Context: The informant, a 20-year-old college student who was born in Venezuela and raised in Boston, Massachusetts, was describing various rituals and superstitions that relate to both her passion for theatre and her Venezuelan nationality. The following is an excerpt from our conversation, in which the informant describes two Venezuelan folk dishes
Informant: So, in Venezuela, but I think this is also like throughout Latin America and the Caribbean, there is this dish called “Moros y Cristianos” and it means “The Moors and the Christians.” It’s basically just rice and beans. Because, you know, race relations are very prevalent in South America, especially with the slave trade and the differences in how races were treated. So, this plate is meant to represent the difference between the two races. I have always found it interesting because my dad makes this meal and he calls it that and I’ve always been like, “What? That’s so weird.” He just says it’s like a thing that people have done since people were slaves in Latin America. And I’ve just always thought it was so weird because you’re like calling a plate like Moors and Christians, which usually relates to like darker-skinned and lighter-skinned people. So it’s just really interesting because I’ve definitely eaten that plate since I was a child. There’s another dish that’s called “Pabellon.” It’s just rice, beans, plantains, and shredded pork. It’s supposed to also represent all the different races, including indigenous people. That’s why is contain plantains because the yellow part is supposed to represent the indigenous people. I don’t really know why it’s called “Pabellon.” That’s a really common dish… that’s just kind of like, “Oh, we’re going to have this for dinner.” You really eat it on any old day. It’s not like both of these dishes are used in any specific celebrations or events. It’s like a home food or a comfort food.
Informant’s relationship to the item: The informant grew up eating “Moros y Cristianos” and “Pabellon,” two Venezuelan folk dishes. The dishes were so integral to her childhood, that she only realized their historical significance later in life. The meals served as an important piece of folklore for her and her dad to use as a means of starting a dialogue about Venezuela’s complex history and the multiculturalism of its citizens. Both dishes remind her of her family and her birth country; she considers them “comfort food.”
Interpretation: Both “Moros y Cristianos” and “Pabellon” hold a lot of symbolic and historical significance to the people of Venezuela. They are more than just the traditional cuisine of the country, which citizens tend to eat on a regular basis; the ingredients that make up both dishes are important symbols for the country’s history of complex race relations and rich multiculturalism. While Venezuelan’s history includes shocking atrocities such as the nation’s slave trade, which made up a large part of its economy for centuries, it is interesting to see how Venezuelans have immortalized this history within their cuisine. Like in the case of my informant, the meals seem to serve as important folk dishes capable of sparking dialogues about Venezuela’s complex and problematic history of race relations that ultimately led to the diverse population seen in the country today.