Spanish Adventure at Gorditas el Gordo
One of my favorite social sciences lesson as a child was learning about the Age of Exploration, when the likes of Vasco de Gama and Hernando Cortes sailed vast oceans in search of knowledge. I admit that I romanticize these men, who created a great deal of destruction as they explored the world. But, had I been born 5000 years ago, I undoubtedly would have set sail myself, for the thrill of adventure and the unknown. Unfortunately, I live in the modern age, and instead of sailing vast oceans for adventure, I seek adventure from the cities I inhabit. In the same way a nature-lover searches for unknown trees and plants, I seek the nooks and crannies of the city street. The Twin Cities is filled with these nooks and crannies—an adventure on every corner—you just have to be willing to take a step into the unknown.
The other day, I had one of my cherished adventures when I visited Gorditas el Gordo (211 E. Lake Street, Minneapolis, 55408). Honestly, I didn’t know what to expect from this unexplored piece of land. The unassuming and drab green awning isn’t exactly a turn on—and the location next to the trifecta of a freeway underpass, McDonald’s and Taco Bell would give most people pause. Nonetheless, every time I drove down Lake Street I was drawn to this little restaurant—I wanted, needed to eat there.
I lived in Los Angeles long enough to eat my fair share of Mexico food—from tacos to burritos to tlacoyos. Frankly, I have come a long way from my high school and college days of ordering combination number #11 with two cheese enchiladas, rice and beans. Gorditas el Gordo—unlike, combination #11 and a lot of Mexican street food in Los Angeles, was made with quality ingredients, patience and care. On a late Saturday afternoon, my Gordita con Pollo y Frijoles was exactly what I wanted; simple, slightly greasy and tasty—with just the right amount of crunchy tortilla.
But it wasn’t my gordita that made me fall in love with this place—it was the rejection of English as a mode of communication that I found so wonderful. From the moment I walked in to the moment I left, I was spoken to in Spanish. While I struggled to explain that I wanted my gordita with not just chicken but beans as well, I was transported to world I only slightly understood but desperately crave and appreciate. What would have likely been another uneventful visit to a Mexican restaurant turned into an adventure into the unknown. For those that criticize this situation as a customer service faux pas, I will refer you here:
Time and space have long cushioned intercultural encounters, confining them to touristic exchanges. But this insulation is rapidly wearing thin. In the world of tomorrow we can expect to live—not merely—vacation—in societies who seek different values and abide by different codes. There we will be surrounded by foreigners for long periods of time, working with others in the closest possible relations. If people currently show little tolerance or talent for encounters with alien cultures, how can the learn to deal with constant and inescapable coexistence?1
Beyond my love of language and the appreciation of any time I get to practice my meager Spanish, there was another reason I think this experience was so important, language is power:
Language should not be seen solely as a passive conduit of power but as an active coplayer in the exercise of power…The processes through which language reflects, creates, depoliticizes, and routinizes power have real consequences not only for the powerful, but also for the less powerful.2
If the United States is a melting pot, we must accept that not everyone speaks the same language. Individuals claiming (or reclaiming) the right to speak the language they want is an important marker of a healthy, accepting and diverse nation. Whether it is a conscious decision, or driven out of peer necessity, I believe Gorditas el Gordo is reclaiming Spanish as shared language of the Americas—including the United States—and is making the powerless powerful again.
Gorditas el Gordo isn’t the best or the most unique Mexican restaurant in the Twin Cities, it isn’t lavish or cutting edge. Instead what makes Gorditas el Gordo wonderful, is its simplicity. To take an unassuming street corner, and transform it into an adventure. I know without a doubt that I will visit Gorditas el Gordo again. I praise owner Renato Zagal for drawing me in, and more importantly, I praise the hard working employees for not denying their cultural identity nor their right to express it.
1Dean Barnlund. 1998. Communication in a Global Village in Basic Concepts of Intercultural Press Communication. Yarmouth, ME:Intercultural Press, INC.
2Reid, Scott A., and Sik Hung Ng. 1999. Language, Power, and Intergroup Relations. Journal of Social Issues 55(1): 119-139.