Authenticity, it’s something that people often want to question. People sometimes question the authenticity of something for good reasons. Other times, simply as a measure of their own self-authenticity. By definition, authenticity is something that is of undisputed origin, or is genuine. You may hand a clerk a $20 bill and see them hold it up to the light in an attempt to verify its authenticity. It may be a case of one person questioning another person’s authenticity in an attempt to bolster their own. You always hear the question being posed, is that person being authentic? Is what that person producing authentic? In my lifetime I have had people question my own authenticity as a black child and man because I didn’t fit their idea of how a black person should talk, the clothes they should wear, the sports they should play or music they should be listening to. Throughout my lifetime my authenticity has been questioned, if the way my nose sits on my face, the color of my skin or the way my hair grows wasn’t enough and my “behavior” didn’t vet with the expected level of blackness. When my actions didn’t live up to that persons idea of what an “authentic” black person should be, they felt the need to hold me up to their light to get a better look, to verify their own idea of authenticity.
Since starting the truck, the support and love from family and former strangers has been overwhelming. With that said, we have had a few naysayers on a couple different levels. On a personal level we have had those who said to our face or behind our backs that this would not work and they are for another post. We have also had our authenticity questioned. We have heard a few grumblings from a couple of customers who did not feel our menu was Puerto Rican enough. This sentiment takes me back to someone questioning if I am black enough. Or if Serena is Puerto Rican or Black enough? We take it in stride and don’t get mad but it makes me wonder what gives that person the right to make such a judgment without first getting to know us or even taking a moment to learn about the concept. Again, it is someone taking their idea of authentic and projecting on to someone or something else they do not own.
What we love the most about food is it’s ability to tell a story. Ingredients meld together to make a final product that speaks to a time and place in history. The food that is passed through the window of our truck tells the story of our Grandmothers. It is a story that has beginnings in West Africa and Europe and was shipped in the belly of slave ship to the shores of America and the island of Puerto Rico. The story of our food migrated to the northeast and rested in the Bronx, New York and New Canaan, CT. It was in these kitchens that everlasting memories and impressions of food were imprinted. My grandmother (whom raised me), having left Andersonville, Georgia for the northeast brought her southern family cooking traditions with her, mac and cheese, collard greens, BBQ and hoecakes. When Serena’s grandmother left Orocovis, Puerto Rico she didn’t bring much but she brought her two hands and hundreds of years of food history. That same food history was passed to Serena through memories in her grandmother’s kitchen.
When Serena and I started living together, our kitchen became an intersection of Puerto Rican and Soul Food, Boricua Soul. Sure, those two things were not the only foods we cooked but when we did they represented strong and authentic memories of our past and family history. Those things that our grandmother’s passed on to us are not fake, they are of undisputed origin and that’s what our food is. Is putting chopped bbq pork a traditional way of serving empanadas? Absolutely not, but it is totally and completely authentic to us and our story.