Chicano Eats: A Conversation with Esteban Castillo
Q: Thank you for taking time to share your thoughts with us for our Identity issue, Esteban! Your blog and Instagram are stunning; do you do all the production for your food blog, Chicano Eats?
Thank you so much for taking the time to get to know me and my work! I do run Chicano Eats by myself. Occasionally, when I need a second opinion on composition or a recipe, I have my partner who is also a blogger lend a hand.
Q: When I research Mexican / Mexican-American recipes online, my search returns the same results over and over: white-washed recipes from wealthy travel bloggers. Ultimately, these white digital spaces erase the history and authenticity of a culture's cuisine in the public eye. Did this reality influence you to start your food blog? What inspired you to start Chicano Eats?
This is one of the reasons I started the blog. I kept seeing other people outside of our culture being tapped to share our stories and speak for our culture, erasing our narratives and creating their own, and I wanted to do something about it. I also didn’t feel like I identified with many bloggers either, the queer representation is still almost non-existent.
Q: Are there any areas in the U.S. whose Mexican-American cuisine inspires you most?
The area that inspires me the most in the U.S. is Los Angeles. It’s where I’m from and have spent the most time; and there are so many beautiful Latinx communities here in one place that I am able to learn from and be inspired by.
Q: There tends to be this idea in America that Mexican food is homogenous, that there is "real" Mexican food and "fake" Mexican food. This viewpoint disregards bi-culturalism and the diversity of our cuisine - the way it varies from region to region both in Mexico and in the United States. Have you heard commentary like this? How do you respond?
I see it happen all the time! Last summer, I shot a few recipe videos with We Are Mitú, and in one of those videos, someone tagged me on Instagram and said something along the lines of: “@ChicanoEats, you got it wrong, you didn’t use flour tortillas, this isn’t how they’re made in X place.” I let them know that my family is from Colima, a small state along the Pacific Central Coast, and using flour tortillas just isn’t common there. Too often people forget that cuisine is regional! Everyone is going to add their own flair and they’re going to use the resources and ingredients that are available to them in their area. That is what makes food exciting and so complex!
Q: My favorite part about Chicano Eats is the way you give voice to the stories of our culture, something Mexicanos in the U.S. don't always have the privilege of doing since many live in fear of deportation. Since food is such a huge part of who we are and what we fight for - do you view your food blog as a form of activism in our modern political / social climate?
I do believe Chicano Eats is a form of activism because I’m taking up space in a place where Chicanos, Mexicanos, and the LGBTQ+ community are underrepresented. As my good friend Ramiro says, "Mi existir, es mi resistir." I don’t think any action is too small. I’m fighting for representation and fighting to make sure OUR stories are heard by OUR people.
Q: Have there been times you have seen Mexican y Mexican-American cuisine being culturally appropriated and disrespected? Something recent that comes to mind is the travel blogger and self-proclaimed "gypsy soul," Jenny Niezgoda's fundraiser for a "modern frutería." She eventually shut down her fundraiser page for "La Gracia," which she claimed would bring a healthy option to San Diego's Barrio Logan by being "so much more" than a regular Mexican juice bar. Where do you think the line between appreciation and appropriation is drawn? How do you think is the most valuable way to address these issues?
I remember watching her video and cringing for 5 minutes straight because everything that was coming out of her mouth was exactly the opposite of what she should have said and done. It just comes down to ignorance. When you’re working with cultures outside of your own, you need to educate yourself and approach them with total respect and honor that culture. Just take a look at what happened with Kooks Burritos in Portland, they got shut down after admitting they stole recipes from Mexican women, "tortilla ladies," during one of their trips.
Q: Who are some other POC food bloggers (and graphic designers!) that inspire you?
There’s so many to pick from! Some of my favorites are Adrianna from A Cozy Kitchen, Aaron from The Hungry Hutch, and Kathryn from Cardamom and Tea! They’re all so talented and really know what they are talking about when it comes to food.
Q: Before we wrap up, we're curious, since your blog and Insta are so lovely, do you also provide design or photography services?
Thank you, I do! By day, I’m actually a full-time graphic designer, and I also take on freelance photo and design projects. The blog has become like another full-time job so I’m always doing something creative.
Email me for more info! email@example.com
© Esteban Castillo of Chicano Eats, Interview: Armoire Magazine