Latinx Foodways in the New South

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

On May 5, 2018, Colleen Hammelman and Consuelo Carr Salas hosted the Latinx Foodways in the New South symposium in Atkins Library at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. We gratefully acknowledge support for this event from the Association for the Study of Food and Society’s Regional Events Grant, the UNCC Department of Geography and Earth Sciences’ Speaker Series, and the UNCC University Writing Program.

This sympoisum began with a multi-disciplinary panel discussion among community leaders and scholars from Charlotte. Panel speakers included:

Rosalia Torres-Weiner, an artist, activist, and community leader
Tom Hanchett, a community historian
Karina Gonzalez, health policy coordinator for Mecklenburg County Public Health
Eric Hoenes del Pinal, Religious Studies, UNC Charlotte
Consuelo Carr Salas, English and University Writing Program, UNC Charlotte

Each of the speakers shared their experience of how existing regional foodways are impacted by the contributions of Latinx immigrant communities in the South. A common theme among the speakers was a holistic view of the people who comprise the minority immigrant communities in Charlotte. Rosalia Torres-Weiner shared her story as an immigrant to the United States and how she now uses her art as a way to engage new immigrant children by “planting seeds of creativity and watering them with love.” Tom Hanchett traced five tamales and the real physical changes the city of Charlotte has experienced with newly emerging immigrant communities making a space for themselves. Karina Gonzalez discussed county health initiatives on immigrant diets and food availability in corner stores. She expressed the need to engage with our community members as complex humans who deal with tremendous stresses in their new location in order for nutrition interventions to be effective. Eric Hoenes del Pinal provided the audience with estampas of his experiences with food while moving to and making a home in Charlotte. Consuelo Carr Salas asked the audience to consider how food marketers package and sell narratives of immigrant communities, and to consider what certain images do to the perceptions of cultures. From tales of tamales and images of immigrant hands that feed us, to immigrant diets, the variety of available foods, and food marketing rhetoric, all of the speakers shared stories of how Latinx immigrant foodways have integrated into the southern food landscape over the past decades.

Following the panel session, Dr. Steven Alvarez, Assistant Professor of English, at St. John’s University, gave his keynote talk, Taco literacy in the US South: Writing transnational Mexican foodways. He shared how students learn about differences among tacos and how they are visible in landscapes in Kentucky, New York, and throughout the US. Teaching students about tacos and engaging them in activities outside the classroom provides tremendous insights into “the movements of food, language, and people” in the US. Students are able to learn about the people behind these foods, and their “local connections to Mexican foodways, their preferences and their sense of what Mexican food means culturally as a part of US cuisine.” In short, Steven emphasized the transformative learning that can happen when there is an emphasis placed on immigrant foodways in a writing classroom.

The audience participating in this Cinco de Mayo discussion in person were also joined by several online viewers as the symposium was broadcasted live via WebEx. The speakers and symposium hosts are now curating the discussions and ideas into a paper on this topic. We hope to share news of its publication early next year.