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19 Mar 2014

Ask a Mexican: Why Are Mexican Pastries So Bland?

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Dear Mexican: What’s the story with Mexican pastries? Like people in most cultures, Mexicans seem to be cribbing from the French, but pan dulce just winds up tasting like a dinner roll with a little icing on top. So many other parts of Mexican cuisine emphasize strong flavors. Why must the best part of the meal be so bland?

Un Bolillo

Dear French Roll Gabacho: You’re being a bit harsh. Mexican pan dulce (sweet breads, for those who don’t habla) is as varied as Mexican skin tones, from the conchas (the ones that look like sea shells—hence their name) to empanadas (turnovers stuffed with everything from apple to pumpkin to coconut cream and strawberries) to rosca de reyes (the pan dulce offered during the Feast of the Epiphany that’s essentially a ring of sugar upon sugar) to that pan dulce with a top layer consisting solely of candy sprinkles.

You’re right to note that most pan dulce appears to originate from French pastries—it’s true. You can blame two historical porquerías for this: the occupation by Emperor Maximilian that also brought Mexico the waltzes danced during quinceañeras, and the Porfiriato, the long reign of Mexican President Porfirio Díaz, during which he tried to modernize Mexico by acting French and giving away land to the evil gabachos. I personally don’t have a problem with pan dulce being a mestizo version of French yummies—this is Mexico, after all, a country made from the mixing of foreign cultures—but I always like to point out pan dulce’s roots to people who still insist there’s such a thing as “authentic” Mexican food. Their equivocations in trying to justify this sweet, inconvenient truth after having blasted a Tex-Mex combo plate as not authentically Mexican are as laughable as Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto trying to appear as anything other than the pendejo he is.

I was wondering how the Mexican-American population regards Jaime Escalante and his legacy as an educator.

In my mind, he’s a civil-rights pioneer, in that he urged his Mexican-American students to break through the unofficial caste system existing in the United States, wherein Mexicans would have to work lower-paying and lower-skilled jobs than their white counterparts. Many of his students are lawyers, doctors and educators.

Is there a consensus among Mexican Americans that Escalante was nothing short of a hero because of the high standards he placed on his students?

Michael From Menifee

Dear Gabacho: If only. The sad verdad is that Escalante—whose story was immortalized in the 1988 film Stand and Deliver, which has been seen by every Mexican high school student in class at least twice a year ever since—is only universally admired by his former students nowadays. Chicano yaktivists dismiss him because he was a strong opponent of bilingual education, and he palled around with conservatives; Freire pedagogical types find his teaching methods not radical enough. There’s an elementary school in the working-class city of Cudahy named after him, sure, but that’s about it in terms of public respect—and if that doesn’t exemplify the Chicano concept of crabs in a bucket, I’m not sure what does.

Ask the Mexican at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.; be his fan on Facebook; follow him on Twitter @gustavoarellano; or follow him on Instagram @gustavo_arellano!

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