There are few things more inspirational than a member of a minority group succeeding, despite all odds. Such “underdog” stories have been depicted in films (e.g. Stand and Deliver, Revenge of the Nerds, and even Shrek), television, and the general media throughout history. While the aforementioned stories may serve as a tug at your heart strings, or some inspiration to endure a hardship, when the successor is in fact a relative, it changes things a bit.  My uncle Manuel Beltran, or my Tîo Meño, has assisted in the development of technology in Nasa, Boeing, and even the United States’ Military. His accomplishment’s range from honorable mentions, credit in current developments, and most recently, the title of Engineer of the Year. He is more than my uncle, he is a pioneer for all students and minorities alike. As a Chicano in a very competitive field, Manuel has become a beacon of hope in an undervalued community. And, despite the stereotypes and prejudice he may have encountered, he was able to succeed in a time when few Chicanos could.

Adding foodie to his resumé?

While I must admit that I might be biased, it has been through his example that I have developed a passion for intellectual pursuit and higher education. Below is a statement Mr. Beltran provided when asked about his involvement with Boeing, and his most recent accomplishments:

“In 1989 I was a young graduate with my degree in Aerospace Engineering and Computer Science from Cal Poly Pomona. I got hired at Rockwell International to do research in Artificial Intelligence for the Space Shuttle Program. There I was, sitting in a conference room with giants. Men that had sent the first Americans into space, safely got the first humans to the Moon, and were regularly launching men and women to space like bus drivers. I was in awe. I was a fish out of water. I knew that any moment they would find out that I was from the barrio and the gig would be up. I would be ostracized or not given opportunity for advancement.

Then one day I met Danny Hernandez. There he was, presenting to the entire department about some of the most advanced concepts I had ever seen or studied. He had a very thick latin accent. Danny was the top scientist in the department. He was leading the charge on making Ronald Reagan’s Star Wars vision a reality. And he was succeeding at it too. It was at that moment that I knew I too could be successful and respected by my anglo peers. It was a liberating moment.”

Boeing's Engineer of the Year photo

“Danny and I became friends. He encouraged me and challenged me. Then one day Danny received the coveted Leonardo da Vinci award. It was the top honor awarded annually to the most technically excellent engineer. I was inspired by his success, even dared to believe that I might be worthy of such an honor one day. Yesterday was that day. I received the Boeing Engineer of the Year award for my contributions to the Army’s Future Combat System’s Software Architecture.”

While his focus and intelligence were integral toward defining him as an Engineer, it has been his culture and family which have helped shape him into the person he is today. As any person in touch with their culture may know, food is about 90% of what brings people together. Below I have included an interview through which he was kind enough to share  insight into his taste for food and the people who fed it to him.

1. Who was the best cook in your extended family?

The best cook was my Aunt Chayo. Not only did she cook yummy food, I now realize that she was a pioneer in healthy eating. Her’s was the first Carrot cake I ever had, because she said bleached flour cakes were not good for you, and she first introduced wheat tortillas to the family, and they are still the bomb. All this was in the 1970s, when nobody was talking about healthy eating.

2. What was your favorite meal growing up?

Eggs. Always has been, still is, always will be. I love eggs anyway you can make them. My favorites are Huevos Montados,

Mulling over his next contribution to the field of Engineering? or just choosing eggs over a burrito?

Huevos con Machaca, and Eggs Benedict.

3. When was the first time you had food outside of your own culture/experienced ethnic food?

Its hard to say when exactly when I had my first hamburger. My mom always liked to cook different foods, like spaghetti and fried chicken. I guess I would have to say it was Chinese food in Mexicali Mexico. Mexicali probably has the largest population of Chinese immigrants in all of Mexico. Lots of delicious Chinese food.

4. What and where is your favorite restaurant?

Garduno’s Italian Restaurant in Costa Mesa.

5. What and where is your favorite Mexican restaurant?

Mario’s Fiesta Maya in Huntington Beach, or Avila’s El Ranchito in Costa Mesa.

6. What is your favorite dish at each restaurant? (What about it makes it your favorite?)

Garduno’s has wonderful pastas and meat sauce, but their sausage is wonderful, and their Italian Lemon Cake is fantastic. Fiesta Maya serve’s Camarones a la Diabla that melts your mouth right off your face. Very delicious, and the beans and rice are always perfect. Avila’s has the best Huevos con Machaca.

7. Why do you think Mexican food is so popular?

Mexican is popular because A) we have good restaurants that know how to prepare it well,  B) there is a broad variety of flavors and textures for any pallet, and C) there is a large selection of price, quality, location, and style options. Many areas outside of Southern California do not have many options for good Mexican food.

8. How do you like your tacos (type of meat/toppings/cheese or no cheese)?

Soft flour tortilla, carne asada, with habanero salsa, grilled green onions (scallions), cooked over an open flame, on the sidewalk off of Avenida Lopez Mateo across the street from the Universidad Autonoma de Baja California in Mexicali.

9. What do you think makes Mexican cuisine authentic?

Refried Pinto beans and Spanish rice, for starters, and the absence of fried taco shells and sour cream.

10. While some consider burritos to be of Mexican origin, many consider them to be an American adaptation of Mexican favorites, and therefore not authentic. What is your opinion, and which do you prefer? Tacos or burritos?

Burritos are the sandwich of the campesino. In order to efficiently pack a hardy meal without the benefit of commercial products like foil or plastic wraps, the flour tortilla proved extremely effective as a tasty wrapping. My mother always packed burritos for my dad for his lunches as long as I can remember. Anyone that thinks burritos (or burros as they are commonly called in Mexico) are not authentic probably has a limited regional experience of Mexico. Many places, especially the southern regions, prefer the corn tortilla taco. I prefer the burrito.

With all accomplishments aside, there are few things more respected than an extensive knowledge of burrito history.

(As a student, I applaud your success. As an American, I thank you. And as your niece, I am proud of you. Thank you for your time Tío Meño.)

By: Melyssa DelaCruz

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About ocbarrios

Professor for Cal State Fullerton's Barrio Studies class for Fall 2011 semester

2 responses »

  1. […] at it again. Check out all their new blog posts, including this one about a local Chicano who has has assisted in the development of technology for Nasa, Boeing and the […]

  2. Correction to the address of my favorite tacos, its Boulevar Benito Juarez. Here is the Google Maps links: http://bit.ly/yrPvQk

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