Side dishes and main entrees reflect the diversity of America

Abraham Villarreal
3 min readNov 26, 2020

In almost every home, of almost every community, somewhere there is a mom or a grandma awake before anyone else in the household doing what she knows best to bring a family together.

In some households, as the kids awaken, it is the smell of a freshly baked pie crust that greets their senses. Seems like the best way to start a day. The aroma of a flaky crust that will soon be filled with apples or peaches seems so American, and it is.

What is also American is the sight of rice and beans in a simmering pot. It might not be recognizable in some communities of this vast country, but it’s as red-white-and-blue as Jazz. Down in New Orleans and across the Gulf Coast, the combination of red beans and rice is what young Black kids grew up on, and it is what has helped unite a community that has been part of the multi-colored fabric of this nation for four centuries.

Mr. Louis Armstrong sang about many things but what he chose to say on paper was perhaps a message to us of what meant most to him. He often signed his letters “red beans and ricely yours.”

Outside of the bayou and well into the barrio, you can find beans and rice of a different kind. The kind that accompanies most meals and is usually scooped up with a tortilla. For Spanish-speaking households, the pairing of refried beans and rice is a staple to any main course, and during the holidays when kids are waking up they are met with the aroma of tamales or menudo that have been on the stove since before the rooster crowed.

It isn’t just on chilly mornings or during the holiday season, the food that we eat is a cultural passing-down of traditions, memories, and storytelling. Looking down at a plate of turkey with gravy tells a history, sometimes a complicated one, of who we are as Americans from the time of our founding. It’s a necessary history that for some can be hard to digest, but one that should be shared from generation to generation.

In households with families whose faces are not usually found in the school history books, their eating and cooking traditions are just as significant. The tamales in the southwest, the creole…

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Abraham Villarreal

People are interesting. I write about them and what makes them interesting.