Wondering what a JewHisPo is? It’s an ethnicity among many in this melting pot we call Southern California. Who is this pocha living in Santa Ana? Her name is Sara. Sara often gets the frequent confused look of “I think you’re Hispanic but I’m not quite sure because you don’t speak Spanish.” Sara like many of us living in El Condado de la Naranja has multiple ethnicities, in her case her father is Mexican, mother is half Polish and half Panamanian, and her step-father is Jewish. How much more diverse can that get? Although technically she is not Jewish Sara was raised by her mother and step-father most of her life. Sara’s taste buds experienced the cuisine of Bar Mitzvah’s all the way to the delicacy of diluted Mexican food.
In the haste of down town Santa Ana, although less congested due to Presidents Day holiday, we dig through the bottom of our purses for change to put in the parking meter. We walk down the street to the Gypsy Den, a local cafe in the middle of what is considered the Artist Village. As we sit in the quiet dim cafe with mismatched furniture, Sara orders her chai latte with a shot of espresso. The ambiance is mellow with a tree hugging atmosphere. In the spirit of staying close to our Hispanic roots (as close as the menu will allow) Sara and I decide to order a breakfast burrito. Sara is currently slowly transitioning to becoming a vegetarian.
I ask Sara who her favorite cook was growing up. [She takes a sip of her latte] As if going back in time she fondly replies,
“That would be my Teea Emma. [Sara doesn’t speak Spanish as well as she understands it therefore her pocho accent is very pronounced when saying Spanish words]. She owns her own restaurant in Mexico City. She raised me ’till I was about four. I’ll never forget her arrous cown leicheh (arroz con leche). She moved back to Mexico after my parents divorced. She was the one in our family that started the tamales tradition in our family. Although I haven’t seen her in about fifteen years I’ll never forget how she made arrous cown leicheh.”
As with many traditions especially among Hispanic families, women often keep traditions going. In Sara’s case the casualties of divorce included some of the traditions typical to Hispanic cultura. As Sara lost touch with her biological fathers side of the family those traditions started fading away and new Jewish traditions began emerging. Christmas tamales were replaced by the celebration of Hanukkah and Quinceaneras were replaced by Bar Mitzvah’s. Sara explains “We don’t celebrate Christmas we celebrate the “holidays”, since my Dad is Jewish an all.”
I asked Sara if she grew up eating Mexican food, being that her mother is not Mexican and was raised in the United States I was curious as to what type of food she grew up with. Was she a frijolera like myself?
“Mexican food growing up was Taco Bell [she laughs] which is anything BUT Mexican. I do enjoy fish tacos [pauses] I feel like you can’t go wrong with fish tacos. I can eat them from Del Taco as well as from Baja Fish all the way to some restaurant in San Diego. I really like fish tacos.”
I laugh and tell her, “I think you can REALLY go wrong with fish tacos.” [we both start laughing]
Unlike a frijolera like myself who loves home-made beans and mom’s cooking for comfort food. Sara enjoys American comfort food. She describes her love for mac n cheese as, “I can eat it anywhere at home, at a restaurant. I love mac n cheese. I love gourmet mac n cheese that cost $19.99 just the same as I will love .99cent mac n cheese. Most restaurants have a version of mac n cheese. My favorite restaurant Tantalum has great mac n cheese.”
Although Sara is not as close with her Mexican side of the family many of her friends come from Hispanic backgrounds. She explains,
“We live so close to the border and California has a big Hispanic population it’s no coincidence that Mexican food is so popular. I’m not so sure if it’s as popular in other parts of the United States. I wouldn’t know.”
In my opinion Mexican food is popular everywhere. I mean if people enjoy dilutted versions of Mexican food like Taco Bell, why wouldn’t they love a real home made tortilla con queso fresco y frijoles fritos en manteca?