Author of book on Antonito women to speak at Adams State

(11-03-2009)

The women of Antonito and the food that helps define their culture is the topic of Carole Counihan's latest book, "A Tortilla Is Like Life: Food and Culture in the San Luis Valley of Colorado". Counihan is scheduled to be on the Adams State College campus for a book signing and presentation at 6 p.m. Friday, Nov. 13, in the ES Building room 103 and again at 10 a.m. Saturday, Nov. 14, in the Conejos County Library, Antonito branch. Copies of the book will be available for purchase and royalties from the book sales will fund an Antonito Scholarship at Adams State.

Teddy Madrid, an Adams State graduate, was one of nineteen Antonito women interviewed. She said she has read a lot of books about the culture of the Southwest, but none about Antonito in particular. "I am so proud and happy to have belonged to the group of people who settled here so long ago." Madrid appreciates the royalties going to fund a scholarship for Antonito students. "The book gave women a voice and may bring interest to this area of Colorado. We are not that different from others. We have the same American dreams and hopes for our children, and we love our food." She served on the Alumni Board, taught public school, served as a principal, and taught courses at Adams State.

Between 1996 and 2006, anthropologist Carole Counihan collected food-centered life histories from Mexicanas, Hispanic American women, who had long-standing roots in the Upper Rio Grande region. "Women are left out of so much of official history. We need to recuperate women's experiences. How women produce, distribute, prepare and consume food is a good way to understand the 'women's experiences,'" Counihan said. “"is really a way of making those roots visible. Having real women talk about their gardening practices and preservation of food show Mexicanos really belong to this land, and in a way the land belongs to them through these food practices."

Counihan documents how Antonito's Mexicanas establish a sense of place and belonging through their knowledge of land and water and use this knowledge to sustain their families and communities. Women play an important role by gardening, canning, and drying vegetables; earning money to buy food; cooking; and feeding family, friends, and neighbors on ordinary and festive occasions. They use food to solder or break relationships and to express contrasting feelings of harmony and generosity, or enmity and envy. The interviews in this book reveal that these Mexicanas are resourceful providers whose food work contributes to cultural survival.

Residents of Pennsylvania, Counihan said she and her husband, Jim Taggart, chose Antonito as a fieldwork site for a number of reasons. They are both cultural anthropologists and believe in value of ongoing field work. "We also wanted some place we could go with our kids." After some research the couple decided to spend three weeks in Antonito in the summer of 1995. "We decided Antonito was great place for us. The people are friendly we wanted a place to conduct research and field work and enjoy with the kids."

Counihan is professor of anthropology at Millersville University, one of fourteen universities in the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education. She has been active in anthropology, gender, and food studies for over two decades and has conducted ethnographic research in Sardinia and Florence, as well as in the United States. She said she hopes her readers of "A Tortilla Is Like Life: Food and Culture in the San Luis Valley of Colorado" hear the voice of the women of Antonito and enjoy their stories.

By Linda Relyea