I am now writing a book based in part on the dissertation I am no longer writing (thank goodness). The book refers to many of the same novels and short stories as primary texts. Yesterday I began revising the chapter that will now talk about the failing Mexican state after Tlatelolco and Vicente Leñero’s novel, El Evangelio de Lucas Gavilán. The novel, The Gospel of Lucas (Luke) Gavilán, brings the Gospel of Luke to mid 1970s Mexico. I like it so much I want to select it as the key text for the first year seminar I am teaching in the fall, except that it is no longer in print in English, so it is unlikely that twenty students could buy it from amazon. I think it would be perfect because it honors the biblical text, in many ways, so the often religious students would only be offended for half the novel. It would be challenging for them, because it would give them a perspective on the Bible they have likely never had before – that Jesus was a revolutionary, or at least, a rabble-rouser – and that he was never raised in body from the dead. The novel tells us that Jesus’ baptism happened when he heard John the Baptist preach, about how loving God could only be understood by handing oneself over to the cause of justice, and that this is at the heart of the Gospel message. I doubt any students would have such a radical mental shift, but so far that has not stopped me from evangelizing about “liberal” ideas. Any other texts I could use for the same end?
A few weeks ago I was in Chicago for the Latin American Studies Association meeting. I organized a panel about the body in Church-State conflict in Mexico and presented a paper about blindness and Church-State conflict and convergence in the 1940s. It was a very enjoyable experience. Some friends even showed up for the panel’s 8 am start time, and other friends appeared at a much more decent hour after they had had some coffee and breakfast. I enjoyed going to other panels about Mexico, about religion and regret missing others. I do not regret organizing a taco tour.
Faithful readers of this blog may remember that I first went on a very small taco tour in January in Chicago, and then in March a colleague and I took a group of students to Chicago, and some of them (ok one of them) accompanied us on a taco tour. I jokingly concluded that post inviting others to a taco tour during LASA. Given the overwhelmingly positive response, I decided to actually do it.
One day, at a time I selected so as not to conflict with anyone’s panel, we went to Carnitas don Pedro, Reyes de Ocotlán (el lugar del bautizo taquero – the place of my taco baptism), and Nuevo León in Pilsen, Chicago. Nuevo León was a new location for the tour. I highly recommend it for vegetarians – because it is not exclusively a taquería – it has all kinds of delicious Mexican food. I couldn’t eat anything by the time we arrived. Fortunately, the bill was so low that I didn’t have my typical conflict between “Is food in a restaurant outside of Bluffton really that expensive?” and “I am sure I still owe you money, did I tip enough” that happens every time I am on a group bill or group taxi or group anything.
I had plans to conclude the tour at a pupusería, but we all were exhausted from eating too much meat so we did not make it that far. If you plan to go on a taco tour, I recommend eating only half a taco per place, walking at least 20 minutes between restaurants, or spreading the tour out over two days. The next time I am in Chicago I might just do that.
The other night a reached a new high or low. I read an academic book before bed. It was an anthropology book published in the last 20 years, though, so it included a lot of first-person accounts that made it a bit less dry than other scholarly books. It is called Desert Patriarchy by Janet Bennion and was recommended to me as a book about Mennonites in Mexico that had the added bonus of being written by a non Mennonite. It is also about Mormons in Mexico.
Some have called me (as a Mennonite) a Mormon. I have to assume this is because in people’s minds, Mennonites and Mormons are the two unusual religions that start with the letter M. Both have mainstream varieties that you would never be able to pick out of a lineup (unless you belonged to one of the groups). Then there are the kinds that inspire anthropologists and TV series. These would be the Mormons who practice polygamy, and the Mennonites who dress in unusual ways.
Desert Patriarchy studies both religions in their more extreme forms in Northern Mexico under the paradigm of desert patriarchy – two Mormon colonies, one more connected to mainstream Mormons than the other – and one extremely conservative Mennonite colony. I appreciated her observations about both communities, but noticed several factual errors in her comments about Mennonites. She claims both groups are Anglo, which I dispute, and that Mennonite German is a Swiss-German language, which it is not. I am also not sure that the desert is what made either group so extreme, which is central to her argument, so this makes me doubt her overall stance. She makes many historical errors – had she examined the origins of Mormonism within the Great Awakening in the early 19th century in the Eastern part of the US, and the origins of Mennonitism within the Protestant Reformation, she would have refuted her own thesis. I can only hope that since Bennion is a (former) member of more fundamentalist Mormon community in Utah, the remainder of her observations about that community would be grounded in historical fact. These errors of course point to the larger anthropological blindness towards history.
The most disappointing part of this book is that is suggested that there are few, if any, relationships between Mennonites and Mormons. It also didn’t exploit the relationships both communities have between faith and work or faith and large families. That would have been interesting. My next project can no longer be about transnational Mennonite bodies in popular culture, but rather be about the cheese, apples and peaches that connect Mennonites and Mormons. It will involve a lot of taste testing to ascertain how Mormons taught Mennonites how to make the cheese Mennonites are famous for in Mexico. I will also spend quality time learning how Mormon expertise in apple and peach orchards has influenced some Mennonite farmers. If I were an anthropologist, this would be enough to make a book. Since I am not, I will talk about how popular culture sheds light on relationships between extreme religious communities in northern Mexico.
The most depressing thing about Ohio is grocery shopping. I am constantly irritated that the grocery store in my town sells produce practically on the brink of expiry (seriously. It’s gross and expensive). I am not at all irritated that the Food Store is close to my house. All my money could go there and I would be a happy person. I have bougie (bourgeois) food needs. Being able to allocate my money there is clearly a sign of my social class.
The most depressing thing is not the limited access to good food in Bluffton – the village of 5000 at least has a grocery store – or that I have to take the interstate highway to go to a decent grocery store – but it is the fact that I have only seen people buying large quantities of food at the beginning of the month.
In early May, when I began writing this post, I had just come back from travelling to the grocery store in the middle of the afternoon. I normally do this to avoid “lines” and “crowds” (in quotation marks because the larger towns where I shop have populations of 20 000-30 000). And then there were lines and crowds. It wasn’t just before the superbowl beer and snacks these people were buying. It was amounts of food that looked like they could feed a family. Since rural Ohio is the most heteronormative place I have ever lived (but where most people, I imagine, do not measure up to the 2 parents 2 kids ideal), this should not have been surprising. I never see people buying a lot of food, or a lot of fresh food, because it is so much more expensive than canned or frozen or candy. Then I overheard the supervisor explaining to my cashier about EBT cards and sales (SNAP/food stamps benefit debit cards that can only be used to buy certain kinds of food), I realized that people were probably buying so much (aka a normal amount of food) because it was the beginning of the month and they could. I was sad and then I was angry. Most people in the US who qualify for some kind of benefit (and you have to earn so little money to qualify) are already working, albeit at low paying jobs. And shouldn’t work give you at least the ability to feed your family?
Posted in Life, US
Tagged Bluffton, food, meijer