Bourdain’s Field Notes
LOS ANGELES, April 2017—California itself used to be Mexico. The architecture, the food, the culture, the music, the very names of the things and places we love are Mexican.
Today, our entire food production system, from who picks, raises, transports, processes, cooks, serves and then cleans up after, is hugely and irrevocably based on the work of Mexicans or Mexican-Americans.
And you can be sure, if you swing by Trump Vineyards, you’re not going to find a lot of Chads, Tads or Hunters picking grapes.
We’ve done shows in Los Angeles before. And will again. Los Angeles is big—a sprawl—a patchwork of communities with origins everywhere in the world. Last time we did a show in L.A., we pretended that pretty much everyone who lived there was Korean. This time, it’s all about Mexicans and Chicanos.
How “American” are Chicanos? How Mexican for that matter? How Mexican is California? We thought we’d bumble around with cameras and ask questions like that, partaking of many of the good things within that very large, vital part of Southern California and America as a whole.
Around halfway through the shoot, somebody called me and asked if I knew about “the Morrissey thing.” They said, “Morrissey is HUGE with Chicanos! Check it out.”
This seemed, frankly, an incongruous if not an outright unbelievable assertion.
If true, what was it about Morrissey—an English son of Irish immigrants, famous for his songs about doomed love, bad sex, homoeroticism, vulnerability, and alienation—that resonated so powerfully with Mexican-Americans?
So I started asking everybody I spoke with as we filmed—from Ultimate Fighting stars Nate and Nick Diaz and Gilbert Melendez—to action hero Danny Trejo. (None of them had much idea who Morrissey was—or gave a ****). But just about everybody else smiled when I asked the question. Often a shy, knowing smile was followed by the kind of answer that makes an interviewer hold his breath, hoping the answer goes on and on.
In the end, I think, this question cracked the code. You’ll have to watch to see what the hell I’m talking about.
And what young Mexican and Mexican-American chefs are doing—here and in Mexico—is some of the most exciting and promising news in food. Mexican food is not simple, my friends. Those are, in many cases, some deeply complex and nuanced sauces—and incredibly labor intensive ones. Mexican food should be considered just as sophisticated and celebrated as French or Italian or any other cuisine. It’s old, it goes back to the beginning of agriculture. And it’s getting better every year.
I spent most of my life as a cook and chef working with Mexicans. My loyalties are a matter of record. In almost every kitchen I ever stumbled into, clueless and fearful, it was a Mexican who looked after me, took me under his wing, showed me how to do things. The recent national conversation in which Mexicans are referred to as rapists and drug dealers makes me want to puke with shame.
So I ask that whatever your opinion on immigration policy, who we let in and how many—these are questions for honest debate—let us at least acknowledge who is working and living here NOW, and look in our hearts. Ask ourselves what we would do—who we would be—without them.