Cafe Enchilado September, 2013 – Poesia, Tacos y Frijoles



On Saturday, September 14, 2013, poets from Northern California, the Los Angeles area, San Diego and vicinity, and Tijuana, Mexico joined twice for a Grito de Poesia with words aimed against xenophobic laws that have been passed in Arizona and other states.  In San Diego, the poets read at El Centro Cultural de la Raza at Balboa Park. With an accident on the 5 freeway preventing the poets who were commuting from the North from arriving on time, and with an anxious quinceañera’s and her party’s noses pressed against the glass doors looking in as they read, the poets rushed to the stage one after another to speak their lines and their minds. Abel Salas playing a radio DJ introducing himself stuck out as one of the brightest highlights of the reading which featured many talented and well-published poets.

Behind the seating area, there was a lovely spread of chips and salsa, crackers and cheese, and fruits available to nibble on, but those peach and silver balloons hanging from everywhere we looked served as a constant reminder that there wasn’t time to relax. The poets met quickly to discuss plans for crossing the border after 5:00 came, and the quinceañera party took over the space.

Poets in San Diego at Centro Cultural de la Raza.

Poets in San Diego at Centro Cultural de la Raza.

Soon, the poets were rushing to  get in line at the border or park their cars, jump on peditaxis which took them to the crossing point. It was a hurried walk to the other side with suitcases in tow. Passing the entry point where men uniformed in khakis, fatigues and huge automatic weapons watched over the scene, and then down narrow sidewalks where vendors with tamales and tacos and other delights were ignored. There was only time to check in at the hotel, freshen up, and set out again for El Tunel, the sight of the evening’s reading. I had never entered Mexico through Tijuana. The Nogales crossing as I remember it was smaller, grittier, more provincial and there were always children holding naranjas and chicles out at you. They were hard to ignore. To me, this did not feel like Mexico.

A cab ride to the Pueblo Amigo Hotel and Casino, a painfully long checkin process, a peek at the rooms and we were off again, whisked into the night by a woman driving a taxi who had no idea where El Tunel was located. Every transaction seemed to take longer in Tijuana, which at first was annoying, but then I realized that it is us U.S. citizens who have been trained to count seconds as it increases productivity. I tried to relax.

By the time we arrived at El Tunel, I was starving. I try to never get to the point of having gnawing hunger, but as a traveling poet on a tight schedule, it was unavoidable. Remembering the tacos Nancy Aide Gonzalez and I had stopped for in San Juan Capistrano, and how guilty I had felt for eating them, I was now wishing that I had two more. Two El Indio beers and no food had me lightheaded.

In Tijuana, the poetry flowed like magic, flawless from the mouths of the readers who weren’t pressured by the clock or an anxious fifteen year old and her family. The lights of Tijuana and San Diego listened in on the words being presented to the universe. Poets, unless they are very successful, don’t get paid to do what they do in money. Yet, having their words flow out into the darkened sky, knowing that they are being heard, is enough to plant seeds of change all around.

Photo Courtesy: Iris De Anda

Courtesy: Iris De Anda

Finally, someone confirmed, “There’s food.” I ran to the door of the kitchen and purchased two vegetable empanadas that we believe were prepared by Makeda Makossa, the new director at the World Beat Center, next door to the Centro Cultural de la Raza in San Diego. At this point, I didn’t care what they were made with, and though I don’t normally eat wheat, I proceeded with no caution. It was dark so I couldn’t see the vegetable filling, but it was tender and full of flavor, wrapped in delightfully soft, warm dough that seemed to melt on my tongue. There were also tofu empanadas available, but I had too much food guilt going on to return for seconds.

As John Martinez read his poem, “Cynthia,” about a young woman who lost her life in Juarez, his wife Rosa and I maneuvered back to the kitchen door, where we split another veggie empanada. This time, I had enough light shining on the filling to realize spinach was one of the main ingredients.

After all the poets read, including Elizabeth Cazzesús with her signature style, Jhonnatan Curiel and his 99 cent store commentary, Chilean poet Roberto Leni and organizers Ana Chig and Sonia Gutierrez, we searched for a guitar and began impromptu performances of favorite songs such as “Sabor A Mi” and “Volver.” Now that I was as stuffed as an empanada myself, the poets wanted to go for tacos.

Photo credit: Andrea Garcia Mauk

Photo credit: Andrea Garcia Mauk

In Tijuana, there are many taco stands, but only one holds cult status. We had enough friends who had brought their cars across to travel to the famed Tacos El Gordo. We arrived early so we managed to score seats at the counter, but I have heard that as it gets late into the night, it’s standing room only. Poet John Martinez, his wife and I ordered and were almost immediately presented with fresh made tacos in small plastic wrapped paper plates. Nobody wrote down our order or counted anything. The woman working in front of us had hands trained to reach into the bowl and grab the perfect amount of masa, press it into a tortilla and place it on the grill. Occasionally, she would put a slice of cheese on the grill and then maneuver it between two tortillas. Even less often, she would toss a flour tortilla at her coworker who was wielding a very long knife. As I remember, the woman, who looked very young, said her name was Iselda and she began working there at 16. Now she was 26. No wonder she could make tortillas with her eyes closed.


Photo Credit: Andrea Garcia Mauk

Sonia Gutierrez reminisced about her mother’s tripas as we ordered two tacos de tripas. Was I out of my mind? I don’t even eat meat, and here I was in Mexico becoming a wild carnivore who only an hour before had been stuffed with evil wheat. I was going to look like the girl who turns into a blueberry in Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory in the morning. It was self-mutilation of a sort, and to be sure that I was abusing myself, I washed the whole thing down with a Mexican Coke made with real sugar instead of high-fructose corn syrup. Maybe that was my lesser sin.

Photo Credit: Andrea Garcia Mauk

Photo Credit: Andrea Garcia Mauk

Tacos El Gordo has come to California, but certainly, you will not have the same experience if you eat in Pacoima, Sylmar, Chula Vista North Hollywood or National City. The tacos in the U.S. are larger and come with salsa heaped on. In Tijuana, the salsa sits in bowls on the counter, and when I was finally fortunate enough to get someone to pass me a plastic spoon, I put some on my petite taco. In Tijuana, it is authentic Mexican street food, maybe too authentic for some who aren’t used to it.


Photo Credit: Andrea Garcia Mauk

When it was time to go, John and I learned that all accounting was on the honor system. They pretty much had an idea of what you had eaten, but all you had to do was ‘fess up the number, and they gave you a total. Simple. Authentic. Standing Room Only. Tacos El Gordo. It’s the ‘must go’ place in TJ.  Constitución 992, Centro, 22000 Tijuana, Baja California, Mexico ‎+52 664 638 6053. 

September Poems

Photo Credit: Mark C.

Photo Credit: Mark C.



by Francisco X. Alarcón

on the seventh day

after the creation

of Earth and sky

God said to the four

directions, “now

let’s create a land

like no other land

in the entire world,

a true Earth Eden

with overflowing

waterways coming

from snowy mountains

irrigating endless

fields of all kinds

of sweet melons

let Mother Earth

bear the best

and most diverse

organic jewels

hanging from trees

as green almonds

peaches, pistachios

cherries, avocados

pomegranates, lemons

laying the ground

with smiling hearts,

tomatoes, strawberries

let human hands

caress and pack

the tastiest of gifts

in the most effective

ways so they arrive

fresh and unspoiled

to the produce aisles

of every market

of this big nation”

and God was so happy

to see the vast green

fields that He sent down

cooling sea breezes

over sun baked hills

bordering valleys

then God took a dip

into the long aqueduct

and afterwards said

“California is a true

masterpiece thanks

to me and human hands”

© Francisco X. Alarcón

July 5, 2013


Poem written after visiting California fields where 300 farmworkers were harvesting and packing cantaloupes that were to be shipped to the US Northeast.  Joe and María Gloria del Bosque are owners of one of the most innovating farms in the San Joaquin Valley.  Joe del Bosque is a Chicano farmer who employs hundreds of farmworkers and is model of an employer who cares for the workers and the land. Joe and his wife María Gloria work together in the fields. We saw them in action on July 5, 2013. Joe is a respected leader among farmers in California and is an impressive human being with an effective mind and a big heart. His firm is called Del Bosque Farms.


por Francisco X. Alarcón

en el séptimo día

después de crear

la tierra y el cielo

Dios dijo a las cuatro

direcciones: “ahora

creemos una tierra

como ninguna otra

en todo el mundo,

un verdadero Edén

con cauces de agua

rebozantes venidos

de montes nevados

irrigando campos

sin fin con todo tipo

de dulces melones

que la Madre Tierra

dé fruto a las mejores

y más diversas

joyas orgánicas

colgando de árboles

como almendras verdes

duraznos, pistachios

cerezas, aguacates

granadas, limones

dejando en el suelo

corazones sonrientes,

jitomates, fresas

que manos humanas

acaricien y empaquen

dones de gran sabor

en las más efectivas

maneras para llegar

frescos y sin mácula

a estantes de verduras

de todos los mercados

de esta gran nación”

y Dios estaba contento

de ver los vastos campos

verdes y así mandó

frescas brisas marinas

sobre colinas quemadas

por el Sol al lado de valles

entonces Dios se zambulló

en el largo acueducto

para afirmar después:

“California es una obra

maestra real gracias a mí

y a manos humanas”

© Francisco X. Alarcón

5 de julio de 2013


Photo Credit: Mark C.

Freckled Like My Skin

by Sonia Gutierrez

Mother loved beans. Every week at the dinner table she cleaned and sorted pinto beans, separating the broken beans from the whole ones. Patiently, she removed shriveled beans and small lumps of dirt as she placed the good beans in a colander. Standing in front of the running faucet, Mother’s large hands rinsed the mound of pinto beans carefully as if she were bathing a newborn baby. For a moment, she’d stare out the kitchen window at her admirable rows of rose bushes in the front yard.

While the beans drained, she added water to her clay pot and brought it to a boil. After the foam rose, the kitchen became heavy with moisture from the steam coming from the pot of beans. During the last cooking phase, Mother added salt. She then became a whirlwind tidying up our home looking forward to a bowl of pinto beans and broth.

An hour later, red, white and green decorated Mother’s bowl of simmered pinto beans: neatly diced tomato, onion, and cilantro floated in brownness. Heavy with the smell of cooked beans lingering in the kitchen, she’d take a slice of queso ranchero and roll it into a warm corn tortilla. With every spoonful of broth, she recollected stories of pinto beans. Mother swooned and savored childhood memories confessing, “Mija, when your grandfather died, frijolitos de la olla and tortillas was the only thing we could afford to eat,” as she closed her eyes and inhaled the steam from her flowered talavera bowl. “Other times your grandmother would only have a handful of beans and gave us bean broth for dinner,” Mother added with deep sadness in her voice.

During hard times or not, Mother fed us pinto beans and tortillas. That’s what she had fed her brothers and sisters, and those who had come before my mother had fed her. Simmered beans were the color of my mother’s skin. I imagined Aurora, my grandmother, had been the color of dark creamy pinto beans. Raw pinto beans were freckled like my face.


Photo Credit: Mark C.

Untitled Poem #1

by Debbie Tinoco

The day began

                   with a lively song

                          beans in a pot

                               tortillas stacking up.

Her hair spun in a bun

                                                as she sat and sewed

                                                                   mending our clothes.

Cafe Con Leche

by Debbie Tinoco

Cafe con Leche

she’d like to drink

In the morning

          in the afternoon

                   but never after three


Photo Credit: Mark C.

Poets’ Biographies


Francisco Alarcón, an award-winning Chicano poet and educator, is the author of twelve volumes of poetry, including From the Other Side of Night: Selected and New Poems (University of Arizona Press 2002). His latest book isCe Uno One: Poemas para el Nuevo Sol/Poems for the New Sun (Swan Scythe  Press 2010). His most recent book of bilingual poetry for children is Animal Poems of Iguazú (Children’s Book Press 2008). He teaches at the University of California, Davis. He is the creator of the Facebook page, POETS RESPONDING TO SB 1070.


Sonia Gutierrez saw signs that she was meant to be a writer when she was a child, and she has followed her aspirations. She teaches English Composition and Critical Thinking and Writing at Palomar College. She is the co-advisor for the Palomar Poets and founder of their biannual Poetic Justice. She also teaches Creative Writing for Upward Bound at CSUSM. Spider Woman/La Mujer Araña (Olmeca Press, 2013) is her debut bilingual poetry collection, and she is at work on a novel, Kissing Dreams from a Distance, among other projects.

Debbie done up

Debbie Tinoco was born and raised in Bakersfield, California and attended Bakersfield College prior to pursuing her Bachelor and Master of Arts degrees in sociology at CSU Sacramento.  Dr. Tinoco continued on at the University of San Francisco where she completed a Doctorate of Education in International & Multicultural Education.  She has taught at every level of education from elementary and secondary to college and university.  Dr. Tinoco prefers teaching community college students because she believes that is where she can have the greatest impact on student learning and influence on students’ desire to continue on and earn degree of higher education.  Dr. Tinoco currently teaches part-time at Bakersfield College and CSU Bakersfield where she teaches lower and upper division sociology courses.  She firmly believes that our society’s greatest asset is human potential.

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  1. Reply msedano September 24, 2013

    the perfect and soulful combination, food and poetry!

  2. Reply Andrea Garcia Mauk September 26, 2013

    Thank you, Michael. I was so happy to publish this first edition. I’m glad the food and poetry make a good combination plate.

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