I JUST FINISHED “A Taco Testimony,” by New Mexico novelist Denise Chávez, a perfect read for this time of year when the memories of the holidays and all their warmth linger and still pull us back to the things that sustain us, food, family and culture – even in these tragic times.
“A Taco Testimony” is a perfect book to read while you wait for the March release of Houstonian Adán Medrano’s excellent film, “Truly Texas Mexican.” They are both about the love we share for comida, familia y cultura.
While Chávez is not a Texan, we can still claim her as ours: her mother was born and grew up in West Texas!
And while there have been many a heated debate over the differences between Texas and New Mexico food, at heart, they are the same, really. As my mother used to say, “Es la misma gata nomas que revolcada.”
If you’re not familiar with Chávez, it’s not too late to get to know her. Her best novel, to me, is “Loving Pedro Infante,” a beautiful story that I’ll probably re-read soon because I loved it so much. (I reviewed the book for the old Houston Post when it came out, but I can’t find a copy of the review.)
“A Taco Testimony,” is not a novel. It is, indeed, a meditation on family, food and culture, as the book’s subtitle claims. Yes, we get recipes of everything from tacos to “capirotada sin vergüenza,” but we get a lot more.
“It’s about the living and the dead and the eternal nourishment that come from being part of a community,” Chávez writes in her ‘Dear Reader’ section. “This is a memoir of food. As such, it is funny, sad, merciful and full of prayers.”
WE LEARN a lot about her family, particularly her patient and saintly mother and her alcoholic father, but we learn a lot more about the generous and forgiving daughter that Chávez is.
The strongest, most moving part of this book is found in the chapter towards the end titled, “Culture with a Capital C.” In it, Chávez bemoans its disappearance. By culture, she means that which allows us – encourages us – to seek to learn about the differences in food, customs and traditions.
“The lack of culture in contemporary society is manifest,” she writes. “It drives people to be intolerant, unsupportive and offensive. It allows people to hurt, maim and kill one another without reason.”
BUT DON’T worry: Chávez is not a scold. Far from it. Her book is filled with humor and levity and warmth. You will feel good when you come to the end, just as you feel after feasting on a plate of tacos. And you will wish there were more.
You can order the book from Casa Camino Real in La Cruces, NM.