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Reading religion and consuming the past in the feast of Guadalupe

Adele Wessel and Andrew Jones


Fiestas are symbolic events that articulate the popular memory of different social groups. The rituals which fiestas perform invoke the past, bringing it into the present moment. Fiestas are thereby a trans-historical arena where official accounts can be contextualised and accordingly contested. The fiesta de Guadalupe is celebrated in Tortugas, New Mexico each December. Food is integral to the religious expression and community identity of the fiesta, echoed in its translation as the feast day of the Virgin of Guadalupe. In this paper the meal served in the Casa de Comida will be used as a historical text, as a form of communication or representation of the community and its history. Attention is directed to the interdependence of indigenous and immigrant histories expressed in the preparation and consumption of meals, as well as to the legacies of colonialism inherent in the feast.

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1If they don’t know how to make tortillas, how will the next generation know who they are ?1

2Food is a crucial element in defining historical identity. It plays a distinctive role in everyday life and a central part in economic, social, political, cultural matters. If we are what we eat, to paraphrase Brillat-Savarin, then this is not static or stable, but changes over time according to the way existing conditions converge with tradition to shape how foods are used. Food preferences are not incidental to the formation of identity. Rather, in simultaneously historicising the everyday and evoking the past, the preparation and consumption of food plays an essential role defining historical identity. This paper brings food to the forefront of its narrative, reading the past in a specific meal.

3As the title of this paper announces, our desire is to read the past in the food served during the Fiesta of Our Lady of Guadalupe. Recipes comprise the main historical texts we will read ; the ingredients and process of cooking for the feast day will be used to explore the relationship between past and present, tradition and change. Recipes are templates on which to overlay local historical and cultural inflections. Consuming food, however, is an embodied, concrete, practical experience of the past. Each dish invokes its own history, bringing it into the present moment. It resonates the history of its creator and how it is ingested is dependent on the diner’s sense of their past. In this way food traverses the boundaries between producer and consumer, between present and past. Moreover, the rituals which fiestas perform invoke the past, bringing it into the present moment. Fiestas are thereby a trans-historical arena ; the ‘festival constitutes the time of the sacred or sacred as time – time derives from the same root as temple’(Trias, 1996 :106, 110).

4The Fiesta de Guadalupe is a three-day festival held annually in the village of Tortugas New Mexico from the 10th to the 13th of December. The penultimate day of the fiesta is La Dia de Guadalupe, a national holiday in all of Mexico.2 The meal served in the Casa de la Comida on this day is the primary focus of this paper, although the food of the region and the popular cultural expressions of saints are the different interests that independently brought us to Tortugas. We are both interested in colonialism ; specifically in the dynamics of indigenous and immigrant histories and the relation between resistance to, and accommodation of, the authority of the colonial power. The colonial project set in motion, and continues to drive, both cultural alienation and amalgamation simultaneously, and food demonstrates this unequivocally. The role of culture and the histories of the many people who have lived or settled in the United States have produced a complex mosaic of relationships, of resistance, accommodation, and adaptation. Food traditions in the Southwest remain robust, despite the forces of change ushered in by globalisation and the food of the fiesta in Tortugas provides a record of diversity and resistance to cultural assimilation.

5Tortugas was initially established in the mid-nineteenth century when three different Indian groups, the Tiwa, the Pino and the Manso converged in this area – displaced as they had been by a matrix of political and economic factors. It is located close to the Mexican border and has also been settled by ethnic Mexicans, variously self-identified as Mexicanos, Chicanos and Hispanos. Tortugas is the Spanish word for tortoise – a sacred animal in much of the Americas. The Spanish speakers in this part of the US didn’t immigrate ; the country came to them when borders were shifted as part of the conditions of the Treaty of Hidalgo in 1848. The original village of Tortugas has since been geographically swallowed up by the nearby city of Las Cruces. As Oppenheimer described it, ‘Tortugas is a cultural amalgam of Tiwa-Piro, Spanish-American, Anglo American and Mexican Indian elements’ (Oppenheimer, 1974 : 219). It is the devotion to Guadalupe and the fiesta in her name that provides the mortar that coheres the divergent identities of Tortugas and the sharing of food symbolises the potency that brings.

6Guadalupe is the foundational myth not only of Christianity in Mexico but also of the Mexican nation itself. The dark skinned Virgin de Guadalupe is one of the most resonant symbols of Mexican identity and nationalism ; an evangelising tool for the Spanish colonists, Guadalupe’s symbolism also echoed with indigenous Mexican sacred cosmology. The cult of Guadalupe can be read as signifying the act of conquest by the Indians over the invading religion. The symbolism provides sustenance and identification for the Mexican people – most of whom are mestizo.

Image of Guadalupe at the Fiesta in Tortugas, 2002

7The three different Indian and Mestizo groups that make up Tortugas brought with them an intense devotion to Guadalupe which they shared with many of their Hispanic neighbours and that is the common identification of these groups (See Jones, 2003 : 15-40). On the evening of the 10th of December the statue of the Virgin is paraded around Tortugas village – dressed, adorned and celebrated. The following morning there is a pilgramage to the top of a local mountain, which parallels the ascent of Tepeyac Hill in Mexico City where the Nahuatl Indian Juan Diego was visited by this mestizo-Marian apparition. On the third morning of the fiesta a mass is celebrated in the Guadalupe church after which dancing, feasting and music abound for the rest of the day.

8Tortugas is a w(holy) constructed community. In 1914 a non-profit corporation named Los Indigenes de Nuestra Senora de Guadalupe was formed. The official name of Tortugas is the Indian Village of Guadalupe. The corporation maintained the right the keep their ‘old customs’ provided that there was ‘nothing in them immoral, disorderly, superstitious or contrary to the Catholic Church’ (Times-Sunday Magazine, 1967). The community therefore constructed itself as church-centred and as a guardian of tradition. Until the 1950s the corporation erected and maintained four ceremonial buildings : a meeting house, the casa del pueblo ; a small chapel, the capilla ; a small resting house for the dancers, the casa de descanso ; and a community kitchen, the Casa de la Comida, which seats up to 100 people at a time and serves the 3-400 people who usually attend.

9The food served in the Casa de la Comida constitutes a historical text integral to the religious expression and community identity of the Fiesta. Food traditions are the ‘stories people tell about themselves’ (Geertz, 1973), which reveal official and hidden transcripts. Food associated with festive occasions provides more than sustenance for the event. Recipes and customs are passed down through generations and help sustain the traditions that provide a link between the past and present. As Harvey Cox maintains,

‘We recall the past not only by recalling it, but by reliving it, by making present again its fears and delectations. We anticipate the future not only by preparing for it but by conjuring up and creating it. Our links to yesterday and tomorrow depend also on the aesthetic, emotional, and symbolic aspects of human life – on saga, play and celebration’ (Cox, 1969 : 13).

10The feast of Guadalupe gives expression to the complex and varied ethno-cultural history of the region. It is both a public representation of this history which sustains the community’s own sense of identity and experience of the colonial period and a potent intervention into the dominant narrative that permits a continuum with earlier traditions.

11Part of the distinctive expression of Catholicism in the Americas is the continued commitment to the enthusiastic celebration of saints’ feasts days. Catholicism has simultaneously been complicit in colonialism and provided a medium for cultural resistance and persistence. The act of celebrating was always integral to Spanish cuisine and both of these are an important legacy of colonialism, and a cultural correspondence too. Aspects of the Spanish menu were often borne of the need to honour a saint. Battles between the Christians and the Moors, who were expelled in the year Columbus went to the Americas, are re-enacted in Spain during the Fiesta de Moros y Cristianos in the Valencian town of Alcoy. When the enemy are slain they rise from the dead and take a meal of the symbolically named Moros y Cristianos (rice and black beans). The Matachines dance performed at Tortugas is a variation or incorporation of this instructional drama. The diverse communities of the Southwest region perform and cherish the dance with marked differences. It incorporates elements of Indigenous American theatre and symbolism that make it popular in Pueblo Indian calendars. It is also popular amongst Mexican ethnic groups, which themselves have a mixed Euro-Indigenous descent as mestizos.

12Like the Tortugas Matachines dance that arrived in Spain via Northern Africa and was transplanted to Mexico during the colonial period where it was localised and incorporated into annual ritual calendars, the food of the Fiesta is commensurate with the community’s own sense of identity and experience of the colonial and postcolonial period. Food is central to a fiesta and the Spanish and Mexican calendars are full of fiestas. Many of these are religious, such as La Dia del la Virgen de Guadalupe. In the words of Mexico’s renowned chef, Patricia Quintana :

‘Each region [of Mexico] is a faithful expression of its aboriginal culture, ancestral habits, customs, and geography, and a record of the interplay between the many different ethnic groups whose language, music, art, and architecture have contributed to its unique and perfect coherence. This coherence can be known through that ritual which is – why not say it ? – the most basic way of learning the nature of a people, the partaking of their food. This richness is of cultural manifestation is evident throughout the year in the countless fiestas of a pre-Hispanic, religious, popular nature with which the Mexican people celebrate their deepest beliefs and with which they mark the important moments of their private lives’ (Quintana, 1989 : 33).

13While different regions will have their own culinary specialities, and their own patron saints, there are also festive foods that can be found from Spain to the Americas ; fritters reminiscent of Arab sweets transported to Mexico during the Conquest, dried codfish carried by Spanish sailors served at Christmas, hens in orange sauce which are a favourite at weddings. While the Americas received the legacy of Europe’s gastronomic traditions, this was a reciprocal process. Changes in diets and subsequent ecological results followed colonialism on both sides of the ocean. Some of the most notable products of this transformation in Spain include the mixture of capsicums and tomatoes with other vegetables known as pisto and the golden potato omelet, tortilla de patatas, which is almost emblematic of Spanish cuisine.

14The Tortugas celebration shares in the traditional celebration of/invocation of the Madonna of the Americas transported from Extramadura in Northern Spain. But the Fiesta is also a celebratory articulation of the mestizaje that characterises the Tortugas community. Importantly, food provides a means to resist assimilation and sustain communities. Despite its proximity to the US and later incorporation into that nation, food traditions in the Southwest remain not just alive and well but dominant in the region. This has been nurtured by the publication of cookbooks that document the Mexican and Spanish culinary heritage, and it is evident in other areas that were historically part of Mexico. Encarnacion Pinedo’s El Cocinero Espanol was the first cookbook published by a Spanish-speaking Mexican woman in the US and the first text to document California’s culinary heritage. Victor Valle argues that Pinedo used the recipes to create a new identity for herself and recover some of her family’s former dignity (1997 : 3). Erna Fergusson’s commitment to her native New Mexico was expressed in numerous publications exploring the three cultures – Indian, Spanish and Anglo – central to New Mexico’s cultural heritage. Mexican Cookbook, first published in 1934, was a book of New Mexican recipes.

15Carlos Velez-Ibanez maintains that teaching and learning how to cook is a community resource that produces knowledge which might otherwise be coopted by the US market. Through cooking and raising children and passing this knowledge on, women’s work is a form of resistance to assimilation. For this reason, Velez-Ibanez maintains that women, especially the older women, cooking together for ritual feasts, sustain the support networks that enable border communities to survive (Velez-Ibanez, 1993 : 120, 125, 128 passim). This association is a traditional one, but one that also subverts the exclusion of women to the sphere of consumption. Margarita de Orellana describes the kitchen as a space where various aromas, flavours, conversations, tastes and ingredients come together :

‘to act between alchemy and the alcove, between the laboratory and the intimate space of simple or refined pleasures. A feminine memory directs these scenes, transmitting from generation to generation the seasoning of the mother home which is that of the motherland, of the culture that enters us through the mouth accompanied by the images and sounds that complement its environs, our primordial environs’ (Orellana, 1997 : 72).

16The women’s kitchen is the second oldest of the three kitchens in the Casa de la Comida. A large mesquite wood fire on the south side of the Casa de la Comida was formerly used to cook for the noon meal. The pots of food are now heated with natural gas. The men cook here in the oldest kitchen, stirring the Red Chile and the Albóndigas (meatball stew) the women rolled, which is served on the last day of the fiesta. Food preparation, though, is constant throughout the three-day ceremony, and women, especially the older women of the community, along with the usual dishes and cleaning and clearing that accompany it, primarily do this. In the Casa de la Comida the women prepare food for the dancers and mayordomas and Green Chile stew served at midnight after the pilgrimage up the mountain. The women in the kitchen have made a promesa to the Virgin, surrendering the privilege of making the pilgrimage and watching the dancers rehearse and perform.

17The fiesta involves three-fold devotion ; dancing, cooking and making the pilgrimage up the mountain. Visitors come to the Casa de la Comida for the feast on the 12th of December, but the Corporation members and the family and friends that volunteer to help, spend most the fiesta in the kitchen. The rituals of both sacrament and sacrifice are symbolically bound to the use of food and the Spanish word salud refers to both health and salvation. In serving food, the women serve the Virgin by serving her devotees. In doing so, they don’t relinquish a primary role in the fiesta, for the work in the community kitchen is a fundamental aspect of the ceremony, of the community, and of the performance of their history and memories.

18Sacramental food is central to Catholicism, extending the nourishment food provides to the soul. In the moment of transubstantiation nutritional substances are transformed into the blood and body of Christ, they do not change in essence ; rather their consumption is intended to change us. God gives himself to us as food. Since nothing merges with us more intimately than food which, by means of natural heat, transforms itself into our own substance, and becomes one with us… “He who eats of my flesh and drinks of my blood shall remain in me and I in him [Qui manducat meam carnem et bibit meum sanguinem, in me manet, et ego in eo].” But there is a difference between other food and this one : whereas the former transforms itself into us and becomes our own substance, the latter transforms us into itself (Diotallevi [1716] cited in Camporesi, 1989 : 227).

19By assuming the shape of food and drink the Eucharist alone among the sacraments is received internally. Receiving the Host is fundamental to achieving the fullness of grace. In this sense too, food is constitutive of identities, and not just their reflection.

20The community kitchen involves sacrifice and generates a sense of social belonging. Mary Douglas has shown the relationship between systems of knowledge and the systems of society by examining dietary rules and projections from diet to health (Douglas, 1966 ; Douglas and Hull, 1992). The conventions around food, Douglas suggests, are a reflection of principles of social and political relationships. ‘Eating the right foods and abstaining from the wrong one publicly exemplifies the system of social categories’ (in Douglas and Hull, 1992 : 265). The food of the fiesta is prepared religiously with devotion and discipline suggesting that religious discourse and practice still play a significant part in the machinations of contemporary culture. Deidre Sklar maintains that following the rules of the kitchen without complaint was a principle of belonging. This has religious, social and personal overtones.

21The meal on the 3rd day of the fiesta is a devoted performance, an offering and a celebration. To offer food is to offer love and affection and friendship and to accept it is to acknowledge and reciprocate the feelings expressed. The trip we made in 2002 was our second and third respective visit to Tortugas, but it was the first time we ate. The practice of eating at someone’s table signals an intimacy and sense of social belonging that neither of us really felt we had. Conversely, the distinction between public and private hospitality is a cultural and historical one. In the Middle East an unconditional, general form of hospitality was extended to strangers, which coupled with the command to love one’s neighbour, became a form of charity that was a fundamental principle throughout Christian times (Peyer in Flandrin and Montanari, 1999 : 287-294). The Corporation who host the feast do not charge for the food, clouding the distinction between public commercial hospitality and private archaic hospitality, hospitality and charity. The bond between the hosts and their guests is consummated through the act of eating.

22Our appreciation of the fiesta was enormously enriched by the experience of eating. We could have been described as “gastronomades” – Cunonsky’s word for practitioners of gastronomic tourism – on this trip far from home (in Kurlansky, 2002 : 430). At about 2.30 in the afternoon we joined a queue that had started before 12, people moving in relay as others finished, eating, talking and drinking. The Tigua and Danzante dancers are first served after performing a large round dance together outside the red clay-coloured building of the Casa de la Comida.3 The food was excellent – a taste that comes from being prepared with devotion and shared with people that make you feel welcome. New Mexicans will often open up a conversation with Anglos about chile, specifically asking whether you like it green or red. From your answer they get a sense of what you know of the essential ingredient of their diet, history and identity.

23Red Chile was served at the table, with Albóndigas, beans and macaroni. Although we were stragglers, bowls at the table were still being filled when we sat down. The meal gives the impression of being Mexican ; the macaroni may signal the US influence, although noodles are commonly eaten with the main meal in Mexico taken between two and four in the afternoon. There is a saying among Mexico City snobs that the north is Donde se acaba la cultural y empieza la carne asada (where culture ends and grilled meat begins). The north provides what many people may consider “Mexican food” : fajitas, quesadillas, nachos, burritos, chile con carne – the state dish of Texas. Albóndigas and Chile are the enduring dishes of the fiesta from its inception.

24The means by which ingredients are introduced to different regions reflects cultural exchanges, historical processes, and the local environment. The adaptation of recipes to incorporate local ingredients likewise provides information about local traditions and conditions. Cookbooks are a means of assessing the heritage of a recipe, tracing the direction of influence, the time of its incorporation as well as being a sign of the need to record the instructions for making a dish.4 The ingredients listed in a recipe provide an important source of information about what was available to cooks and sufficiently well known at a particular time. The Mexican recipe for Albóndigas is reminiscent of the contemporary Spanish one, a meatball stew of pork and beef, although veal is also often used. Albóndigas in Spain is conventionally served with a tomato sauce, but this is often missing in Mexico, the recipe remaining faithful to the dish imported in the colonial period.

25Albóndigas de carne
Sauce :
- 1/4 cup olive oil
- 31/2 oz onion, finely chopped
- 1 carrot, thinly sliced
- 2 teaspoons all-purpose (plain) flour
- 3 1/3 cups beef broth (stock)
- 2 tablespoons tomato sauce (puree)
- 1/3 cup dry white wine
- salt
Meatballs :
- 3 1/2 oz bread, crusts removed
- 1.3 cup milk
- 8 oz pork, ground (minced)
- 8 oz beef, group (minced)
- 1 tablespoon finely chopped parsley
- 2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
- salt
- 2 eggs
- all-purpose (plain) flour, for coating
- olive oil, for frying
First, prepare the sauce by heating the oil in a heatproof casserole and frying the onion and carrot over low heat for 10 minutes. Add the flour. When it browns, add the broth, tomato sauce and white wine. Season with salt and cook over low heat for 20 minutes.
To make the meatballs, soak the bread in the milk, then press out the excess and mix with the meat, parsley and garlic. Season with salt, add the eggs and mix well to form a paste. Shape the meatballs with your hands, coat lightly with flour and transfer to a floured surface.
Heat the oil in a skillet (frying pan). Fry the meatballs a few at a time and transfer to a heatproof dish as they are cooked.
Put the sauce in a blender and puree. Pour over the meatballs. Cook for 30 minutes over low heat.
(Rios and March, 1992 : 185)

26Albóndigas Mexicanas
- 1/2 kg ground meat, beef and pork
- 1.2 cup tomato juice (blended with 2 chipotle chiles)
- 2 cloves garlic
- 1 onion
- 1 cooked egg
- 1 raw egg
- 1/2 bread roll soaked in milk
- salt and pepper to taste
Press the excess milk out of the bread. Combine bread with meat, onion and garlic, salt, pepper, the cooked egg diced finely, and the raw egg. Mix until blended.
Form into balls and fry in hot oil.
(La Cocina Familiar en el Estado de Puebla 2000 : 46)

27Spanish cooking in turn owes an enormous debt to the Arabs, who introduced important ingredients to Iberia, including staples like oranges and rice and many Spanish dishes appear to be adaptations of earlier Arabic ones.

28While Spanish recipes reflect the extent of Arab influence the situation is more complicated than this. As Bernard Rosenberger explains, in the Muslim era al-Andalus continued to observe customs that dated from Roman or Roman-Visigothic times. A recipe for Albóndigas appears in an anonymous manuscript from the 13th century about Hispanic-Maghrebi cookery :

‘This dish is delicious and easily digested. Take red and tender meat, with the tendons removed, and grind [mince] it, as described before for meatballs : put it in a large dish and add some of the juice of minced onion and a little oil, pepper, macerated flour, dry cilantro [coriander], cumin and saffron ; add eggs, enough to bind the mixture, and stir until it all mixes into one piece, as if it were a hunk of meat, and put it aside ; then take a clean pot and put in it the oil, vinegar, a little flour and garlic and the quantity necessary of aromatic condiments and put it on the Fire. When it has boiled and the meatballs have cooked in it, leave it for a while, and when it has finished cooking, take the pot from the embers and thicken it with beaten egg, saffron and pepper ; leave it all to set, and then color this dish in its way or in the way you prefer’ (cited in Rios and March, 1992 : 185).

29This may have been a regional derivative of a Middle Eastern recipe, or the recipe could have developed from local traditions which the Arab heritage helped to preserve. Albóndigas comes from the Arabic al-banadiq and although recipes from the Middle East and Muslim Spain have survived, something similar was also prepared in ancient Rome (Rosenberger in Flandrin and Montanari, 1999 : 222).5 The use of pork, forbidden in both Islam and Judaism, was a 15th century adaptation, introduced in many Spanish dishes as a means of exposing false conversos (Jews and Muslims converted to Christianity). This had the reciprocal effect of defining Mediterranean culture and European Christians by their consumption of pork. Whether Albóndigas highlights the influence of Arab culture or the endurance of Roman culinary traditions, it was a part of the Latino influence from Spain, but it was also a popularised in the Southwest by the influx of people of Mexican birthright like the Bombach family, who contributed to the classic Historic Cookery book of Mexican and Spanish food. In the Southwest pork is not generally used, reflecting the triumph of beef over pork in the US in the contemporary period.

- 2 T oil or lard
- Pepper and dried powder cilantro [coriander], to taste
- 1 large clove garlic
- 1 T flour
- 1.2 cup tomato juice
- 1 quart water
- 1.2 lb. ground round [minced meat]
- 1/2 onion, minced
- 1 egg
- 1 1/2 tablespoons masa harina or flour
- 1/2 teaspoon pepper
- 1/2 teaspoon cilantro [coriander]
- Potatoes, optional
In a dutch oven, heat oil and brown garlic. When garlic is brown, add flour and brown slightly. Add tomato juice and water. Bring to boil. In a bowl, mix remaining ingredients. Make into 1 1/2 inch balls. Drop into hot water and cook about 30 minutes or more. Peeled and cut potatoes may be added or boil potatoes separately.
(Funkhouser in Conley, 1999 : 8)

31Albóndigas Soup
- 1 quart tomatoes
- 1.2 cup red chile pulp or 2 tbsp. chile powder
- 1 tsp. salt
- 1 pinch oregano
Rub tomatoes through a colander and bring to the boil, adding enough water to make 2 quarts of liquid. Add chile pulp, salt and oregano and boil down to 3 pints of liquid. Add albondigas made as directed and boil one hour.
Plain bean soup with no seasoning but salt may be substituted for this stock.

- 1 lb. beef ; 1 pinch each : black sage
- 1.2 lb. pork ; ground mint, pepper
- 1 slice bread ; 1 tsp. salt
- 1 egg ; 1 tomato
- 1 onion ; 1/8 tsp. cilantro
- 1 clove garlic chopped
Grind meat together, mix with bread which has been soaked in water and squeezed dry. Add egg and seasoning. Mix well and mold into balls the size of walnuts. Brown one chopped onion in 2 tbsp. fat. Remove onion and brown meatballs. Add onion, mashed tomato, spices as above and 4 to 6 cups of boiling water. Simmer slowly for 1 1/2 hours.
(Fergusson, 1945 : 82)

33The Mexican love of spicy food has been nurtured by the Southwestern geography ; more chiles are grown in Las Cruces than any other city in the world, but the crop was only popularised in the 1950s, perhaps not coincidentally at around the same time as New Mexico joined the union of the US. The term chile is derived from the Nahuatl language for a range species of capsicum, but it’s also used in the Southwest and Texas to refer to a dish of meat cooked with chile. Chile con carne has been traced to the poor Mexicans of San Antonio in the Mexican province of Texas during the 1820s. In the Southwest people eat red and green chile stews, and both are served in the Fiesta. As a result of the processes of globalisation from colonialism, trade and immigration, chiles have spread all over the world. It is now hard to imagine what South-East Asian food, for example, was like without them. Local varieties though give different flavours to regional dishes.

34An erosion of local food cultures hasn’t necessarily accompanied globalisation. Instead, regional identity is interdependent on the global world for its historical and contemporary construction. As you become more accustomed to the heat of chile, more of it is needed to generate the same effect it has on the body. Maintaining the amount of chile passed down from generations inured to the effect, therefore, doesn’t just reproduce an authentic dish. It could also be said to be a way of maintaining a sense of community, of expressing one's relation to other things and other people.

35Food provides a local, national and international space in which to assert regional differences, but also other identifications, less territorially bound. Attachments to other loyalties – to gender, ethnicity, religion and age – are fundamental to, rather than mutually exclusive of regional foodways. The identity of a region, to which its food contributes, is not only dictated by the availability of ingredients. How these are used and consumed is mediated by culture as much as geography. This opens up the question of the relation between the local, global and temporality. English geographer Doreen Massey argues that the force of globalisation has been operating for at least the past five hundred years and that the local has never in fact been separate or isolated from the global at any time in recent western history, back to at least the 15th century (1995 : 182-192). Massey refers to the global as the world beyond the place people live, giving a broader and longer-term perspective of the process. This is made clear in the influence of Arab culture on Spanish cuisine, and its transportation to the Americas, where so many of the indigenous ingredients revolutionised the diet, economy, social structure and politics of the whole world. The noon meal of the fiesta served in the Casa de la Comida after the church services and dancing, reflects this history and preserves the varied traditions of Tortugas’ diverse historical origins.

36While different regions in the US, varying in their physical environments, have given rise to different diets, and differing food habits of migrants also produce diversity, food historians have complained about the force of assimilation, the powerful pressures towards sameness exerted on people’s food habits, as well as other aspects of culture. According to Claude Fischler, people in France, Italy, Spain and other traditionally Catholic countries, worry about their cultural identity in light of what they perceive as threats to their culinary traditions from the process of “Americanization” (in Flandrin and Montanari, 1999 : 532-533). There is some irony in the fact that people are concerned about their cultural identity being threatened by the Americanization of their culinary traditions, when so many of the foods characteristically associated with their cuisine comes from the Americas. The tomato, as Stefano Milioni has said, is perhaps the most “emblematic of the foods” associated with Italian cuisine (1992 : 11). Potatoes and maize make up two of the four chief staples of the human diet. It is, however, more generally the industrialisation of food processing and large scale food distribution systems associated with fast food that provokes people’s passion.6 In the eyes of many Europeans, especially, according to Claude Fischler, southern Europeans, fast food is the embodiment of the American “imperialism” they feel is threatening their culture (in Flandrin and Montanari, 1999 : 541). In this case it could be said that the empire bites back. While the mapping of new lands, the large scale immigration of peoples, the treasure that ensured the power of colonial states for so long are deserving of attention, what matters about colonialism to many people in the world and has endured for more than 500 years are the changes in diets it induced and the ecological results that subsequently followed.

37The globalisation of agriculture, the growth of food-processing industries, the development of transnational distribution networks and migration have all impacted on food preferences and methods of preparation and resulted in extensive cultural syncretism. However, local circumstances also generate their own particular gastronomic expressions, which have been the cause of contestation and celebration. Following Stuart Hall I would argue that globalisation (or for that matter, ‘Americanisation’) cannot be equated with homogenisation (1992 : 21-33). The question of where a dish is located, the specific context in which it occurs that includes time, and how it is framed by contiguous issues are important factors to take account of in analysing how food culture can be understood. As Hall has reminded us there is no ‘pure’ culture which can be recovered by marginalised identities which is threatened by incorporation or exclusion ; all these forms may be to some extent hybridised as the product of 'partial synchronization, of engagement across cultural boundaries, of the confluence of more than one cultural tradition, of negotiations of dominant and subordinant positions’ (1992 : 28). It may be more accurate to characterise traditions not as autonomous, but hybridised, a result of a two-fold emerging between local and global traditions. The heritage of cooking on the feast day of Guadalupe has grown from indigenous foods, indigenous cooking, the legacies of colonialism, multiculturalism, the local region and the larger world.

38In all societies eating is the primary way in which we initiate and maintain human relationships. The food of the Fiesta is not simply the residue of old food habits, or traces of the history of Tortugas but a device to reaffirm cultural and historical bonds. As Peter Farb and George Armelagos maintain :

‘Eating is symbolically associated with the most deeply felt human experiences, and thus expresses things that are sometimes difficult to articulate in everyday language’ (in Kirk and Eliason, 1982 : 9).

39The way to someone’s heart we are told is through their stomach. The bodily sense of memory is captured by the word recordan – to remember – which, via the Latin means to pass back through the heart. Food can be seen as a receptacle of cultural memory. Memory’s rich etymology hints at its somatic influences ; the heart bears witness, sorrow and longing – it is a locale of memory's incarnation – a sensual remembrance.

40The personal uses of history testify to the different stories that can be told about the past. Critical reinterpretations of the legacies of colonialism emerge to provide evidence of the survival and endurance of subaltern practices, and the creative possibilities for recontextualising colonialism’s meanings. There is no turning back to a simple analysis of colonialism resting on divisions between Mexico and Spain, the US and Mexico, colonised and coloniser, immigrants and pioneers, the nations within citizens from the citizens within nations. Those interactions have already transformed the dialogue. Inscribed in the history of colonialism are also sites of agency and negotiation in-between and across the borders that separate and define us, where we can perhaps recognise,

‘another narration of identity, another resistance. One that asserts a difference, yet cannot be absorbed into the pleasures of the global marketing culture. One that locates its different voice, yet will not take a stand on the unmoving ground of a defensive fundamentalism. One that speaks its location as more than local, yet makes no claim to universality for its viewpoint or language. One that knows the border and crosses the line’ (Sanches-Tranquilino and Tagg, 1991 : 105).

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1 This question is asked in Sklar’s account of a story which the women in the kitchen told during the food preparation of a new bride who could not make her tortillas round. She made them in the shape of states, like Texas, California and Florida [all states that were formerly part of Mexico], which her mother-in-law made fun of, so she stopped making tortillas. When the mother-in-law died, the bride practiced until she was able to make round tortillas (Sklar).
2The last day celebrates Juan Diego who was beatified in 2003. Until then the fiesta ran from the 10-12th of December.
3As a sacred building, like the church, no photographs are permitted inside the Casa de la Comida.
4The need may arise from a number of factors, loss of knowledge about preparation, pride, resistance to assimilation, sustaining or restoring dignity, raising money and so on.
5Moroccan meatballs served with chickpeas is also called armundigas. It is worth noting that, unlike other Arabic languages, Moroccan is a phonetic language and the spelling of different dishes varies considerably.
6Consider for example the demonstrations prompted by McDonald’s when they tried to open in the Piazza di Spagna in Rome, which led to the inception of the Slow Food movement.
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Electronic reference

Adele Wessel and Andrew Jones, “Reading religion and consuming the past in the feast of Guadalupe”Anthropology of food [Online], 5 | May 2006, Online since 01 May 2006, connection on 30 January 2023. URL:; DOI:

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