How Can They Call It Mexican Food If It Doesn’t Bring the Heat?

I am a Chicano in Connecticut. I moved from Arizona to the East Coast for my dream job. I have to admit that I'm still homesick. Connecticut is a completely different world. To sum it up in one phrase, vale madre. It took awhile for me to find a Mexican restaurant close to me. It's very comparable to that cardboard tortilla outlet known as Taco Bell. When I first went there, I was served chips and salsa. Of course, I dove right into the appetizer. The chips were very stale, and the salsa tasted like candy. Sí, como dulce. I asked my mesero if they had a hotter salsa because the salsa was nothing but salsa de tomate with some chunks of cebolla in it. He told me that they have a spicy pico de gallo and that he would bring it right out. ¿Sabes que, carnal? What I received was nothing but a bowl of chopped cebolla with some cilantro in it! He proudly displayed a sonrisa and asked if I liked it. I returned his pregunta with another pregunta and asked if this was his hot sauce. His smile quickly faded and then he said, "Pues tu sabes. Tenemos que servirle esa comida a ellos que no están acostumbrados a nuestra comida." I responded by telling him that if you're going to serve Mexican food, serve Mexican food.

I'm tired of Mexican-owned restaurants advertising their comida as auténtico, only to be disappointed by how crappy the food, OUR food, tastes. Why does our gente feel as if they have to water down our great cuisines for the gabachos? If Mexican restaurants want to advertise nuestra comida as authentic, then why don't the dueños of the restaurants cook and show off the beauty of nuestra cultura and forget a candy-flavored salsa in favor of a great-tasting salsa that not only makes our mouths water, but also makes us teary-eyed?

—Chicano in the CONN

Dear Wab: A tip for the next time you encounter salsa milder than vanilla: carry your own chiles. The Mexican always travels with a sandwich bag containing his favorite peppers—a couple of long, green serranos for freshness, gnarled chiles de árbol to bless my beans with dry heat, the tiny pequín if I need crunch, and one neon-orange habanero to rub in the eyes of any possible stalkers. Your sad story is one experienced by many Mexicans who travel through the parts of this country that wabs have just begun to colonize, but it's not unique to us: New Yorkers always bemoan the quality of bagels everywhere outside of Brooklyn, and San Franciscans simply won't eat burritos not folded in their famed Mission District. I will argue, however, that Mexican cuisine is more whitewashed than others, but I won't reveal my thesis until next year, when my next book Taco USA: How Mexican Food Conquered America (and Soon, the World) appears. Stay tuned, and stay enchilado!

What's up with all the salsa music in Mexican restaurants?

—No More Congas!

Dear Gabacho: Solamente no es Mexican eateries where you find Caribbean rhythms replacing Mexican regional music. Movies, newscasts or segments about Mexicans, Ugly Betty—really, any media manifestation of Mexicans needing a soundtrack usually eschew banda sinaloense (the brass-band one), conjunto norteño (the accordion one), pasito durangüense (the Melodica one) and mariachi (the sombrero one) for salsa or any other type of Latin beats. It's easy to blame anti-Mexican hatred for such swaps, but the razón is obvious: gabacho America's hatred of polkas, waltzes and all the folk music of a previous generation of idiot Catholic immigrants that influenced Mexican regional. Seriously: When was the last time outside Cleveland, Milwaukee, Oktoberfest, The Lawrence Welk Show, an octogenarian dance in heartland America, a Mexican party or a Weird Al Yankovic concert that you heard such music appreciated without irony? America likes cool, and the polka-loving bola de gente I just mentioned are about as hip as Dubya.

 
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