Pico de Orizaba

Pico de Orizaba
Taken from Huatusco, Veracruz, the closest town to Margarita's family's ranch.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

The American Dream/The Mexican Nightmare

When Margarita and I began baking in Xalapa in June 2003, I firmly believed that the "American Dream" could be created in Mexico.  I taught my brother-in-laws that with a good idea, creativity, hard work, endurance and patience, they could create a strong life for themselves and for their family within a horribly limiting classist and racist culture.  I had the ideas and wished for sharing them with my in-laws.  I have so many ideas connected with food. The problem always has been finding financial support for the projects and the spiritual/physical support from my in-laws.  Everything I've done seriously creatively, I've been told stands out.  What I've created in the kitchen recieves that much more respect.  My belief is in giving the person the utmost highest quality food product possible within my economic means, be that person a friend or a client.  So, I constantly perfected the cupcakes.  Margarita and I began with gourmet pizzas and "breads" (Like banana bread, etc.).  We lost on the pizza, since clients were accustomed to little slices costing the equivalent of 50cents back in 2003.    That 50 cent pizza is really the equivalent of bad open-faced sandwich; bad pizza dough baked with a bad cheese and no sauce, with bad ham or sliced Vienna Sausages (those little canned penises) called hotdog pizza...  Mexicans put a ton of ketchup on their pizza.  Those 6 months we sold pizza, I refused to offer mustard, ketchup or hot sauce...  I believe strongly in Sienfeld's "food Nazi"...  This is MY pizza and you don't adulterate it with porqerias (with shit).  "Maybe it's best you don't eat my pizza..."  At the time my idealism was stronger than my business sense.  I truly believed that the people would realize the gem they had in their neighborhood and we would become famous through word of mouth.  That did happen with our cakes and cupcakes.  Not that we didn't have our pizza fanatics.  The 3.5 years after dropping the pizza project, we encountered clients who passed by our stands, who asked us if there was the possibility that I could specially prepare pizzas by request.  I said, "You won't pay my price..."  They would say, "For your pizza... tell me a price..."  And I would continue, "In order to begin, I must first have the ingredients on stock. Then I must make a space in my cupcake baking schedule just to fill your request.  Plus it's much more expensive purchasing ingredients exclusively for a few pizzas. And for it to be worth my while, I must have a pizza system installed in my 18 hour workday 7days a week with many other clients willing to pay my price... Sorry, but I just can't do it..."   It made my sad.  I turned people away who wanted me to cook them Chinese food.  I turned people away who wanted me to make specialty cakes for their weddings.  First, Mexican wedding cakes are very elaborately "painted" and I don't have any training in cake design.  Second, I created an incredible manual cupcake system for just getting by selling up to 1000 cupcakes per week.  How would a fashion cake help my "fast food" baking business?  When the Xalapeños think of buying a cake for a party, they first talk in kilos.  They don't talk in number of servings.  And how do you figure out "kilo" of cake?  Is it in kilo of flour? Or in kilo of finished product?  Well, my cakes had flour.  But they also had the highest quality chocolate, cream cheese, whole butter and whole cream.  How much do those ingredients cost by kilo?  Supposedly one kilo of cake serves up to 60 people.  Well, my Banana-nut, Coconut Lime Cake I baked as a traditional cake before turning it into a filled cupcake with coconut-lime cream cheese topping weighed 3 kilos (approximately 7 pounds) and fed maximally 20 people.  Now, let me tell you how disappointed that person would be if they were given a very small slice without the opportunity for seconds...  I figured that, when the host planned their parties, they were planning on paying maximally 30 cents per person on the cake. With my gourmet cupcakes was selling maximally at $1.30USD for a cupcake that weighed 150 grams or almost a 1/3 of a pound, if I am correct.  If we were just getting by, why would I want to interfer with my cupcake business just because people were dying for a wedding cake worth eating?  if I could create the design they wanted.  But the truth is that I am an artistically sloppy person.  I have carpenter's hands.  I am not of refined spirit.  I am an international soulfood cook.  For me, what is most important is the flavor, not the image.  

Ok.  Chris appeared and saved the day, because I had all but ruined the nerves in my right arm from baking, manually filling and adorning the cupcakes and going in and out of the freezer.  

So we went on the road with a very expensive coffee bar that became increasingly expensive.  We had some really great fair responses in some really great cities, like Zacatecas.  4 years in Zacatecas and we are about to lose that fair to political unrest and horrible violence.  3 years and 5 fairs in Tepic, Nayarit and we worked for the last time there this past March.  For some reason or another people were being skinned and having their hearts removed and then placed on the side of the city roads...  Was that the government scaring the voters into voting for the political party in power?  Or was that the opposition party attempting to convince the voters that the party in power cares little for public safety...  Supposedly the drug cartels decided to show their enemies the worst things they could do to them for competing for the plaza (the territory)...  But why does the government allow for this daily activity?  ALL OVER THE COUNTRY.  Just as we were developing economic success and stability and hope for the future, half the cities we worked in became super embroiled in so-called all out war.  But, it's worse than that.  Outside of the cities armed groups set up road blocks and steal the pick-ups; on toll roads supposedly protected by the federal police.  But where did those police go?  Ya Basta (enough) I say.  

Look, the painting of The Crucified Pregnant Woman became obsolete within my mind in 2011. Why?  Because I felt that we were way beyond the issue of sexism in our life in Mexico.  The wonderfully tranquil Mexico I knew between 2003 and 2009 had metamorphasized into a living hell.  No, I haven't been kidnapped yet.  But, here in Mexico it's not just about the money, it's about total disrespect for life.  So, you don't worry about losing your family's money when they kidnap you.  You worry about how much of the mutilation you will endure before you die.  My "American Dream" in Mexico suddenly became a Mexican nightmare.  

And then James suggested I write my memoirs explaining why I don't just leave for the U.S.  

For one, I must also consider Margarita's future experience in the U.S.  She is 36-years-old with the equivalent of a 2nd grade education.  She doesn't speak English and she is no one's servant.  While being born into the 2nd to the lowest class in Mexico, she has never been treated with anything other than with respect by the adults she met selling cupcakes or that she meets selling her family's coffee in the fairs.  How many times did the press ask to interview me and I sent them with Margarita, since the story is her family and she is the face of Café Xicuintla de Veracruz.  Not only is she the face of our coffee business, but she is the muscle and the heart.  I am the mind and that's where I prefer staying.  We've been interviewed so many times by national television, local papers and an occasional radio station.  Why send Margarita to job where the people believe that she is just a dumb Mexican because she doesn't speak English or because she is just learning the language or because she must make their beds or wash their clothing or clean their toilets or wash their dishes...?  Will we create a coffee bar in the U.S., Margarita and I together as we have been for over 8 years in Mexico?  We have not spent 24 hours apart.  We have only spent one night apart when I had to go to immigration in Mexico City and she had to manage the cupcake business in my absence.  No.  We will not have that kind of money for creating a business together in the U.S.  And, if I were to return to the U.S. today, I would be returning at the age of 42 with a horrendous resume, since 5 of my 7 post-college years in New York City I was living as an artist (not off my art) and had extreme difficulty finding employment connected with my undergraduate degree, "American Social History of Racism and Immigration in the U.S." broken down to "American History."  And, no, I horribly lacked the confidence to stand up infront of a group of inner-city high school students, let alone a class of my peers, as a teacher.  And, yes, that's where the New York City Public Schools send their new post-grads in secondary education, burning out some of the best intentioned young teachers, just as they did in the New York City automatically self-destructive social services... 


So many of you asked me how and why I ended up in Mexico and recently so many of you asked me why I don't just return to the U.S. with Margarita.  And I have answered some of the questions with this blog suggestion by James, who fled from the realities I described.  He wanted me to focus on children eating cupcakes with tears of happiness falling from their eyes.  Don't make me publish James' last two emails.  

I cook very well, I write well at times, I draw and paint things that cause so many people ask me the question "Why don't you sell...?"  I am a very well intentioned person and as sincere and honest with you and with myself as possible.  But I've experience things that most of you won't experience in your lifetimes, nor will people experience that within your families.  I had a very difficult childhood that precluded my ability to compete in the normal corporate world, that caused me to see things that maybe you will never see; that causes me to know that I couldn't teach adolescents the typical lies, causing me to lose my teaching positions, should I have had the guts to become a teacher.  

You don't like my energy. You don't like my perspective.  You don't like my anger.  You don't like my rage.  You don't like my resentment.  But you do like my creativity.  You do like my love for Margarita.  You do like my cupcakes.  You do like my journey.  

So why not be a little bit more honest with yourself?  Why not understand that there isn't either good or bad in life.  There isn't truly an US or a THEM...  When you understand the socio-political truths throughout history and throughout the world, you realize that everything and everyone becomes leveled and even.  That the black person and the chinese person and the Jew and the Mexican and the Indiginous becomes a racist and a classist and a sexist and nationalist and supremacist and an imperialist and an exploiter and an abuser and a neglecter, just like all the other popular enemies.  When you live in other countries, you start seeing familiar faces in strangers.  You realize that there are certain basic styles of characters in people throughout the world.  I bumped into so many Mexicans I swear were the spitting image of non-latinos I knew in the U.S. from childhood through adulthood.  I realized that, wherever I set foot on this planet, I would find the same people.  The only true differences are the governments in place at the time, the language and the world/universal/cosmic views promulgated within each of those communities.  

What most people don't understand is that the baby is born without language, without politics, without religion, without preconcieved ideas, without an economic system or a financial background.  You could have just as easily been born in China or Russia or Central Africa as a boy or a girl and with a totally different physical appearance, yet with the same spirit or soul...  The woman who loved you today, hates you tomorrow...  That woman was your mother.  That woman isn't your mother today.  You aren't her son.  You were born to the other woman in a group socio-politically denegrated, materially-economically exploited and medically/nutricionally/educationally neglected...  Here in Mexico 80% of the people say they are Catholics.  In the U.S. how many say they are Protestant?  In Israel they are Jewish.  In Egypt they are Islamic-Arabs, in Greece they are Eastern Orthodox, In Turkey they are Islamic non-arabs (Very important to understand that), in Saudi Arabia they are Sunni Muslims.  In Iran they are Shi-ite Muslims.  India exploded between it's 3 ethnic religious groups; the result was the separation from Hindu India of Pakistan and Bangladesh into their respective Islamic and Bhuddist countries...  In all these countries there is a finger being pointed at the people of the other religions.  I was born into a Jewish family.  Margarita was born into a Catholic family. Everyone was born into a family that fall on the other side of the fence. Were you born lucky or misfortunate?  And if you were born misfortunate is your story truly less valuable?  Is it truly less true?  

How many of us grew up with the belief that the U.S. is about fighting for DEMOCRACY, FREEDOM, HUMAN RIGHTS, IMPROVED HEALTH, IMPROVED EDUCATIONAL SYSTEMS, BETTER CHILDHOODS, BETTER QUALITY OF LIFE, BETTER WORK ENVIRONMENTS....?  How many of us believed that being "American" meant being more considerate of other people's needs, more open minded, more focused upon Justice for All?  In the name of...  This just can't happen to a...  

How about looking up the new records for the first half of 2011 stating how many Mexicans have asked for asylum in the U.S....  It made it into the Mexican news today.  I can't ask for asylum with my wife, because we haven't been directly threatened...  

But there are so many other things to consider.  And you think I am complaining or whining.  No, I am just in the process of answering the questions...

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