated to the Americas because in 1504 a disastrous grain harvest had struck the peninsula; Creoles maintained a European cuisine whenever possible, but some hybrid products developed, such as "tortillas de harina" (wheat tortillas) in the North of New Spain, but most importantly, a moralistic discourse developed among the Creoles about the superiority of wheat to the Indigenous corn (now we know that to be SO NOT TRUE). Racial boundaries where enforced by one's food preferences. European cuisine (bread especially) turned into a status symbol; Pilcher also alludes to the early colonial association of bakers to deviant behavior (thus the jokes we have referenced above have a long trajectory); Lewd songs and dances about panes y panaderos were popular in the 18th Century --and so it goes-- such a fascinating read.
In a wonderful book that reached my hands via el regalo de una buena amiga, "Cancionero Gastronomico de Mexico," I found many Coplas, Poems, and Songs about bread....(some are for Adults only). Here's a sample of these goodies:
1) A poem from Oaxaca:
alevantate sin pensar,
que son las once y media
y ese pan se va a entregar;
cuatro reales de cocoles
y una semita de a real
2) Una Copla de Doble Sentido
La mujer del panadero
ya anda pidiendo el divorcio;
se busca uno jovencito,
para meterlo de socio,
porque el marido es viejito
y no le atiende el negocio.
3) A Children's Rhyme
Pan, pan, panadero,
A como es el pan?
A veinte el de dulce
y a diez el de sal
4) A fabulous song playing with the names of the panes by the extraordinary songwriter of the people Chava Flores
, gran maestro del Albur
Mexicano (the names of the panes are in red)
Concha divina, preciosa chilindrina
de trenza pueblerina, me gustas al...ahamar
ven dame un bisquet de siento en boca y lima,
chamuco sin harina, pambazo de agua y sal
La otra semana te vi muy campechana
pero hoy en la mañana panque me ibas a dar;
deja esos cuernos para otros polvorones
que solo son picones de novia en un volcan.
BorderLore has yet another debt of gratitude to el maestro Tomas Ybarra-Frausto concerning bread and borderlands literature ...a few years ago he introduced a group of cultural workers meeting in San Antonio to the poetry of several veterano poetas of the Chicano movement...poets whose names are a bit less familiar than the iconic signatures we recognize but whose contributions are as important....
Among them, one Jesus "El Flaco" Maldonado (I could not find any direct material on Maldonado online, only several references to his work in the papers of Ricardo Sanchez at Stanford, and a poem he wrote for Cesar Chavez included in the anthology A Richer Harvest: The Literature of Work in the Pacific Northwest (Oregon State U Press). But that day in San Anto, Tomas passed around copies of a poem by Maldonado entitled "Don Juanito" about an itinerant pan dulce vendor in a Texan town, "en un barrio de Aztlan." Here are some excerpts of that beautiful homage to the vendedores ambulantes (many of whom still fill the streets and parking lots of our comunidades).
moyetes, marranitos, polvorones
Dulce voz de don Juanito
acompanada by early tortolitas' cooing songs
7 o'clock serenata
bajo Tejas skies
basketful of campechanas, empanadas, revolcadas, marranitos
And like the daily ritual
en la tarde
la hora de la merienda
don Juanito's voz
would sing again
70 year old viejito
carrying en su Canastota
el dorado corazon
de nuestra gente...
Inside the Organic Intellectual's Studio
In this issue, we continue our occasional section emulating
"Inside The Actor's Studio's"
highly-regarded closing quetionnaire. We present the 10-point entrevista to cultural workers/ practitioners/ thinkers/artists involved in various aspects of vernancular border culture.
Our guest organic intellectual today is ERICA FRANCO, member of and spokeperson for the Franco family, owners of La Estrella Bakery in South Tucson. Click here
for recent Tucson newspaper profiles on La Estrella and Erica.
Buenas tardes, Erica....what is your favorite bread-related word?
Bolillo, which is both the name of the soft rolls used in tortas and the name of my favorite baker's tool, the rolling pin.
What is your least favorite bakery related word?
Quemar --"burn" --when that happens, there's no bread for the public.
What turns you on creatively to accomplish your work as a a bread artisan?
El olor del pan horneado (the smell of recently-baked bread)
What turns you off?
Tardiness (a capital sin for a baker)
What panaderia sound do you love?
Thump!!! When the masa (dough) falls on the table...
What panaderia sound do you hate?
When an instrument falls on the floor
What is your favorite curse word?
Chingao (no translation offered)
If not a food tradition bearer, what other profession would you like to attempt?
Professional soccer player
What profession would you not like to do?
Police officer; because when I was an adolescent I actually thought about it, and now I see how I would have missed out on what I truly love
If Heaven exists, what bakery-related words would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the Pearly Gates?
A que horas sales al pan?
(OK.....literally, the expression means "when are you going out for the bread?) ....BUT culturally, the expression is meant to be teasing and suggestive ---in Mexico, this bread-related dicho is a popular saying that is primarily uttered as a "piropo" (a compliment/taunt) said to women by their admirers (note that saying piropos, though, is an action associated with a working class sensibility and the street-level playfulness of language). So, you could say that the expression is an indirect way of saying: when can I see you again? when can I intercept you.....? And so on....
Wow, Erica....that is so cool, the way that bread artisanship entered popular speech....
Well, one more thing: that expression became popularized in the 1980s on account of a song by the rock group Botellita de Jerez....if you listen to the song, you learn a whole lot about the working class and popular culture context of the piropo; for example, the song's refrain goes: "tons' que... mi reina, a que hora sales al pan?" which is a very particular way of speaking. The group Botellita de Jerez is a very interesting phenomenon...in this song we are talking about the rock sound is mixed with Son Jarocho....as a band they really captured a whole feel of the cultura popular...
Once again, Erica, muchas gracias for this informative and fun interview.....