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A Tortilla Is Like Life

Food and Culture in the San Luis Valley of Colorado

By Carole M. Counihan

Publication Year: 2009

Located in the southern San Luis Valley of Colorado, the remote and relatively unknown town of Antonito is home to an overwhelmingly Hispanic population struggling not only to exist in an economically depressed and politically marginalized area, but also to preserve their culture and their lifeways. Between 1996 and 2006, anthropologist Carole Counihan collected food-centered life histories from nineteen Mexicanas—Hispanic American women—who had long-standing roots in the Upper Rio Grande region. The interviews in this groundbreaking study focused on southern Colorado Hispanic foodways—beliefs and behaviors surrounding food production, distribution, preparation, and consumption. In this book, Counihan features extensive excerpts from these interviews to give voice to the women of Antonito and highlight their perspectives. Three lines of inquiry are framed: feminist ethnography, Latino cultural citizenship, and Chicano environmentalism. Counihan documents how Antonito’s Mexicanas establish a sense of place and belonging through their knowledge of land and water and use this knowledge to sustain their families and communities. Women play an important role by gardening, canning, and drying vegetables; earning money to buy food; cooking; and feeding family, friends, and neighbors on ordinary and festive occasions. They use food to solder or break relationships and to express contrasting feelings of harmony and generosity, or enmity and envy. The interviews in this book reveal that these Mexicanas are resourceful providers whose food work contributes to cultural survival.

Published by: University of Texas Press

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Preface

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pp. xiii-xiv

This book is an introduction to the unique Hispanic community of Antonito in Conejos County, Colorado, just six miles north of the New Mexico border and 110 miles north of Santa Fe. Most people in Antonito reported having Spanish, Mexican, and Indian ancestors, sprinkled with various “Anglo” influences. Their community’s roots lie in the mixed ...

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Acknowledgments

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pp. xv-

Deepest thanks to all the people of Antonito—to everyone who gave a hello or a welcoming smile, change at the cash register, mail or DVDs, gas or haircuts, baseball coaching or refereeing, delicious meals, good talk, friendship, and insight. Very special thanks to the women who participated in this study, spent countless hours in conversation with me, ...

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1. "I Did Do Something": Food-Centered Life Histories in Antonito, Colorado

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pp. 3-21

This book is based on food-centered life histories that I collected between 1996 and 2006 with Mexicanas in the small town of Antonito in the southern San Luis Valley of Colorado. Ninety percent of the population of Antonito identified themselves as Hispanic in the 2000 U.S. Census. They had deep roots in the Upper Rio Grande region and could point to ...

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2. "The Stereotypes Have to Be Broken": Identity and Ethnicity in Antonito

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pp. 22-43

One of the most striking things I learned from the Hispanic women of Antonito is the diversity of their views. In 2000 Antonito had fewer than 900 inhabitants, and almost 800 of them claimed Hispanic identity on the U.S. Census. Yet in this small and predominantly monoethnic community, women’s stories revealed a notable variety of self-definitions. ...

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3. "Part of This World": Meanings of Land and Water

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pp. 44-70

The natural environment had rich significance for Antonito Mexicanos. As Peña (1998b, 11) has written, “Place . . . is a primary repository for human constructions of meaning and identity.” In the rural area surrounding Antonito, cultivated fields, vast expanses of wild llano, nearby mesas, distant mountains, and especially watercourses formed significant ...

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4. "Anything You Want Is Going to Come from the Earth": The Traditional Diet

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pp. 71-90

The older women of Antonito remembered a time when food production tied them to land and water. Monica Taylor encapsulated the traditional San Luis Valley food system when she cited her grandmother’s words: “Anything you want is going to come from the earth.” This chapter provides a historical overview of what came from the earth in Antonito and ...

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5. "We've Got to Provide for the Family": Women, Food, and Work

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pp. 91-113

Antonito women articulated their gender identity through stories of courtship, marriage, gender ideals, and work. Over several generations these women have been providers as well as nurturers. They have worked inside and outside the home and taken pride in their public and domestic contributions. They have benefited from the relatively flexible gender ...

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6. "It's a Feeling Thing": Cooking and Women's Agency

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pp. 114-136

This chapter looks at a major part of women’s work—cooking—to examine their agency and power.¹ I define agency as purposive action expressing freedom. Following Antonio Gramsci, I see agency as the process of making a life and making a self.² It is the ability to have an impact on the world in multiple ways—sometimes resistant to power structures, ...

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7. "Meals Are Important, Maybe It's Love": Mexicano Meals and Family

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pp. 137-151

When Janice DeHerrera said, “Meals are important, maybe it’s love,” she got to the heart of the meaning of Mexicano meals in Antonito—their role in fostering family attachments and values. Meals have long been recognized as significant spaces for the reproduction of family and culture. Several recent studies have noted a decline in U.S. family ...

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8. "It Was a Give-and-Take": Sharing and Generosity versus Greed and Envy

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pp. 152-167

Just as meals helped to construct the most basic family social unit, large feasts reinforced broad community relationships. Like many communities its size, Antonito was a complex network of interlocking relations of kinship, marriage, friendship, and enmity, often expressed through food. Sharing and generosity built relationships; stinginess, greed, and ...

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9. "Come Out of Your Grief": Death and Commensality

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pp. 168-180

In the small town of Antonito, death tore apart the community, and people reknitted it with collective mourning, prayer, and commensality. As in many communities the world over, food played a significant role in rituals of death (Thursby 2006, 79). The preparation and consumption of customary foods reestablished a sense of normality, brought com-...

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10. "Give Because It Multiplies": Hunger and Response in Antonito

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pp. 181-191

Poverty and food insecurity were a threat not only to individuals but also to community ideals of equality and collective responsibility—ideals encapsulated in the words of Carmen Lopez: “The thing that the elderly people used to say is this, ‘Give because it multiplies.’ I really think that it happens.” The people I interviewed said that the poor did not go hun-...

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11. Conclusion: "Our People Will Survive"

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pp. 192-200

This book has used interviews with Mexicanas from the town of Antonito to document their evolving ranching-farming culture. Through their food-centered life histories, they have described their past and present diet, relation to land and water, gender roles in provisioning and cooking, and family and community relations surrounding commensality. Mexi-...

APPENDIX 1. Topics in Food-Centered Life Histories

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pp. 201-202

APPENDIX 2. Categories of Analysis

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pp. 203-

APPENDIX 3. Population of Antonito, Conejos County, and Colorado, 1880-2000

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pp. 205-206

APPENDIX 4. Wild Plants Used for Food or Healing in the Antonito Area

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pp. 207-209

Notes

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pp. 211-226

Glossary of Spanish Terms

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pp. 227-229

Bibliography

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pp. 231-245

Index

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pp. 247-253


E-ISBN-13: 9780292795181
E-ISBN-10: 0292795181
Print-ISBN-13: 9780292719811
Print-ISBN-10: 0292719817

Page Count: 272
Illustrations: 20 b&w photos, 2 maps, table
Publication Year: 2009

Series Title: Louann Atkins Temple Women & Culture Series

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Subject Headings

  • Food habits -- Colorado -- Antonito -- History.
  • Food -- Symbolic aspects -- Colorado -- Antonito.
  • Hispanic Americans -- Food -- Colorado -- Antonito.
  • Antonito (Colo.) -- History.
  • Hispanic American women -- Colorado -- Antonito -- Social conditions.
  • Antonito (Colo.) -- Social life and customs.
  • Hispanic Americans -- Colorado -- Antonito -- Ethnic identity.
  • Hispanic Americans -- Land tenure -- Colorado -- Antonito.
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