Published Student Essays Explore African Culinary Influences in Mexico

By NVC Faculty Melinda Zepeda

Why this curriculum? Why Northwest Vista College?

Faculty at Northwest Vista College have a responsibility to center course content on the identities of our student population and consider content that represents diverse and Latinx voices since NVC is a Hispanic-serving institution. 

As a result of the Fulbright Hays Seminars Abroad experience (I reflected on it here,) I had the opportunity to apply for a Cultural Exchanges Grant of up to $10,000 from the sponsoring organization for that seminar, COMEXUS: Becas Fulbright García-Robles.

The grant’s intention is to support conversations and events reflecting on the theme of exploring the African influence in Mexico. With the grant money I was awarded, students enrolled in two sections of ENGL 1301 and I published a collection of essays during the fall 2022 semester.

The student essays in the collection framed an understanding of the African influence in Mexico by exploring culinary traditions in Mexico and the Southwest that might be traced to Africa. Resting on research conducted by Dr. Doris Careaga Coleman, students explored the rich diversity of Mexican cultural identity, problematizing why the African cultural influence has been largely erased from Mexico’s history.

This culturally-based curriculum requires faculty to bridge a connection between students’ cultural knowledge and the course’s content. When faculty do this, we do the work of creating equity, justice, and inclusion in our courses.

Students investigated several culinary practices found in Mexican cooking techniques that can be traced to African influences. Next, students chose one personal culinary tradition to research by first interviewing someone in their family responsible for the culinary tradition, and second by conducting general research from secondary sources about the  tradition. Finally, students drew a connection to their personal culinary traditions and the African culinary traditions that were discussed at the beginning of the project.

Students’ essays were published in an edited volume titled “Our Culinary Traditions.” Students celebrated the publication with a book reveal on Dec. 6, 2022. Family members and friends were in attendance to celebrate their achievements. Students shared the following about this learning opportunity:

“As I was writing this essay, I thought about, ‘how can I be more helpful in my families (sic) cooking. I thought to myself, I want to hold onto my family’s recipes and carry them on with, so what I am deciding to do is start a cookbook (sic) with all the notes I take while I observe my mother, father, and even grandmother. I want their recipes to never be forgotten, and I will be the keeper of those recipes,” and, “Overall, my sense of Mexican national pride has increased as a result of doing all this research and actually talking to my family about my heritage.”


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