It is said that pupusas have been made for hundreds of years in Central America. I feel connected to these lands when masa, heavy in my hand, is pressed and stuffed, as my ancestors have done for centuries. I am overcome by the smell of pork, frying in a symphony of spices, boiling oil splattering on white kitchen linoleum. The stinging smell of vinegar fills the air as flavours marry in a bowl of curtido, biding its time until it is called for. Salsa boils and bubbles, waiting for the moment to splash atop what my grandmother would call “el manjar de los dioses.”
I can still remember when I had my first pupusa. I was about 7 years old and my father had taken my brother and I to a soccer game somewhere in Minnesota. The cold was almost intolerable, but the smell of freshly made pupusas and other treats by street vendors cut through the cold winter air. Mom never learned how to cook when she was younger. She had always been afraid of cooking on the flames of the brazas, so she would spend her days making dresses and washing clothes. It was only after she fled her home, ravaged by a civil war, that she met a Chicano who taught her how to cook.
In our home, the smells of Mexican food flooded our senses. Mounds of rice and beans, fresh tortillas and savoury mole became staples to our weekly diet. We spoke the Spanish of our father’s land, the Spanish which did not cause ridicule amongst our peers. “You must speak Spanish correctly, or do not speak it at all.” We were Mexican Americans, but only Americans if someone were to ask us.
It would be years until I had another pupusa. It took travelling thousands of miles to set foot in a land I had thought was imaginary for so long. A land of yucca and plantains, hammocks and mango trees, and herds of cows walking up the mountainside, guided by the local milkman in the early morning hours.
It was then, before the morning broke in front of the burning wood and the steaming cafe, that the flavours of my heritage were rebirthed in me. It was then that I decided I could be more than just what I was told I could be. I am a blend of flavours, I am a crop with far reaching roots, a blend of Mexican and Salvadoran, planted firmly in American soil. My tongue is dressed in vos, sos, and puchica’s. I taste the words as they form in my mouth, they have a flavour I cannot describe but are irresistibly decadent. I eat tamales wrapped in corn husks, I devour tamales wrapped in banana leaves. Both serenade my senses with utmost pleasure.
Flipping the pupusas, I hear them sizzle. Doesn’t it make your mouth water?
Jose Enrique Montoya is a multidisciplinary undergraduate student at the University of Texas at Rio Grande Valley. The son of a Salvadoran mother and Mexican father, Montoya aspires to join the growing group of authors creating a Central American presence in Latinx literature.