I’ve always had trouble with forms that ask me to mark my race or ethnicity in one box, and I know I’m far from the only one who feels this way.
Do I check Latina? Both my parents and all my grandparents were born and raised in Mexico, and I grew up speaking Spanish at home, eating tons of Mexican food, learning Mexican nursery rhymes and going to Kensington market to get Mexican treats and fresh tortillas.
I also grew up listening to classic Mexican songs as well as Mecano (a Spanish band very popular in Mexico in the 80s) and Rebelde (a Mexican 2000’s pop band linked to a teen telenovela by the same name- I’m not even embarrassed). I always loved singing along to Spanish songs for my friends, including, at Bar Mitzvahs, the Spanish parts of Hips Don’t Lie. I have always felt very proud of my Mexican heritage, and this was often reflected at lunchtime, despite weird looks from kids at school. Sample interaction:
–*stink face* “What’s that?”
–“It’s salsa verde, duh. Here, take some.”
I grew up on quesadillas, huevos a la mexicana, tacos, chile relleno on special occasions, tamal casserole (my mom’s genius invention, recipe to come), ceviche, tampico, tajín, chilaquiles, sopa de tortilla, tortas, pozole, and pollo con mole. Lucky, eh?
However, I don’t really look like what people typically expect from a Latina (n.b.: there’s a zillion different kinds of Latinx people of all skin tones, shapes, and sizes, but everyone wants us all to be Sofia Vergara). This also means that I don’t experience any discrimination for being Latina because I just look white or Jewish (or Lebanese, Persian or Indian, all of which I get on a regular basis when people play the “what ARE you” game.)
Do I check Jewish, then, if it’s offered on the form? Both my parents are grandchildren of Ashkenazi Jewish immigrants to Mexico who left Eastern Europe in the early 20th century amidst the pogroms of the time. I learned Hebrew, a bisl Yiddish, allllll the songs, and many more torah passages than I ever wanted to at Jewish day school.
I love gefilte fish, maztah ball soup, chicken soup, my aunt’s homemade challah, smoked meat sandwiches, pickles, lox, excellent bagels, and those weird candies we throw at Bar Mitzvahs.
I have some pretty complicated feelings about my Jewish identity because of my generally negative feelings towards organized religion and its oppressive politics- but I won’t get into that here. There’s a lot I love about being Jewish. I love how food-and-family-centric the culture is, epitomized in the Friday night Shabbat dinners that have been part of my life every week since I was very young. My mom’s whole side of the family gets together, ranging from 13 people to 30 depending on whether it’s a “Regular Shabbat” or “Big Shabbat,” and if the large crew of Mexican-Jewish family friends is involved, the numbers explode. The dinners are always outstanding, as I come from a long line of amazing cooks, and the company is warm, loud, and wonderful. This is a picture of the most recent dinner’s offerings:
The way that I can best sum up who I am is, unsurprisingly, through food. More often than not, the food at Shabbat dinner is Mexican. I can’t count the number of times I’ve dipped challah into sopa de tortilla, or used it to sop up the rest of the juice from a fully-devoured ceviche.
My Bobe and mom sometimes make a dish called Gefilte Fish a la Veracruzana, usually around Rosh Hashanah. It’s gefilte fish cooked in a spicy, olive-studded Mexican tomato sauce, and it’s a pretty good sum-up of my cultural background. It’s a recipe that originates in the very community that my family is from, the large but very insular Jewish community of Mexico City. The dish is super delicious, and, as my mom raves, it has turned many a gefilte fish-hater into a believer.
I’m a Toronto-born, Montreal-dwelling Mexican Jewish White Latina Canadian and now I’m also exhausted. There’s no way all that’s fitting into a little check box on a form. I’m just Gefilte Fish a la Veracruzana.
Here’s the recipe:
Gefilte Fish a la Veracruzana.
24 cooked patties gefilte fish (from frozen, jarred, homemade, or however else you can find it)
2 tbsp olive oil for the fish
2 tbsp olive oil for sauce
1 large onion, thinly sliced into half-moons
5 cloves garlic, sliced
2 796-ml cans diced tomato
1/2 cup green olives, pitted
1/4 cup capers
15 whole pickled peppers (peperoncini, the green ones that come in a jar)
2 tsp dried oregano
2 large bay leaves
- Cook gefilte fish according to package (or grandmother’s) instructions.
- If you’re working with a log, cut it crosswise into inch-thick slices.
- Heat oil in a nonstick pan on medium and lightly brown the outside of each gefilte fish patty and set aside. Put the fish into the fridge on a plate.
- In a pot, warm the olive oil over medium heat and add the onion, garlic, olives, capers, oregano, bay leaves, and pickled peppers. Sautée for 5 minutes, stirring often.
- Add the 2 cans diced tomato and bring to a boil over high heat. Mix well.
- Let it bubble violently for a minute or two and then turn the heat down to low and cover the pot. Let it simmer for 25-30 minutes.
- Taste the sauce and adjust the seasoning with salt and pepper as needed.
- Grab the gefilte fish from the fridge and gently drop the patties into the sauce. Let it come back to a simmer and cook until the gefilte fish is warmed through again, about 10 minutes.
- Serve each piece with a good ladleful of sauce.