Mexican food, assimilation, and middle-class Mexican Americans

On the evening of May 1 in the Carwein Auditorium, Dr. Jamie Armin Mejía, professor of Rhetoric and Composition at Texas State University, gave a speech that shared the challenges he has faced teaching in his field — especially coming from a minority background. The talk focused on Mexican food and the way it has dominated American culture, cultural assimilations and the struggles of middle-class Mexican Americans or Chicanxs.

To begin the speech, Mejía shared a quote from Victor Villanueva, a professor from Washington State University, that he felt encompassed his experience as a latino professor.

“I have never stopped trying to assimilate. And I have succeeded in all the traditional ways,” Mejía quoted. “Yet complete assimilation — is denied — the Hispanic English professor. One can’t get more culturally assimilated and still remain other. People of color carry the colony wherever we go. Internal colonialism: a political economy, an ideology, a psychology.”

Mejía went on to explain the fact that most textbooks and academic publishing in the field of writing and composition are very “colonized,” meaning that there is a dominating white culture in all of the publications available as teaching materials.

“Textbooks aren’t exactly useful to teachers wishing to engage in decolonizing how standard English and culturally-based ethnic topics are deployed,” Mejía said. “Textbook publishers have long held an overdetermined control over much of what we do as writing teachers, something ethnic minority teachers like me have long lamented and protested against because of how little the readings included in textbook readers reflect the identities of the ethnic-minority students using them.”

What followed was a proposal that Mejía sees as a newer, more culturally sensitive way to teach English and rhetoric. He expressed his feelings about the racial bias that exists within the field.

“In Rhetoric and Composition studies, it’s also always been assumed that prospective teachers will have assimilated standard english as well as the process approach to teaching writing,” Mejía said. “However, we can almost never assume that our prospective and actual teachers have learned and assimilated important aspects of different cultures, be they LGBTQ, African American, Native American, and/or Latinx cultures…”

In addition, Mejía shared his own approach in teaching a class that breaks through the confines of white-washed English rhetoric and composition, and introduced a multi-cultural approach to studying the discipline. A piece of this included his discussion about the widespread nature of Mexican food in America.

“This mixed context of studying and writing about Mexican food recreates an important part of the ethnic rhetorical situations found in writing classes throughout the country as well as beyond…,” Mejía said. “Our presence in this country has a long and complicated history, one fraught with violence but also with many victories against the suppression of our presence in this country. These victories, in my view, make me see our future as bright, in part because today, there exists at least one vehicle which has long been helping us carry ourselves into the mainstream and the mainstream into our presence. That vehicle, of course, is Mexican food.”