Professor and Students Contribute to ‘Taquerías of Southmost’ Cultural Exhibit
BROWNSVILLE, TEXAS – NOVEMBER 8, 2012 — Dr. Manuel Medrano, a professor of History at The University of Texas at Brownsville and Texas Southmost College, has contributed to a new exhibit by Texas Folklife and The Brownsville Historical Association titled “The Taquerías of Southmost.”
The cultural exhibit officially opens with a reception at 6 p.m on Saturday, Nov. 17 at the Brownsville Heritage Museum, 1325 East Washington. The public is invited to attend.
“The Taquerías of Southmost” features informational panels about the taquerías that line Brownsville's Southmost Boulevard and its owners coupled with images by acclaimed El Paso photographer Chuy Benitez.
“The taquería is important because the culinary experience along the border is an essential part of our cultural history,” Medrano said. “These taquerías bring together families to eat unique foods in settings unique to our area. My essays all provide descriptions of activities that have a rich history in the lower Rio Grande Valley.”
In his role as a collaborator, Medrano conducted research with his student assistants, transcribed interviews with the proprietors of the taco restaurants and wrote three essays — titled “Los Camaroneros” (“The Shrimpers”), “Los Pescadores” (“The Fishermen”) and “Las Taquerías” — based upon the oral history interviews conducted by Texas Folklife to compliment the featured photographs by Benitez.
This exhibit is part of a larger project titled “A Place at the Table: A Foodways Survey of the State of Texas” by Texas Folklife tracing the history and heritage of food culture throughout Texas. “The Taquerías of Southmost” is the first product to come out of the research and documentation done by Texas Folklife. Its focus is to examine the historical and cultural heritage of the taquería restaurants that are scattered throughout Southmost.
“Southmost has been underserved in many ways, including culturally,” said Cristina Balli, Executive Director for Texas Folklife. “We know there are a lot of taquerías down Southmost road. And they’re good – very good tacos. I wanted to use these taquerías to document an area that has been under-documented, to use this economic and cultural asset and show the entrepreneurial spirit of the people living here. In this exhibit, we’ll talk not just about the taquerías but about the culture of the area.”
Medrano was tapped by Texas Folklife for his expertise and deep connection to the South Texas area's history, culture and traditions. Medrano’s essays are also set to appear in a book to be published by Texas Folklife.
“Dr. Medrano is an incredible historical and cultural resource for the Valley,” said Balli who initially asked Medrano to be a part of the project. “He has been documenting the history and culture of South Texas for a very long time and knows the area well. He understands the area well, in a cultural sense.”
Nineteen-year-old nursing major Flor Ceniceros was one of the students who worked with Medrano and Texas Folklife to collect the research for the exhibit. Along with Medrano and her fellow assistants, she visited the different sites, spoke with the owners of the taquerías, edited interviews and compiled the research together.
Along the way, Ceniceros said she gained a new found appreciation for the Southmost area as well as the deep heritage of Brownsville and its citizens.
“A lot of people don't understand the history of their city,” Ceniceros said. “They see the history of other cities, see their culture and their ambiance with envy, but if you look at Brownsville and the Southmost area, even if it's just the people - it's really amazing about the developments that have occurred here culturally and historically.”
At the opening reception on Nov. 17, the photographer behind the images in the exhibit, Chuy Benitez, will be present, and tacos by the featured taquerías will be served to guests.
The exhibit will be on display until Thursday, Jan. 31 at the Brownsville Heritage Museum. Entrance to the exhibit will be free with paid admission to the museum.
Texas Folklife is a non-profit organization dedicated to documenting and preserving the traditions of the diverse cultures living in the state of Texas. For more information, visit TexasFolklife.org