Take My Word: Autobiographical Innovations of Ethnic American Working Women

Take My Word: Autobiographical Innovations of Ethnic American Working Women

by Anne E. Goldman

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"An exciting, original contribution to American Women's Cultural Studies. . . . Goldman challenges even poststructural views of the author and reminds us how women found ways to subvert traditional scripts in representing themselves and their relation to their cultures."—Barbara T. Christian, author of Black Feminist Criticism


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"An exciting, original contribution to American Women's Cultural Studies. . . . Goldman challenges even poststructural views of the author and reminds us how women found ways to subvert traditional scripts in representing themselves and their relation to their cultures."—Barbara T. Christian, author of Black Feminist Criticism

"Always attentive to historical and discursive contexts, Goldman looks for the pressure points of these nontraditional narratives where the discursive call to speak as a representative of a collectivity—what she describes as the ethnographic imperative—gives way to the impulse to 'self-distinction'—what she describes as the individualizing logic of self-possession. In doing so she compels theorists of autobiography to rethink the elasticities of autobiographical utterance by means of a negotiable 'I'-'We' continuum. She compels us, that is, to rethink conventional understandings of genre. Her argument is incisive, her readings nuanced, her prose lucid."—Sidonie Smith, author of Subjectivity, Identity, and the Body: Women's Autobiographical Practices in the Twentieth Century

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Take My Word

By Anne E. Goldman

University of California Press

Copyright © 1996 Anne E. Goldman
All right reserved.

ISBN: 9780520200975

Chapter One—
"I Yam What I Yam":
Cooking, Culture, and Colonialism in New Mexico

Culinary Art, Literary Art: The Cookbook as Autobiography

Books were rare. My mother had one, which she kept in the cedar box. It had a faded polychrome drawing on the cover with the title La Cocinera Poblana, a cookbook which had belonged to Grandmother Isabel. We did not need it for cooking the simple, never-changing meals of the family. It was the first book from which Doqa Henriqueta ever read to me. The idea of making printed words sound like the things you already knew about first came through to me from her reading of the recipes. I thought it remarkable that you could find oregano in a book as well as in the herb pot back of our house .
Ernesto Galarza, Barrio Boy

I still think that one of the pleasantest of all emotions is to know that I, I with my brain and my hands, have nourished my beloved few, that I have concocted a stew or a story, a rarity or a plain dish, to sustain them truly against the hungers of the world .
M. F. K. Fisher, The Gastronomical Me

At first glance, Ernesto Galarza's description of his reading primer and M. F. K. Fisher's recollections of her work as a mother and a wife makean unlikely literary pairing,discordances yoked together by my own critical violence.1 Yet as personal narratives they speak to one and the same end: food. In twin attempts to keep their readers off balance, words are equated not only with metaphysical intangibles (this would be predictable, in literary texts), but also with the transient and material pleasure of eating: for Galarza, who underscores his working-class status, these foods are "simple"—"frijoles, chile piqugn and panocha" (33); for a clearly more affluent Fisher they include "rarities" as well as "plain dishes."

This chapter, which focuses on cookbooks by Mexicanas, argues that writing about food preparation provides the authors of such titles as The Genuine New Mexico Tasty Recipes (1939) and Historic Cookery (1949) with the literary occasion for writing about ethnic community and personal identity as well.2 Before developing this thesis, however, I would like to make a critical detour through Fisher's culinary autobiography. Canonical reading for food professionals and the pihce de risistance of culinary narratives, The Gastronomical Me may initially strike readers as less than revolutionary. Yet the paragraph cited above levels the hierarchy of labor; Fisher represents the writing of literature and the cooking of a dinner as equally satisfying and equally significant forms of work. What is perhaps more important than the equation made between the products of the writer's "brain" and "hands," however, is the pride both forms of work engender in the speaker. Behind the domestic and literary labors foregrounded in this personal narrative, another form of work is operating: that process of self-reflection whose end product is articulation of the self. Reappraise this apparently unassuming paragraph on cooking and creativity with an eye on the "I," and you will find that, far from being restrained, it is insistently present.

The very title of Fisher's autobiographical foray insists that to write about food is to write about the self as well. In these wartime reminiscences "the hungers of the world" provide a compelling metaphor for love and desire; the author writes of her own wants and those of the numerous people she encounters on her travels over two continents. Fisher describes with equal relish her consumption of caviar and cod, boeuf bourguignon and frijoles, and these culinary equations provide her with a means of asserting the existence of the less palpable hungers we all share. Erasing differences of class and culture along with distinctions between writing and cooking. Fisher implies that in producing a discrete "I" she isin fact representing, at least to a certain extent, "us" and "them" as well.

What appeared during the Second World War as a humanistic effort to resist the divisive polemics of fascism and Nazism becomes in the postmodern frame of reference itself a (cultural) imperialism: if the well-meaning Anglo-American appreciates the products of different peoples' culinary labor, she nevertheless consumes them and, in so doing, makes them a part of herself. If I have not persuaded you that the edible metaphor may in fact accord with the seriousness of the occasion, let me rephrase this formulation more conventionally. By writing about the food and, by implication, the cultures of people distinct from herself in an acquisitive way—as desirable to sample because they are "exotic"—Fisher represents such "foreign" traditions as commodities to be (literally) assimilated for her own use.

The compiler of cookbooks as artist? Perhaps. But as political critic? We do not often rank cookbooks as literature, let alone as the occasion, whether covert or explicit, for political commentary. We may be readier to grant the connections between cooking and creative expression in a more diffuse sense, interpreting the gendered labor of the kitchen as feminine artistry. "She could paint with one hand / Studying grapes and peaches / A bowl of pears she would later / Cut, peel and stew for dinner," Joan Aleshire begins her "Exhibition of Women Artists (1790–1900)," affirming both the homely labor involved in feeding "the colicky child" and the heroic work of transforming this domestic practice into the subject of art.3

Students of American folk art have for some time been insisting that we acknowledge the previous centuries' "song fests . . . sewing, and sharing [of] favorite recipes" not merely as testaments to the exigencies of women's lives but as creative expressions in their own right. The editors of Artists in Aprons argue that because such domestic art of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries did not explicitly contravene dominant social values but, rather, appeared to conform to the prescribed domestic role of women, its producers could often work relatively freely, undeterred by many of the obstacles set in the paths of professional women artists.4 Writers on women's culinary texts agree. Alan Grubb's assessment of late-nineteenth-century Southern cookbooks as having generally been "published locally and in limited editions" suggests that modesty of scale may be, at least in part, what allows women to use this genre as a literary entrie.5 His acknowledgment that the authors' prefaces reveal "the life stories ofthese women and those for whom they wrote" calls attention to the way in which collective affirmation can open into personal narrative, while his description of Jessie C. Benedict's The Blue Ribbon Cook Book (1904) as autobiographical as well as culinary—"We learn, somewhat surprisingly (in that her book is otherwise simply a recipe book), how her own experience as a homemaker laid the basis of her subsequent 'career'"—anticipates the hybrid texts home economist Fabiola Cabeza de Baca was to write in New Mexico some four decades later.6 Tey Diana Rebolledo's distinction between storytelling and story writing is also useful here: "It was acceptable for women to be the storytellers, although not the story writers," she argues of midcentury Hispanas like Cabeza de Baca and Cleofas Jaramillo; thus "the passing on of recipes" was a folkloristic activity specifically coded feminine.7

As Rebolledo and other literary critics are beginning to argue, the exchange of recipes may communicate more than the culinary. In "Recipes for Reading: Summer Pasta, Lobster ' la Riseholme, and Key Lime Pie," Susan Leonardi analyzes recipes as "highly embedded discourse akin to literary discourse,"8 and she identifies this language practice as a gender-inflected one:

In the earlier Joy , the establishment of a lively narrator with a circle of enthusiastic and helpful friends reproduces the social context of recipe sharing—a loose community of women that crosses the social barriers of class, race, and generation. Many women can attest to the usefulness and importance of this discourse: mothers and daughters—even those who don't get along well otherwise—old friends who now have little in common, mistresses and their "help," lawyers and their secretaries—all can participate in this almost prototypical feminine activity. (342–43)

Before commenting on this compelling reappraisal of an apparently mundane practice, I would like to juxtapose against it two additional comments about recipe-sharing, framed not by food critics but by food writers:

While calling upon and taking one of my Spanish recipe cookbooks to one of my neighbors, our conversation for the moment centered around Spanish recipes. "Have you seen the article in Holland Magazine written by Mrs. D? " she inquired. I had not seen it, so she gave me the magazine to take home to read it. It was a three-page article, nicely written and illustrated, but very deficient as to knowledge of our Spanish cooking. In giving the recipe for making tortillas it read, "Mix bread flour with water, add salt." How nice and light these must be without yeast or shortening! And still these smart Americans make money with their writing, and we who know the correct way sit back and listen.9

Diana Kennedy, the authoritative cultural missionary for the foods of Mexico, has been decorated with the Order of the Aztec Eagle, the highest honor of its kind bestowed on foreigners by the Mexican government. In addition to this now classic and definitive cookbook, she is the author of The Tortilla Book, Mexican Regional Cooking, and Nothing Fancy and she travels widely promoting authentic Mexican cuisine.10

So aptly does Kennedy, the "ultimate authority, the high priestess, of Mexican cooking,"11 personify the "smart American" of Jaramillo's cultural critique that if three decades did not separate the promotional paean from the political complaint, it would be tempting to resolve the twin images of Ms. Kennedy and Mrs. D into a single overzealous evangelmcal. That the author of The Art of Mexican Cooking: Traditional Mexican Cooking for Aficionados and the now anonymous writer for Holland Magazine are in fact not one but two distinct missionaries for the intercultural faith does not, of course, date Jaramillo's criticism. Rather, the persistence of American forays into foreign ground—cultural rather than geographical here—merely makes such a critique more pointed.

Leonardi's thesis that a cookbook is a literary production deserving of critical comment is compelling. But in light of passages like the two quoted here, her affirmation of recipe-sharing as a practice uniting women across "social barriers" begs to be reconsidered. Precisely because art—in this case, the art of cooking—is produced, as Leonardi herself indicates, within a specific social context, it encodes a political problematic. I would like to refocus inquiry on the "barriers of class, race, and generation" which Leonardi invokes only to transcend, in order to suggest that we read the "embedded discourse" of the cookbook not as an archetypally feminine language but rather as a form of writing which, if gender-coded, is also a culturally contingent production. What kind of ideological impulses are operating in a cookbook like The Art of Mexican Cooking: Traditional Mexican Cooking for Aficionados, whose title calls attention to the representation of a specific culture and the authority of "aficionados" to reproduce it in a text circulated for the benefit of English speakers? Whendoes recipe-sharing, that is, become recipe-borrowing, with only a coerced "consent" from the domestic "help?"12

While The Gastronomic Me may strike some critics of autobiography and ethnography as a peculiar kind of self-reflexive text, the equations its author establishes between the presentation of recipes and the articulation of a self are clearly not idiosyncratic to M. F. K. Fisher. If writing of global food traditions in this case fashions the speaker-writer as culture plunderer, describing regional food traditions can enable self-reflexive writing to invoke "a sense of place and belonging," as Tey Diana Rebolledo indicates of the folkloristic narratives of Cleofas Jaramillo.13 Developed out of a distinct geographical locale, a recipe may invoke a context rich in historical resonance, political association, and cultural permanence. Or, as Ntozake Shange explains of the recipes interwoven into her 1982 novel Sassafras, Cypress and Indigo: "'I didn't want readers to skip over the recipes. . . . I wanted those recipes to create a place to be.'"14 The reproduction of recipes provides "a direct link to history," as Marialisa Calta writes in a review of Laura Esquivel's best-selling novel Like Water for Chocolate (1992): "Everyone's past is locked up in their recipes. . . . The past of an individual and the past of a nation as well."15

Particularly for ethnic women writers, whose race or class may seem to preclude access to "high art" and its literary forms, the very domestic and commonplace quality of cooking makes it an attractive metonym for culture. For such autobiographers, presenting a family recipe and figuring its circulation within a community of readers provides a metaphor that is nonthreatening in its apparent avoidance of overt political discourse and yet culturally resonant in its evocation of the relation between the labor of the individual and her conscious efforts to reproduce familial and cultural traditions and values. The reproduction of such dishes as okra gumbo and huevos rancheros works to maintain cultural specificity in the face of assimilative pressures that attempt to amalgamate cultures in the "melting pot." At the same time, the series of imperatives the exchange of any recipe requires—the "cut" and "soak," "simmer" and "season" which enable readers to reproduce the writer's culinary art—gesture toward a sense of authority. These directives—orders, really—bespeak a kind of command, however limited in scope. The preliminary kind of authority exercised here suggests that reproducing a recipe, like retelling a story, may act both as cultural practice and autobiographical assertion; it may, as Esquival asserts,recollect "the past of an individual and the past of a nation as well." The act of passing down recipes from mother to daughter, then, not only provides an apt metaphor for the reproduction of culture across generations but also creates a figurative home space from within which the "I" can begin the process of self-articulation.16

The recollections of Jesusita Aragsn, a midwife working in Las Vegas, New Mexico, demonstrate this conjunction of cooking practice and self-assertion. Ostracized by her family after she gave birth to two children as a single mother, Aragsn recounts her difficult circumstances in such a way as to demonstrate her eventual triumph over them. Her narrative, as edited by Fran Leeper Buss in La Partera: Story of a Midwife, works to resituate the exile, the family ec-centric, called "Amigo" by the father who would have preferred a son, in a position central and indispensable to a more expansively defined community which encompasses both the women she helps in labor and her familial relations.17 Significantly, reconciliation with her grandmother takes place over the careful and loving preparation of a meal:

After my grandfather died, I ask her, "Who are you going to stay with, Grandma?" She says "My sons, not you." But she didn't last too long with them. No, she went back to me. And I buy a little goat, and I have green chili, and I make tortillas, a good supper. When she came she said, "Oh, it smells good here. "And I told her, "Yes, come in. You can eat with me, too." And she said, "I won't go back to my sons again. I will stay with you. If you want me to." And I told her, "Yes, you're welcome." (45)

The savor of "good" food indicates the moral lesson this recollection provides: Aragsn's own goodness in forgiving her grandmother for her persistent censure.18 Documenting her strength and resourcefulness in the face of familial neglect, the description of the carefully prepared supper enables the speaker to locate herself in the authoritative position of mother to her grandmother, providing this maternal predecessor with spiritual and cultural nourishment.

The connection between culture and identity toward which Ralph Ellison's "I yam what I yam" gestures in Invisible Man appears repeatedly in the culinary autobiographies of American women. In her cookbook Iron Pots and Wooden Spoons: Africa's Gifts to New World Cooking, Jessica Harris recollects her mother's cooking and implicitly attests to the relationships among cooking, culture, and colonialism. "My mother, who trained as a dietician but was discouraged from work in the food presentation field in which she excelled because of her race, took her talents home," Harris writes. "Each night was a feast. No frozen dinners or cake mixes ever crossed our threshold. Made-from-scratch cakes, flaky pie crusts, and intricate finger sandwiches went along with the traditional African-inspired foods that my father loved."19

Maya Angelou more explicitly invokes food as the signifier of political well-being. Indicting what she sees as the Ghanaian penchant for things European, a West African woman in All God's Children Wear Traveling Shoes decries the absence of rice—a traditional African staple—at the university cafeteria as a way of critiquing the inability of Ghanaian culture-makers to use indigenous culture as the foundation for a healthy body politic: "'No rye? Again, 'No rye? What fa country you peepo got? . . . You peepo, you got your Black Star Square. You got your university, but you got no rye! You peepo! ' She began to laugh sarcastically. 'You make me laugh. Pitiful peepo.'"20

The invocation of a specific food speaks on behalf of cultural nationalism here. The elaboration of cooking techniques may equally provide a means of articulating an ethnic subject, however.21 In her 1945 autobiography, Fifth Chinese Daughter, Jade Snow Wong devotes a considerable portion of one chapter to an extended description of a Chinese dinner she cooks for an interracial group of schoolmates. A narrative of assimilation gives way, for one reading moment, to an affirmation of cultural difference, as the author reproduces her recipes for "egg foo young" and "tomato-beef" in extended detail. In her follow-up to her description of cooking techniques, Wong clearly indicates that she designs this kind of cultural reproduction to be circulated for the benefit of a non-Chinese audience when she follows up her description of cooking techniques with this proverbial gesture: "[She] found that the girls were perpetually curious about her Chinese background and Chinese ideologies, and for the first time she began to formulate in her mind the constructive and delightful aspects of the Chinese culture to present to non-Chinese" (161). While this coda explicitly reaffirms on the gastronomic level the ideology of the melting pot her "perpetually curious" readers might well expect to see reinstated, the very attention to a specific cultural practice as figuredthrough a feminine discourse apparently bereft of political implications opens a space—if only at the subtextual level—within which the author can affirm a tradition decisively Chinese American. In effect, this passage declares Jade Snow Wong's intention to shape her friends—and her readers'—perceptions of Chinese American culture.22

More important, by constructing an empowering image of cultural tradition out of her own cooking labor, the autobiographer writes herself into a prominent place in the narrative. Her apparently casual invitation to dinner, accepted with alacrity by friends Wen-Lien, Teruko, and Harriet, allows her to assert herself as deserving of attention as it simultaneously implies their cultural deficit: "Within half an hour, her comrades had raised Jade Snow high in their estimation. To be worthy of this new trust, Jade Snow racked her brains to decide what dishes she could cook without a Chinese larder" (158). This apparently tentative appropriation of the limelight is repeated several pages later when the writer describes a dinner she cooks for a group of world-renowned musicians staying with her employer, the dean of Mills College. Again the explicit text works to erase cultural difference while the underlying message affirms both Chinese culture and the author's autobiographical presence:

That was a wonderful evening. . . . For the first time Jade Snow felt an important participant in the role of hostess. Because of everyone's interest in the kitchen preparations, she soon lost her shyness in the presence of celebrities and acted naturally. There was no talk about music, only about Chinese food. And Jade Snow ceased thinking of famous people as "those" in a world apart. She had a glimpse of the truth, that the great people of any race are unpretentious, genuinely honest, and nonpatronizing in their interest in other human beings. (172–73)

Ostensibly celebrating "universal" moral values, her praise of the performers nevertheless allows Jade Snow Wong to construct a subject who, if located in the modest role of "hostess," is yet "important" as the recipient of the homage of "famous people." Significantly, it is the representation of racial difference that enables this kind of self-assertion. Like the talk of the musicians, the chapter itself speaks not so much about the accomplishments of the celebrities, nor even about the virtues people share regardless of race, but instead " about Chinese food."23

The Conflict over Culture: Some Discursive Contexts

I would like to explore this symbiosis of autobiographical act and cultural affirmation in a reading of cookbooks by two New Mexican writers, Cleofas Jaramillo and Fabiola Cabeza de Baca.24 The folkloristic narratives Jaramillo published over the course of two decades, beginning in 1939 with a collection of stories she called Cuentos del Hogar and culminating in 1955 with her sustained autobiographical project, Romance of a Little Village Girl, insist upon an identity informed by region, community, and history. So, too, Cabeza de Baca's narrative of her youth on a ranch near Las Vegas, New Mexico, We Fed Them Cactus, explains selfhood as developing out of a specific geographical locale which the book places, if obliquely, in a political context. Like these texts, though less explicitly, the culinary histories both women published also define an engaged subjectivity, anticipating the later personal narratives by providing for the beginnings of an autobiographical assertion that is matrixed geographically, culturally, and socially. They demonstrate, too, how political circumstance—in this case the struggle for control of Mexican culture that succeeds the struggle for proprietorship of Mexican land—helps to shape both the way people conceive of themselves and the manner in which they speak this sense of selfassertion. Self-reflection in both narratives is accordingly complicated by political and literary history—by the demands of the publishing world and of the languages available to Hispanas writing during the first half of the twentieth century.25

Working as a home demonstration agent for New Mexico from the 1910s through the 1930s, Fabiola Cabeza de Baca published, in addition to We Fed Them Cactus and a number of cookbooks celebrating nuevomexicano traditions, a series of pamphlets through the New Mexico State Agricultural Extension Service that were designed to instruct rural Hispanas in the new housekeeping and cooking methods currently being promoted by the U.S. government following the passage of the Smith-Lever Act in 1914.26 Her activities as an " agent " placed her in the position of cultural mediator between the Hispanos{whom the state clearly considered her a representative of as well as for —and the Anglo-American business interests that were being promoted by the government's discourse of technological "advancement." To the extent that they recirculate this language of "the march of progress," Cabeza de Baca's two pamphlets "Boletmn de Conservar" (1931) and "Los Alimentos y Su Preparacisn " (1934) reflect the compromising—as well as compromised—role their author occupied in working on behalf of a government agency as eager to assume ignorance, incivility, and inability on the part of its Hispano residents as it was willing to trumpet the advantages of Eastern farm and housekeeping methods over the nuevomexicano and Native American practices more appropriate to the arid environment Anglo "pioneers" were attempting to improve through industrialization.

In "Canning Comes to New Mexico: Women and the Agricultural Extension Service 1914–1919, "historian Joan Jensen characterizes the response of Hispanas to the work of Cabeza de Baca and other home demonstration agents as less than enthusiastic, "Hispanic women, unlike Anglo women, did not feel at home in school houses or public buildings. They also preferred meeting without Anglo women. 'It is not possible to combine demonstrations for English and Spanish-speaking people even when they can all be reached by one language,' wrote one agent, 'because the Spanish-speaking people will not come to a meeting called for both. They are very retiring and can best be reached in small groups'" (213). It is not difficult to read in this recalcitrance a resistance to the pressures of assimilation that were being exerted upon the women by means of a critique of their domestic work practices. Jensen herself acknowledges that the state's efforts to emphasize the virtues of "modernization" encoded a very conservative cultural agenda. Focusing here on the government's interruption of Navajo tradition by forcing families to send at least one child away to boarding school, she comments:

At the McKinley County School for Navajos, for example, matrons apparently taught the young girls to can in 1918, though there was little chance that they would use these skills on the reservation. It was, however, part of the national program to replace traditional skills of the Indian woman with skills that would make them more dependent upon the Euro-American culture and occupy the place women were assigned in that culture. (205)

But what of Cabeza de Baca's own efforts to further the march of progress through the state of New Mexico? In marked contrast to later publications celebrating the nuevomexicano past as an Edenic era of abundance, prosperity, and self-sufficiency (consider, for instance, the author's twocookbooks. The Good Life: New Mexico Traditions and Food and Historic Cookery, both published in 1949), "Los Alimentos y Su PreparaciSn " reproduces the future-oriented discourse of progress employed by the state, often as justification for land fraud, illegal business practices, and the attempt at cultural obliteration. Paralleling changes in food preparation with changes in "civilization," Cabeza de Baca introduces this domestic instruction manual with an assertion half apologetic, half imperative: "Cada dma hay una nueva invenciSn y nuevos descubrimientos de la ciencia y todos estamos listos para adoptarlos" (Every day there is a new invention and new scientific discoveries and we are all ready to adopt them).27 Framing assimilation as the inexorable and inevitable outcome of history, Cabeza de Baca reproduces the state's teleology of industrial growth: "En esta ipoca de progreso y descubrimientos cientmficos hay que seguir la marcha, no sSlo en el modo de vivir, sino que tambiin en el modo de comer" (In this era of progress and scientific discoveries it is necessary to follow the trend, not only in one's style of life, but also in one's style of eating) (3). The politics of cooking here make a virtue of necessity, as progress sweeps from the urban to the rural sector:

para progresar en el modo de vivir debmamos que estar listos para aprender como alimentarnos para conservarnos saludables.; De que sirve tener los mejores automSbiles, las mejoras carreteras, las mejores escuelas, y todo lo mejor del mundo si no falta la salud? El pueblo que no se alimenta propriamente no puede producir y mantener una civilizaciSn prSspera y fuerte. (4)

In order to progress in our way of life we must be ready to learn how to eat in order to maintain our health. What use does having the best cars, the best highways, the best schools, and the best of everything in the world serve if we don't have our health? The town that doesn't nourish itself properly can't produce and maintain a prosperous and strong civilization.

Eating "properly" is to good bodily health what building the best cars, highways, and schools is to a strong body politic. Despite Cabeza de Baca's emphasis on the relation between good nourishment and good health—and here one marvels at the fortitude with which the preceding four centuries of Hispanos have prospered, bereft, apparently, of this capability—learning how to eat "properly" has a great deal more to do with accommodating to cultural change than it does with building strong bodies twelve ways.

The bright tone of this pronouncement notwithstanding, the appeal to assimilate carries with it a cost. Writing to women, the home demonstration worker defines cultural accommodation in the language of home management. Good table manners signify superior comportment, she asserts, and

Una persona que tiene buenos modales en el modo de comer considera superior a una que no los tiene. Es una de las pruebas de tener educacisn o buena crianza. Si la madre enseqa a sus hijos seguir buenos modales de mesa cada dma, no tendra que avergonzar cuando tengan huispedes. (44)

A person who has good table manners will be considered superior to one who doesn't have them. This is one of the proofs of having an education or being well brought up. If the mother teaches her children to use good table manners every day, she will not have to be ashamed when she has guests.

Superiority or shame: the subjugated must become convinced of their own desire for subjugation.28 Here women, the reproducers of culture because of their work of child-rearing, are urged to internalize the political dictates—framed as moral lessons—of the state discourse on home improvement. Cooking does not so much embody culture in this text, it turns out, as obliterate it. If "Los Alimentos y Su PreparaciSn "explicitly appeals to its female readers' experience of maternal obligation, the pamphlet, complete with photos depicting the proper way to use knife, fork, and spoon and instructions detailing the "Reglas para Poner y Como Servir la Mesa" (Rules for Setting and Serving at the Table) (41), ultimately addresses its audience not as parental educators but as children themselves, culturally speaking, requiring instruction in the new rules of the Anglo table.

Cooking and Colonialism: Speaking against Cultural Appropriation

The public worker must be sympathetic with people she works with regardless of their background or extraction; she must respect their customs, their habits and beliefs; and foremost she must know that though individuals may differ, people are people in any language, race, or creed .
Fabiola Cabeza de Baca, "New Mexican Diets "

A pamphlet on table manners may seem a rather slight subject with which to examine how cultural appropriation figures in works by Americanwomen writers. Yet, like Jaramillo's complaint about tortilla-making, which associates the authenticity of a recipe with the integrity of a culture, Cabeza de Baca's juxtaposition of "el modo de vivir" with "el modo de comer" is a gesture made repeatedly by Hispano writers concerned with the maintenance of cultural practices in the wake of the 1848 United States conquest of northern Mexico.29 For women, this attention to the pressures of acculturation often takes the form not of explicit political statements but, rather, of a land of composite genre: a combination of familial reminiscence and personal narrative, of descriptions of custom, history, food, and folklore. In the three decades between the 1930s and the 1950s, both Fabiola Cabeza de Baca and Cleofas Jaramillo published narratives integrating recipes " with accounts of folk life, as if the female sense of rootedness and place is passed down through the distinctive foods nature offers," as Tey Diana Rebolledo has noted.30 This attention to "rootedness" and "place," I would suggest, framed as it is in a feminine culinary discourse apparently far removed from the sphere of political contention, nevertheless provides the two writers, whose sex and position within landed families would discourage the voicing of explicit discontent with Americano policy, with a means of critiquing it.

Home economics, in other words, serves as a suitably genteel forum for theorizing about the social and political economy. In "New Mexican Diets" Cabeza de Baca develops this nutritional pedagogy quite explicitly, as the essay ' s concluding lesson, excerpted above, makes clear.31 In this piece Cabeza de Baca juxtaposes the dietary changes occasioned by the Spanish "conquest" with the shift in food preparation following the "American occupation," in order to establish a syntactical parallel which is political as well, a comparison which equates the first conquest with the second, denying those historical euphemisms that redefine a hostile military invasion as a welcomed or at least unresisted "annexation." Setting "Spanish" and "American" takeovers in apposition allows Cabeza de Baca to define them as oppositional as well. The "Spaniard" both "improved" the eating habits of Native Americans, she suggests, and adapted to theirs: "Like all pioneers [the Spaniard] had to be resourceful and adaptive; therefore, he learned the food habits of the Indians. Likewise, the Indian adopted many of the food habits of the Spaniard." Not so with the "American" takeover. While "some of the urban people adopted the food habits of the newcomers," de Baca writes, "the isolated rural population changed little."

Through a critique of the inferior nutritional quality of these "poorer urban diets," diets explicitly linked to the "newcomers," she simultaneously indicts the cultural impoverishment of the nonnatives who followed "the coming of the railroad" and affirms native cultural practice. In addition, she refuses to accede to racist jeers like the following: " 'Give [the Spanish people] beans and chili and that is all they need.' "Instead of reading such modest needs as a sign of poverty, she insists, we should see such collective "self-reliance" as a means of countering ethnocentrism and of honoring cultural integrity. In arguing that "the people were not poor since they owned their homes, produced all their foods, and with a little additional income that the men could pick up were self-sufficient " (668), Cabeza de Baca thus exploits the edible trope in order to reaffirm the strategic value of cultural separatism.

Published just seven years later, the author's Historic Cookery appears more sentimental than argumentative. Descriptions of food and its preparation resonate with nostalgia for an Edenic past; as with Proust's concisely symbolic madeleines, evocations of flavors and cooking methods work efficiently to recall an entire way of life. "Try the recipes," she urges. "And when you do, think of New Mexico's golden days, of red chile drying in the sun, of clean-swept yards, outdoor ovens, and adobe houses on the landscape. Remember the green valleys where good things grow. And think too of families sitting happily at tables " (2). Yet, like its more obviously tutelary predecessor, this cookbook evokes the flavors of the past in order to critique the cultural present. Echoing the "New Mexican Diets" reading of "our basic foods—chile, beans . . . and whole grain cereals" as "increasingly popular" because "highly nutritious" (1–2), the author reaffirms the value of New Mexican cultural practice. "Chile drying" and "clean-swept yards" are indications of a well-ordered life; descriptions of the domestic economy, where "good things grow," reflect the health of the Hispano community before it was besieged by Anglo land speculators, its culture "re-covered" by white intellectuals.

Clearly Cabeza de Baca's description of familial and community harmony is modeled after nonnative accounts of Hispano culture, its nostalgic evocation complicit in a folkloric discourse that romanticizes both the land and its people as suspended in a land of glorious sunset of fast-fading primitive rituals. Yet by defining cultural practice as conscious choice, she asserts the cultural agency of the New Mexicans whose lives she depicts.32 Emphasizing the labor that is involved in the reproduction of cultural practices, in other words, however sentimentalized and class-conscious such representations may be, does work (at least on the textual level) against the politics of assimilation, insisting on a historically grounded sense of cultural specificity and maintaining an ethnic difference which in turn provides the self with a certain authority to speak. Thus the rose-colored tribute to "New Mexico's golden days," with its description of "historic" (read "unadulterated") Hispano cooking and pointed lack of reference to more contemporary cooking methods enables Cabeza de Baca to develop an unspoken comparison between the richness of traditional nuevomexicano life and the paucity of the presumably nonnative reader's "modern" cultural practices.

That the brief but tartly phrased admonishment of Romance of a Little Village Girl, with its proprietary emphasis on "our Spanish cooking," is, like Cabeza de Baca's romance of sun and adobe, aimed at Anglo appropriation of Hispano culture more generally becomes clear if we look more closely at the text by Jaramillo that precedes its publication. A response in part to the aplomb with which the Mrs D's of her day marketed recipes not of their own making, The Genuine New Mexico Tasty Recipes is not simply a catalogue of recipes correcting the absence of yeast and shortening. Instead, by employing food and food preparation within the context of personal narrative as metonyms for the whole of traditional Hispano cultural practice, it reaffirms and maintains that practice. After a series of "Spanish" recipes—and note that this formulation is itself a colonial one, suppressing Native American contributions to New Mexican culture33 —Jaramillo reprints a series of chapters from Shadows of the Past 34 describing, as Genaro Padilla notes, "familial and community occasions that contextualize the very preparation and consumption of food" (55).

It is such a cultural context—and, more specifically, who is authorized to describe it—that is at issue in this text. The very title of the book, with its insistence on authenticity, foregrounds nuevomexicano tradition, as represented by the culinary, as subject to appropriation. To assert that the recipes in one's cookbook are the genuine article is, after all, to imply that fabrications—nonauthentic recipes—exist. Emphasizing the antiquity of her collection (the subtitle reads," Old and Quaint Formulas for the Preparation of Seventy-Five Delicious Spanish Dishes"), Jaramillo ensures that the bloodlines of her culinary products are pure, or nearly so.35 "In this collection of Spanish recipes, "she announces," only those used in New Mexico for centuries are given, excepting one or two Old Mexico recipes " (1). While this attention to cultural commodification may clearly be read as a critical move on Jaramillo's part, the very act of eulogizing Hispano tradition as "quaint"—an artifact, that is—suggests that this critique is itself intended to be circulated extra-culturally. As Padilla argues:

On the one hand. Tasty Recipes represents the popularization of ethnic cuisine, and, in that respect, represents a desire to cater to members of the dominant culture. On the other, Jaramillo contextualizes consumption in an explicitly cultural manner, and, therefore, suggests how intimately food is related to lived cultural experience. Hence, we discover a form of culinary resistance—Anglo-Americans can—follow the recipe and still not eat nuevomexicano cooking. (55)

Yet, in The Genuine New Mexico Tasty Recipes, food is invested not only with a cultural register ultimately inaccessible to the nonnative, but with a more overtly political signification as well. By historicizing his sister's evocation of food traditions, Reyes N. Martmnez in his introduction to the book directs readers to draw connections between good nutrition and good government:

The early settlers introduced certain lands of foods to this section of the country, which, although occasionally used now, are not appreciated for their nutritive and health value. No one questions the evidence of the superior physical ruggedness of the past generations of that era in comparison with that of their descendants of the present day, who, although enjoying the advantages of modern science and research along the lines of dietetics, do not generally attain the natural constitutional ruggedness of body that tradition tells us their ancestors possessed. (28)

Compare this insistence on the better health of previous generations with the future-extolling text of Cabeza de Baca's "Los Alimentos":

Hay personas que afirman que nuestros antepasados guardaban mejor salud y vivman mms aqos sin saber nada de la propia nutriciSn: estas eran las excepciones. Esto puede ser verdad hasta cierto punto. . . . El modo de vivir de nuestros antepasados era mas favorable para la salud. Con el progreso y civilizacisn de la naciSn, el modo de vivir ha cambiado y el resultado es que el modo de comer tiene que cambiar. (4)

There are people who argue that our ancestors kept themselves in better health and lived longer without knowing anything about proper nutrition: these were the exceptions. That can be true up to a certain point. . . . Our ancestors' lifestyle was more healthful. With progress and the civilization of the nation, the way of living has changed and the result is that the way we eat has to change.

Taking up the dominant culture's discourse of progress—that language of "dietetics" adopted in "Los Alimentos" to justify apparently unavoidable cultural accommodations—Martinez's appeal to science turns this language of the inevitable back upon itself. Here, affirming "the advantages of modern science" does not celebrate the encroachment of Anglo business interests upon a rural state of small landholders and self-sufficient homesteads, but, rather, critiques such a political situation as unhealthy. Martmnez's historical distinction between "early settlers" and "their descendants of the present day, "between" natural constitutional ruggedness" and the artificial "advantages of modern science," thus encodes a racial inflection as well. The loss of cultural integrity and authority is articulated through a parable about the devaluing of "traditional foods." Resonating with Jaramillo's insistence on the authenticity and antiquity of her collection, Martmnez's generational focus here suggests that, like the Spanish colonists themselves, foods can have a lineage; the genuine landholders, whose land grants derive from the rulers of sixteenth-century Spain, eat The Genuine New Mexico Tasty Recipes . Just as those foods introduced by the conquistadores and enjoyed by their descendants resulted in good health, so abandoning them and replacing them with modern ("white") substitutes will produce a people who are less constitutionally sound. Clearly I am distorting the studiedly neutral tone of Martmnez's brief historical commentary by subjecting it to such extensive analysis and sardonic paraphrasing. Nevertheless, because the passage simultaneously draws an implicit parallel between cooking and culture and refuses to glorify science despite a publishing environment celebrating its advancements, it does embody a certain resistance to the rhetoric of assimilation.

Even a cursory glance at the contemporary literature produced by nonnatives demonstrates that such a critique is neither inordinately defensive nor unfairly acerbic. Like Jaramillo's own preface to The Genuine New Mexico Tasty Recipes, Erna Fergusson's introductory remarks to her 1934 Mexican Cookbook stress the authenticity of her culinary catalogue. " Therecipes in this book, "she affirms," are limited to those which were in common use when the province of New Mexico was a part of the Republic of Mexico."36 Like the folklorist author of Shadows of the Past and Cuentos del Hogar, Fergusson is concerned to demarcate, using food as a signifier, a series of cultural traditions: "Nothing more surely reflects the life of a people, "Fergusson asserts," than what they ate and how they prepared it" (4).

Yet, while Jaramillo's project is to recover nuevomexicano customs in a gesture of ethnic pride, however muted, Fergusson's interest is precisely in appropriating such practices on behalf of "national interests." Defining Mexican food in her foreword as "part of the Southwestern diet . . . since the 'American Occupation,' "the author traces the acceptance of" slowly-cooked and richly condimented dishes "by" people who could not even pronounce their names " in order to insist that such recipes " represent Mexican cookery that belongs to the U.S. "Cultural appropriation is thus justified by a political event, the military takeover of Mexico by the United States. Fergusson's awareness that her coercive culinary history of the Southwest does in some measure reiterate the forced invasion of the region she speaks of becomes clear later in the book, when she prefaces a series of recipes for tortillas with this derisive but nonetheless anxious comment about cultural authority: "The only way to be sure of making tortillas correctly is to have a line of Indian ancestry running back about 500 years" (88). If her recipes for corn and wheat tortillas lack yeast, then, readers have been duly warned.

Yet it is cultural rather than culinary blunders that are most arresting here. In her chapter on "Mexican Cooking Then and Now," a history of cooking methods, Fergusson expends a substantial amount of narrative energy justifying the "'American Occupation'" by juxtaposing the "modern cook in a modern kitchen "with the "primitive conditions" of traditional domestic life (3, 5). If Cabeza de Baca's "Los Alimentos" reluctantly espouses the new housekeeping and cooking methods as inevitable given the forward movement of "el progreso y civilizaciSn de la naciSn," Fergusson's text actively maligns Hispano cultural practices through a series of racist clichis. Consider, for instance, the caustic sarcasm of this passage:

The menus are based on meals as served at a gentleman's table before the general adoption of American ways. Then eating was a serious matter, interfered with only by famine, war, or Lent. The day began with a preliminary breakfast in bed; coffee or chocolate and sweet rolls. About nine o'clock came the real breakfast which included eggs or meat and more bread and coffee. After that the Seqora put in her heavy work of unlocking cupboards, storerooms, and chests; of dispensing food for the day; and of directing her servants. Naturally she felt fagged by 11 and ready for the caldo colado or clear soup, which came as a pick-me-up at that hour. (6)

Small wonder, given this land of representation of the nuevomexicano rancheros, that Jaramillo felt called upon to exact literary justice. The romantic picture of wealthy family life described for us in the pages of The Genuine New Mexico Tasty Recipes, a scene of "warm harvest sunlight" and "golden wheat and oats, stacked high on round, earthen  . . . threshing grounds" (21), is thus in some measure a defensive portrait, its emphatically celebratory rhetoric a compensatory literary strategy. The impression of rural life here is one of busy industry and "self-sustaining" plenty, a harmony of blue corn and yellow wheat, a perpetual "Indian summer" where "servants and children" enjoy the harvest plenty in a bucolic landscape unmarked by time (21). This "historical amnesia" which, as Genaro Padilla notes, is characteristic of Jaramillo's work as a whole, clearly works as a palliative for the all too immediate economic losses and cultural conflict suffered by landed families like hers during the early years of the century. So, too, the author's insistence on maintaining a feudalistic stability of rich and poor works as an implicit indictment of the contemporary, less happy relation between Hispanos and Anglos. In such a context of cultural contention, the sentimentalized picture of "peones [working] happily, taking great interest in doing their best for the patrsn, whom they held in great esteem and respect" (24), provides a critique of race relations precisely contingent upon a suturing of class conflict. Likewise, given the collective loss of self-confidence post-1848, the representation of Jaramillo as authoritative subject is to a certain extent dependent upon the objectification of "Lupe" as "our Indian cook" (23). The proprietary address subsumes both ethnic and class divisions, constructing a whole Hispano Subject greater than the sum of its cross-cultural parts.

This glowing picture of village life is not exclusive to Jaramillo ' s The Genuine New Mexico Tasty Recipes but in fact characterizes both Cabeza de Baca's Historic Cookery and her 1949 celebration of Hispano food and custom, The Good Life: New Mexico Traditions and Food, as well. I havepreviously argued that in her earlier pamphlets undertaken as home economist for the state, the author neglects traditional domestic life in order to espouse the changes sanctioned by the government's agricultural "improvement" program. In The Good Life, by contrast, Cabeza de Baca does not look forward to some future technological utopia but instead gazes backward, recovering a history untranslatable in the dominant culture ' s lexicon of industrial progress.37 Ethnographic description in The Good Life, as in Jaramillo's Tasty Recipes, then, is nostalgic rather than analytic, with such chapter headings as "Winter's Plenty," "Christmas Festivities," and "The Wedding" celebrating that "happiness and abundant living" (4) the author describes as characteristic of the Hispano past. The emphasis on cultural self-sufficiency invoked by the "full splendor" of an "Autumn Harvest "recalls both the author's own Historic Cookery and Jaramillo's Tasty Recipes, as well as a series of other Mexicano personal narratives post-1848, in which the cataloguing of farm and field provides an implicit contrast between a harmonious, richly lived past and a more difficult present (5).38

While the language of The Good Life often shrouds historical struggles in a romantic fog, the reader-response dynamic that the text sets up provides Cabeza de Baca with a means of articulating, albeit quietly, a form of cultural critique. The cookbook is particularly well suited for this kind of critique because it exhorts readers to gloss its text not only as a series of declarative statements (if we read without actually trying the recipes) but as a set of performative acts as well (when the recipes are not only read but reproduced). Ntozake Shange points to this kind of reading dynamic when she suggests that if a reader of her novel Sassafras, Cypress and Indigo should cook "'Rice Casserole #36,' ' a recipe of the tide character . . . or her 'Favorite Spinach,' that reader 'can be right in her kitchen, right in the book.' "39 Similarly, literary critic Susan Leonardi notes: "Like a narrative, a recipe is reproducible, and, further, its hearers-reader-sreceivers are encouraged to reproduce it, and, in reproducing it, to revise it and make it their own" (344). Leonardi is able to equate "reproducing" with "sharing" only by ignoring the inequities of power across "the social barriers of class, race, and generation" (342), but her emphasis on the performative aspect of cookbook reading is nevertheless a useful one for ethnographic inquiry. If the exhortation to reproduce a recipe may create a community, it may also call attention to the boundaries of such an affilialion, asking readers to question the conflations and the distinctions between the community constructed within the text itself and the community of readers created outside it.

Encouraging readers to reproduce, revise, and make a recipe their own enables Cabeza de Baca to call attention to cultural commodification in The Good Life; the text appears to encourage its audience to make "New Mexican Traditions and Food" their own, yet its author ultimately provides obstacles to such appropriation. "In order to have the dishes taste as one has eaten them in the New Mexican homes or genuine New Mexican restaurants, one must use New Mexican products," she counsels (45). As in Jaramillo's text, here "genuine" not only authenticates the writer but also works as a barrier to the reader. Ostensibly allowing for the possibility of extra-cultural access, on another level this admonishment to use "New Mexican products "divides nonnative readers from the Hispano community the book itself so wholeheartedly celebrates, thus resisting cultural abstraction and insisting on rootedness and a sense of place. Appending a glossary of Spanish terms to the book allows Cabeza de Baca to remind her readership that reproducing the recipes of The Good Life does not necessarily lead to cultural ownership. "The words in this glossary may have other meanings, "she asserts," but the one given here explains the meaning as used in this composition" (81). By calling attention to what is left over, the remainder that escapes translation, the author problematizes cultural access, depicting a web of associations and meanings ultimately ungraspable by the nonnative speaker.40

Depictions of class conflict further complicate the text's representation of culture. As in Jaramillo's Tasty Recipes, cultural harmony in The Good Life is largely achieved at the expense of a sustained appraisal of class relations. This is not to say that relations between rancheros and peones are ignored, however. As in the author's later We Fed Them Cactus, in The Good Life anxiety about class conflict is relieved not by being overlooked but by being contained. Curiously, it is art that effects this defusing of class conflict in both of Cabeza de Baca's texts: consistently a laborer-artist simultaneously articulates the threat to the social order and resolves it. In The Good Life, the relation between art and politics is figured in Tilano, guitar-playing goatherder for Don Teodoro. His introduction early in the narrative indicates both the affiliation of manual and mental labor and the marginal status such a worker occupies. Note how this descriptionof the making of ristras (strings of dried red chiles) situates Tilano: "Men, women, and children joined in the task. Each one, seated on the ground, deftly started tying the pods. Tilano, the goat herder and storyteller, stood at the door waiting for his chance to get in a word" (6). As with Santiago, the grumbling ranch hand of We Fed Them Cactus whose critique of class inequities is replaced by the harmonies of his own corrido-singing, Tilano is encouraged to forget his political complaints when the patrsn's wife, Dona Paula, urges him to exercise his musical skills instead:

"The Aleluyas say that there is no future in being a Roman Catholic and they told me that if I joined them I would not have to herd goats for you for such low wages, Don Teodoro." . . .

"Why don't you play the guitar for us Tilano," said Doqa Paula. . . . Tilano did not need coaxing. No sooner had Doqa Paula spoken than Tilano was playing familiar strains. Some of the young folks joined in by singing which made Tilano so happy that he forgot the Aleluyas." (6–7)

Cabeza de Baca's representation of art as the palliative to political ills is a very traditional one. To the extent that it is defined by the laboring goatherd rather than the leisured gentleman, however, it carries with it quite radical implications. It is the cooks and curanderas (healers), after all, who in producing stories and recipes reproduce the cultural practices which constitute the folkloric reminiscences of both We Fed Them Cactus and The Good Life . Granted, the figure of the working musician in The Good Life ultimately underwrites the rule of the wealthy by creating an art that reveals class conflict only to contain it. Nevertheless, what we see in both works are narratives sustained by the very people they explicitly work to keep down.

While the relationship between the Turrieta family and their servants structures The Good Life, this insistently affirmative picture of social harmony is itself sustained through a gendered metaphor of class obligations. If the culinary reminiscences in this text depict ethnicity as something that is actively reproduced, it is the working alliance between Seqora Martina and Doqa Paula through which such cultural labor is represented. Chapters titled "Autumn Harvest," "Christmas Festivities," and "Lent" celebrate nuevomexicano traditions through the year, but the labor involved in preparing for such cultural events remains a constant throughout the text. Indeed, the emphasis of the narrative is precisely on that labor, ratherthan on the depictions of Hispano customs that the chapter titles would lead the reader to expect. And if it is through the representation of work itself—always a community effort in this text—that Cabeza de Baca locates Hispano ethnicity, it is the characteristically feminine labor of cooking to which she calls attention—both as signifying nourishment (material and moral) and as the active labor involved in providing for such cultural sustenance.

Although the book's nostalgic representation of cultural plenitude is contingent upon the joint labors of Seqora Martina and Doqa Paula, the vantage point from which readers observe this alliance does not accommodate both female subjects equally. We are initially introduced to "Seqa Martina, "as she is familiarly called by Doqa Paula, not as a distinct individual but, rather, as the type of the ageless, timeless curandera: "The medicine woman seemed so old to Doqa Paula and she wondered how old she was. No one remembered when she was born. She had been a slave in the Garcma family for two generations and that was all any one knew. She had not wanted her freedom, yet she had always been free " (14). Eulogizing her as "the medicine woman" positions Seqora Martina with respect to Doqa Paula, wife of the ranchero, and establishes a smoothly harmonious picture of relations between classes and cultures.

Succeeding references to 'The Herb Woman," however, emphasize not only Senora Martina's willingness to work on behalf of Dona Paula ("After greeting Doqa Paula she sat down beside her and without being asked, she took over the task of slicing small squashes into circles in preparation for drying" [13]), but her resistance to cultural authority as well. It is Seqora Martina who voices opposition to acculturation, as this process is signified by changes in the practices of medicine. While Doqa Paula, whose voice is closely linked with that of the narrator, may argue on behalf of accommodation ("Diphtheria is contagious Seqa Martina. It is better to let the doctor treat that" [15]), the curandera responds: "Be as you say—but I cured all my children without assistance from the doctor which I could not have afforded anyway. . . . Today [Juanito, my youngest] is as well as any one can be, although deaf, he is a healthy man" (15). If Senora Martina's stubbornness is treated a trifle sardonically here, the amount of narrative energy expended upon this figure suggests that her criticism of contemporary medical practices serves a significant function in the text.41 And comments like the following more explicitly contrast the well-being of the previous generations with the difficulties their modern counterparts face:"When I was young," Seqora Martina recalls, "there were no doctors and we lived through many sicknesses" (14). Comparing the competence of the curandera with the incapability of (presumably Anglo) doctors, I would argue, enables Cabeza de Baca to articulate a muted cultural critique. In addition, the meticulous detai l with which the author lists herbs and their curative properties not only provides The Good Life with a model of cultural authenticity and antiquity but conveys practical information as well.42

In 'Tradition and Mythology: Signatures of Landscape in Chicana Literature," Tey Diana Rebolledo notes that "in Hispanic folklore the curandera has always had more freedom of movement than other women. Cabeza de Baca saw the herb woman as not only freer but clearly outside the confines of society."43 Yet her "freedom" seems to me questionable, since it is defined on behalf of the class that benefits most from her labor, and her marginal status does more to provide the author with the measure of a wealthy Hispano society than it does to elevate this working-class figure herself. I would suggest that it is precisely Senora Martina's distance from the voice of the narrator, her position as cultural Other vis-'-vis the Turrieta family, that enables Cabeza de Baca to maintain her own position as cultural mediator in a narrative location that provides her with authority over her non-Hispano readership and simultaneously allows a (muted) critique of Anglo imperialism. This eulogy to the herb woman simultaneously provides Cabeza de Baca with a means of containing cultural difference (the relations between Hispanos and indmgenos remain harmonious, in implicit comparison with the current Mericano-Anglo conflict) and with a way to articulate political difference (post-1848) without compromising the influence of her well-connected narrator. Senora Martina's censure of the medical establishment ("'I hope to live another year, for when I am gone my remedies go with me and the doctors will get fat from your generosity' "[18]) thus exploits the author's culinary trope for culture to provide her with a critique of it.

Season to Taste: Autobiographical Idiosyncrasy in Culinary Narrative

Perhaps El Hoyo, its inhabitants, and its essence can best be explained by telling you a little bit about a dish called capirotada. Its origin is uncertain. But it is made of old, new. stale, and hard bread. It is sprinkled with water and then it is cooked with raisins, olives, onions, tomatoes, peanuts, cheese, and general leftovers of that which is good and bad. It is seasoned with salt, sugar, pepper, and sometimes chili or tomato sauce. It is fired with tequila or sherry wine. It is served hot, cold, or just "on the weather" as they say in El Hoyo. The Garcmas like it one way, the Quevedos another. While in general appearance it does not differ much from one home to another it tastes different everywhere. Nevertheless it is still capirotada. And so it is with El Hoyo's chicanos. While many seem to the undiscerning eye to be alike it is only because collectively they are referred to as chicanos. But like capirotada, fixed in a thousand ways and served on a thousand tables, which can only be evaluated by individual taste, the chicanos must be so distinguished .
Mario Suarez, "El Hoyo"

In this analysis of The Good Life I have suggested that a cookbook can reproduce the means to more than material nourishment, that it may reproduce as well those cultural practices and values that provide a community with a means of self-definition and survival. I would argue in addition that essays like "New Mexican Diets" and books like The Good Life may produce not only a communal subject but an individual authority as well. Granted, in "New Mexican Diets" the advancement of the first person is oblique, requiring an interpolation of the "I" in place of the apparently more generic "extension worker" Cabeza de Baca uses to signify herself throughout this piece. Nonetheless, she takes advantage of the language of ethnography to mark a distinctly autobiographical presence, as can be seen by the series of personal achievements celebrated in the narrative—the author's resumi, if you will, in coded form. Not only are both pamphlets listed here ("A canning bulletin in Spanish was published in 1930 and one on 'Food and Its Preparation' in 1932"), they are acclaimed as second only to liturgical texts for rural women: "Next to her prayer books, the rural Spanish-speaking woman treasures these two booklets " (668). Nor are Cabeza de Baca's practical applications any less influential. Her recommendations on canning, for instance, have been widely accepted: "Within five years, half the farm families owned pressure cookers, and many also had tin-can sealers. More varieties of vegetables were being raised. " A decade later, "Nearly every farm family owns or has access to a pressure cooker" (668).

Autobiographical authority in The Good Life is at once more explicit and, because it is more exposed, delineated in more measured tones. The subtitle insists that recipes speak a cultural history, yet the preface establishes an individual record of activities on behalf of this collective. Despite the titular focus on "New Mexico Traditions," the preface begins, not by evoking the cultural or physical geography of the state, but instead by providing us with a page-long introduction to the writer herself, naming the father and grandfather who raised her, the ranch where she grew up, and the schools she attended in the United States and abroad, as well as describing her work as a home economist and a schoolteacher; in short, invoking the people, places, and adult activities that form the basis of her autobiography, We Fed Them Cactus . Thus two languages drive the narrative. If the text grounds its authority in its capacity to provide readers with an "example" of the good life as lived by Hispanos in midcentury, it simultaneously offers a representation of a particular life as lived by Fabiola Cabeza de Baca, writer, teacher, and home economist. This conflation of ethnographic and autobiographic discourse, of the exemplary and the idiosyncratic, is marked throughout the preface, which moves constantly between descriptions of "our Spanish forebears" and references to the subject who in speaking of them associates herself with nuevomexicano traditions. The first two sentences, for example, negotiate between an ethnographic subject and an autobiographical speaker in order to define a life lived contextually: "The recipes which are a part of The Good Life and the family traditions from which the recipes have developed have been a part of my life. They have been a part of the lives of Hispanic New Mexicans since the Spanish colonization of New Mexico" (v). The equation of community traditions with personal development established here is reinforced in the sentences that follow, where a distinctly autobiographical recounting of birthplace and upbringing is itself made representative of "the good life "(v). Toward the close of the preface, readers are again reminded that the structure of this cookbook is contingent upon the personal when Cabeza de Baca insists that the recipes she has selected are themselves derived from the foods "I knew as a child in my grandmother's home"(vi).

Since the play of discourses often operates at the level of the sentence, deciding whether to privilege the language of ethnography or that of autobiography as the ultimate narrative strategy remains at issue. To a certain extent this recounting of the individual life as a representative one is shaped by the demands of audience. Yet while the author literalizes thetwo roles of the self (as representative of the cultural record, and as illustrative of singularity) by providing readers with two distinct subjects, she avoids sacrificing a commitment to self-assertion through syntax that refuses to subordinate the singular "I," but that instead positions ethnic practice as contingent upon the personal. The following sentence, for instance, posits a singular "I" situated within a community of which the Turrieta family is paradigmatic: "This simple story of the Turrieta family, the family in The Good Life, revolves around the observance and traditions of what could have been any Hispanic family in a New Mexican village during that period of my work as a home economist" (v-vi). If Cabeza de Baca's assertion of representativeness ("what could have been any Hispanic family") establishes the text as an ethnographic record, she links, curiously enough, her own life to the larger frame of reference within which the Turrieta family is located. Time is measured not by the sweep of armies across the desert or the dictates of politicians but by the discrete labor of the self: "that period of my work as a home economist."

A similar relationship between the personal and the collective is established in the closing sentences of the preface: ' The fondest memories of my life are associated with the people among whom I have worked. The ways of life expressed in the book and the recipes which are a part of those lives have helped make for me The Good Life " (vi) . Here the subject is interpolated through work; more specifically, through that literary labor which mediates between two cultures. Yet the unexpected intrusion of the speaking subject—" for me "—where we might have expected to read without this formulation demands that we read the text not only as a cultural record but as a self-reflexive narrative as well.

Like Margaret Abreu's 1940 article "In the New Mexico Kitchen," where a recipe for menudo begins as cultural representation and closes by affirming autobiographical presence,44 culinary narratives like Cabeza de Baca's "New Mexican Diets" and The Good Life confound the line traditionally drawn between autobiography proper, where the subject is presumed to constitute herself as unique, and ethnography, whose post-colonial origin has situated the subject as representative of a culture, typically a culture of "dying breeds." In so doing, these works insist on the cultural practices which in part construct the self without privileging those qualities of the subject that are considered representative and without glossing over articulations that are either ambivalent or set in opposition to the "I" as anethnic "type." By making ethnicity concrete, by representing it as it is experienced by the individual rather than invoking Culture as an abstraction, such autoethnographic texts discourage cultural appropriation, whether it be within the domain of economics or of criticism. For those literary critics interested in ethnicity theory, the "hybrid" texts of writers such as Cleofas Jaramillo and Fabiola Cabeza de Baca—where the subject is situated in context but is at the same time quite obviously a presence the reader cannot ignore—may discourage that form of critical imperialism (whether explicit or phrased as nostalgia for a golden, primitive past) that is encouraged by some "purer" forms of ethnographic criticism, in which the (cultural) subject under investigation is always romanticized as either an artifact or about to become one.


Excerpted from Take My Word by Anne E. Goldman Copyright © 1996 by Anne E. Goldman. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Meet the Author

Anne E. Goldman is Assistant Professor of English at the University of Colorado, Boulder.

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