Americans’ fascination with the frontier has its origins in Dime Novels. The frontier was the setting of this literary form of pop fiction. The tales that hooked readers to these books have also lured Americans to see films about the America West and the US-Mexico border. Frontier movies that dramatized violence, drugs, smuggling, and lawlessness, just to name a few, kept moviegoers returning to theaters in the 20th century.

 

 

 

 

You can see traces of frontier tales in silent films, talkies, film noirs, westerns, comedies, Sci-Fi’s, and, lately, War on Drugs and War on terrors flicks. While film genres have evolved, to convey the stories making headlines during a specific time, storylines share similarities. Even in the 1935 New Deal classic, “Bordertown,” featuring a young Bette Davis, the frontier is a place where a person can make lots of money in gambling and booze. Likewise, the only way you can regain order and re-establish civilization at the US-Mexico border is by exterminating “bad hombres” with extreme prejudice as in both Sicario films.  

Motion pictures about the frontier have not only created movie fans, they have also criminalized the people and culture of the US-Mexico border region.

My love  for combining recipes into new dishes is a reflection of my upbringing in the US-Mexico border.

On summer evenings when my dad would take us to the ballpark to watch little league baseball games, an older brother who was a hotdog fan would drag me to the concession stand to satisfy his craving. Though not a hotdog fan myself, I would also purchase one. I would take a bite, then two, until I would finish it. On Sundays at noon on the Mexican side of the border -- yes, the same hotdog-loving brother -- would drag me after mass to a vendor in the mercado to get perritos calientes. While not a fan of Mexican hotdogs either, I would do the honorable thing and buy one. What I remember most and still enjoy on special occasions are the ingredients. The pico de gallo and fresh cilantro made a big difference to the ketchup and chopped white onions. 

 

 

 

Years later, when I found myself in Eastern Europe, I had a similar experience looking for home cooked meals. No! I wasn’t looking for hotdogs or hamburgers. I wanted something closer to

home. I was therefore surprised when I came across a Tex-Mex restaurant in Pécs, Hungary. Yes! Tex-Mex! I had to go in, and I had to have a guisado with flour tortillas. What could be more Texas Mexican than a beef guisado with nopalitos and flour tortillas? No! I did not have either. I did enjoy the soup and the piece of bread the server brought me. 

The lists of cookbooks below offer some of the recipes I have combined into original dishes. 

Buen Provecho

The idea of writing a piece about public libraries has not left me, since I read the children’s book, Tomás and the Library Lady

Yet, I don't know where to begin. Maybe I should start by writing about my childhood library experience. 

In a few words, I don’t have much to share about visiting the local library where I grew up in rural South Texas. The library had limited staffing, resources, and hours, and the borrowing policies were onerous. Summers were even worse: My siblings and I were farmworkers, and when we didn’t work, that was on Sundays, the library was closed. 

Perhaps that explains how much I have come to appreciate public libraries as an adult. Yes! As an adult! Public libraries are magical places, where children and grown-ups, can dream and imagine the impossible. They are spaces where entire families can get lost, not just in stories, but in places and times, and where the next story is only a book away.

 Public libraries are one of the last democractic institutions where everyone is welcome. Perhaps that’s what I have meant to write all long since I read this book and since this children’s story takes place in the pre-Civil Rights era. The books young Tomás read and the relationship he built with the librarian inspired him to dream beyond what his parents and grandfather could imagine. Tomás Rivera was one of the first Mexican American migrant workers to earn a Ph.D. and the first Chicano to be named Chancellor of the University of California, Riverside.  

I hope readers will get lost the way I have in the children’s books below. 

Raza from both sides of the U.S.-Mexico border wrote these works of fiction. Some of them wrote their narratives in English and others in Spanish, with sprinkles of pachuquismo and pochismo to spice up the reading and elevate conversations. Gente, who never left the barrios, the world where they grew up and that they knew so well as Mexicanos, Tejanos, Hispanos, Chicanos, and Latinx, crafted these literary works. And some, those who left home and reached the highest levels of their profession, have added to our understanding of what it means to be raza outside the barrios.

Together, the novels and short story collections in the reading lists below are not only tales of successes and failures, but also of who we are. 

 

 

A believer in education, José de la Luz Sáenz became an elementary school teacher and taught Mexican-American children in segregated shacks, known as “Mexican Schools” in Texas. In the evenings, he taught English literacy to adults. At the outbreak of WWI, José de la Luz was called to serve in the US Army. Upon his return, he concluded that dismantling white supremacy culture demanded more than just teaching. He and other Mexican-American civil rights leaders wrote articles and gave public talks throughout Texas to encourage Mexican-Americans to organize. In 1929, they created the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC), the oldest Latino civil rights organization in the US. 

 

José de la Luz’s commitment and that of other Mexican-American activists’ to education and social justice lives on in children's books. Elementary school students can now read and learn about his and other Mexican-American activists’ fight for equality.

Likewise, parents who want to learn more about the history of Mexican-American civil rights will discover the courageous activism of Emma Tenayuca and Dolores Huerta, and will be moved by such documentaries as “A Class Apart.”

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