When I was a child growing up in a basement apartment in Queens, New York City, I was surrounded by plenty of things that continue to be a part of my daily life. I can easily remember watching shows like Cowboy Bebop and Hey Arnold! while drinking mate the coca and generally having a good time. Even as an adult, I still enjoy watching animation and cartoons, but this time mate de coca always stirs nostalgic childhood memories for me.
It is honestly a miracle that any knowledge was passed on to me at all especially when my two Quechua awichas (abuelitas) tried to make sure their children assimilated into mestizaje. My maternal side has mostly assimilated, but since my mother grew up around Aymara communities, she was able to learn how to practice hybrid Catholic/Andean spirituality. My paternal Quechua awicha was spiritually “Catholic”, but culturally she lived out her life as Quechua womxn and had immense knowledge on medicinal plants and herbs. Despite her efforts to make sure my father and his siblings assimilated into mestizaje, they grew up surrounded by their Quechua relatives and he learned how to live off the land.
Despite all those contradictions, I was taught at a young age that coca is sacred and must always be treated with respect. Whenever we did ch’alla (ceremonies) or k’oa (smudging), we chewed or drank coca with the intention of connecting ourselves to pachamama and expressing our gratitude for all the things that pachamama has given us. Coca is also used as medicine for altitude sickness, asthma, wounds, broken bones, chronic joint pain, headaches, fatigue and hunger. Coca was always an essential part of my life and just by having the coca tea bags in my home brings me so much peace.
That is why it was quite a shock to me, as I was growing up, to hear that coca was the butt of most jokes in any conversation about Latin America and the Caribbean because of the stigma created by the cocaine wars during 1970’s to 1990’s. It did not help that most people thought that coca in its natural form was as dangerous as cocaine so often times I had to educate others that coca was nothing like that at all. Whether it was with white folks, white latines or mestizes, I was always in a position where I had explain the importance of coca over and over again, that it eventually got emotionally exhausting for me so I do not engage with that conversation anymore. The narrative about coca in relation to cocaine has not changed and I would argue it has gotten worse since there are a lot of restrictions for cocaleros (coca farmers) on how much coca they can grow both for the state and for their own livelihoods.
These days, when I drink mate de coca, it often reminds me of “home” whether that is the Andes surrounding the home cities of my parents in Bolivia or the basement apartment in New York City. Even though there are still misconceptions about coca, in the end of the day, both my communities and me will continue understand the importance of coca and no one can take away the joy it gives us.
ThatNerdyBoliviane was originally born in New York City and essentially lived there until the age of 17 when they had to move to Toronto for reasons. They are currently struggling to survive in this weird-ass world that does not celebrate awesomeness enough. They self identify as Queer Quechua (Mestize) Bolivian-American and are involved with social justice work of all kinds. Aside from that, they are an avid lover of anime, manga, cartoons, (on rare occasion live-action TV shows if it’s good), and having amazing discussions with other folks about nerdy things. You can visit their blog Home to my Bitter Thoughts or follow them on Twitter @LizzieVisitante.
Latin America is comprised of settler states that continue to uphold anti-black and anti-indigenous sentiments and racism. As a result, many Indigenous and African/Black influences are often left out of the Latin American discourse—that continues to center and uphold colonial imperial ideologies. Of course this definitely includes staple cuisines that have become internationally recognized and associated with Latin American countries. In this article, we will discuss the traditions of one of the most common drinks that we associate with Latin American cuisine--horchata.
We are mostly aware of the Mexican horchata which is made similar to what is now marketed as a dairy-alternative, rice milk. Of course, there are other ingredients utilized to make horchata other than just rice milk, and these are dependent on the Mexican region and/or family recipes. However, in this article we highlight the Salvadoran horchata which is made from semilla de morro, because it made of seeds that resemble the texture of the original horchata that traces its roots to Africa.
As further explained in The Oxford Companion to Sugar and Sweets, horchata traces its origin to Africa and it still is a common drink that is made from tiger nuts. Tiger nuts (Cyperus esculentus) or also commonly known as Yellow Nutsedge are also powerful health foods that protect and heals our bodies’ intestinal-tract system. Since they are loaded with resistant starches, their consumption allow us to accumulate healthy gut bacteria that helps fight against diseases or bacterial infections. They are loaded with healthy vitamins and minerals and their natural sweetness allows us to consume healthy and natural occurring sugars that are not as addicting to genetically modified sugars. As a result of past colonial history, this drink made from tiger nuts (originating in Africa) made its way to Spain (est. 1000 AC) where it became known as horchata de chufa. As a result of Spain’s colonial history, this drink made its way to Latin America- in particular Mexico where it has become a staple as noted before in this article.
Due to the consistency and texture of horchata de chufa, when we research for the horchata in Latin America that holds a consistent closest or resembling the most to its origin form, we find ourselves in the Salvadoran cuisine section. Salvadoran horchata, which upholds closer to its African influences, is made from semilla de morro (Crescentia alata), seeds from a fruit that allow it to get some natural sweetness and rough texture. You can watch the Salvadoran horchata process making and its ingredients below—as you will see, the recipe consists of other nuts and rice.
It is important to bring attention to the origins of drinks and other foods that have become a staple in Latin American cuisine, as Latinidad, a term or concept meant to unify all people from Latin American heritage or ancestry, continues to ignore and deny African/Black/Indigenous roots and silence their voices in these discourses. Also, Central American discourses are often ignored in the overall Latinx discourses. That is due to how Latinidad centers Mexican hegemony, over other discourses and histories.
Origins of foods also allow us to address food sovereignty issues, as our access to some traditional foods is impacted and impaired due to climate change, displacement, and other environmental impacts.
Do you know of other Latin American cuisines or staple foods that have African/Black roots? Drop your comments below.
Goldstein, Darra. The Oxford Companion to Sugar and Sweets. Oxford ; New York: Oxford University Press, 2015.
Bamishaiye, Eunice I., and Bamishaiye, O.M. “Tiger Nut: As a Plant, Its Derivatives and Benefits.” African Journal of Food, Agriculture, Nutrition and Development 11, no. 5 (2011): 5157–5170.
Rios, Montserrat, Fani Tinitana, Pablo Jarrín-V, Natalia Donoso, and Juan Carlos Romero-Benavides. ““Horchata” Drink in Southern Ecuador: Medicinal Plants and People’s Wellbeing.” Journal of Ethnobiology and Ethnomedicine 13, no. 1 (2017): 18.
“Historic, Healthful Drink from 13th Century Valencia Available in U.S. For First Time.” PR Newswire, 2014.
We are an online platform for Indigenous & LGBTQIA2S from Mexico, Central and South America. Our blog entries are always opened!