Mole & Chilis Poblanos

I figured I should make a post about the food in Puebla, since it’s such an important part of their culture. Pueblans take pride in how spicy their cuisine is—during our orientation, we were warned to always ask how spicy food is before we eat it. If it contains no chili pepper at all, it’s safe. If we’re told that it has chili but isn’t spicy, that means it’s pretty spicy. If they claim it’s just a little bit spicy, we can assume it’s very spicy. And if a native of Puebla considers it very spicy, we should stay far away from it. So far, I haven’t had trouble with the spicy food, but I always ask before I order.

Pueblans really are very proud of their peppers. The poblano chili pepper originated here, and it’s used it so many dishes. To be honest, I’m not sure what makes it different from other peppers; but I wouldn’t say that to anyone from Puebla! One of the most popular forms of poblano is chile rellenos. I’ve actually had chile rellenos in the US, but I haven’t yet tried the poblano twist on it. Chile rellenos consists of a pepper stuffed with just about anything (usually cheese and meat), fried, and covered in sauce. You can find it at just about any restaurant around here!

Puebla also claims (controversially) to be the origin of mole sauce, a dark brown sauce with variations all over Mexico. I had to do a bit of research to figure out what actually goes into mole, and from what I can tell the answer is anything and everything. The base is always chilis, but otherwise it seems like everyone has their own recipe. People add nuts, dried fruit, vegetables, spices, seeds, and even bread. The unique ingredient in mole poblano is chocolate, which apparently gives it a sweet/salty/spicy taste. I’ve been too scared to try it so far, but I know I have to at least taste it before I leave!

Another very popular food is chilaquiles—tortilla chips covered in salsa, cheese, cream, and meat or eggs. This is one of my favorites, and it’s offered just about everywhere. Most people eat it as a breakfast food, but it’s pretty versatile. The salsa can be very spicy, so it’s important to ask before you eat!

On just about every corner in Puebla, you can find tacos. They’re often sold as street food, but there are also plenty of restaurants that specialize in different varieties. I thought I was familiar with tacos, but Puebla proved me very wrong. It took me awhile to learn all the different types of tacos that are popular here, and I still get confused sometimes. First, Pueblans love tacos arabes. These are simply roasted pork served on pita bread—pretty simple. Tacos al pastor are very similar. The meat is pork, but it’s usually marinated with chilis and served on a tortilla. I also see a lot of tacos gringas. These are made with carne al pastor (like tacos al pastor), but also include cheese, pineapple, and salsa. I have trouble keeping them all straight, but according to the locals there’s a huge difference.

I have yet to try all of the Pueblan staples, which is partially because we were told during orientation to avoid street food or risk getting sick. Still, I’m a bit ashamed to have been in Puebla for two months without even tasting the famous mole poblano. I know I’ll get there—I’ve been slowly but surely stepping out of my comfort zone. The other day I even tried chapulines! They weren’t too bad for toasted grasshoppers.


Learning Mexican Spanish

This month I’ve found a few ways to finally practice my Spanish! A friend and I have started going to a coffee shop to do homework, and it turns out to be a great way to meet people. The manager found out that we were exchange students trying to learn Spanish, and now every time we’re there he comes over and practices with us. He tries to teach us colloquial words and phrases, which is a big help. For me, one of the most challenging parts of understanding Mexican Spanish is the slang. I thought that my vocabulary was alright before I came here, but I quickly realized that “classroom Spanish” isn’t very useful day-to-day. I find that I can communicate perfectly well in my classes, but outside of school I’m at a loss.

The coffee shop manager, who introduced himself as Sammy, sometimes even sits down with us for our “lessons.” It can be hard to keep up, but I try to write things down so I can look them up later. Here’s a few interesting Mexican vocab words:


  • Fresa: Fresa directly translates to strawberry, but that’s rarely what it actually means! It refers to someone who is wealthy and a bit stuck-up. In the US, a fresa would be considered “preppy.”


  • Mande: This one is important! Before Sammy told me about manda, I had always asked people to repeat themselves by asking “Cómo?” In Mexico, to ask someone what they just said, it is common to say “Mande?” Some Americans make the mistake of using “qué” because it directly translates to “what,” but this is actually considered demanding and rude!


  • A poco: “¡A poco!” means “No way!” I heard this one a few times before I asked Sammy about it. A similar word is “neta,” which pretty much means “really?”


Sammy also informed us that the owner of the coffee shop runs a gym down the street. I had been looking for a gym in Puebla—I love to jog, but during the day it’s too hot and at night it can be dangerous. We joined the gym (appropriately called “Workout”) and found that it’s another great place to practice Spanish! The man who works at the front desk is really considerate of my limitations in Spanish—he speaks especially slowly and clearly so that I can understand. And he gives a discount to UPAEP students! I usually go at night (after getting some homework done at the coffee shop), and always see the same people at the gym. I’ve talked to a few of them, but I’d like to get better at starting conversations. I just get so nervous that no one will understand me! Hopefully I’ll get over that in the next few months. It’s hard to believe that the program is already halfway through—it feels like I just got here!


Spanish Progress

I chose to study abroad in Mexico because I wanted to improve my Spanish. So far, I’m not seeing as much progress as I would like. The 11 students from OU spend a lot of time together, which is nice, but I find myself speaking in English much more than Spanish. Two of my classes are OU courses in English, and although they’re definitely fascinating, I wish I could take more courses at our host university. The two classes I do have at UPAEP are great practice in Spanish, especially because both are participation-based. However, I’ve taken plenty of classes in Spanish, and at this point I don’t think “classroom Spanish” is going to really help me improve. I need to immerse myself more in colloquial Spanish, which I think is much more challenging than formal Spanish.

One of my biggest challenges is building up the courage to talk to native speakers. I knew I struggled with this before I came to Puebla, and overcoming my fear is probably one of my biggest goals. If I’m practicing with another English-speaking student, I’m much more confident, and find that the words flow easily. But when faced with someone who actually speaks Spanish, I get so nervous! I’m afraid of them thinking poorly of me for messing up or not having the words I need. Unfortunately, making mistakes is an essential part of learning anything, especially a language. I know that I need to put myself out there and embrace that I’m not going to sound perfect all the time, but this is much easier said than done. When I’m nervous I constantly second guess even the most basic things, and end up not saying anything at all instead of taking risks like I should.

I think that this fear comes from my relationship with my grandparents. My father and his family are from Colombia, and my grandparents live in a neighborhood in New York City called “Little Colombia.” Here, they’re surrounded by other Colombian immigrants and businesses, and have never needed to learn English. My father never spoke to me in Spanish while I was growing up (even though it’s his first language), so communicating with my extended family is difficult to say the least. My grandparents have always been very invested in me learning Spanish, which is both a blessing and a curse. When I say something correctly, they practically glow with pride. But when I make mistakes or admit that I don’t know how to say something, they become visibly disappointed. I think that growing up with this dynamic has made me especially self-conscious when it comes to my Spanish skills. I have trouble keeping in mind that no one here will be disappointed when I mess up.

Another challenge is finding the stamina to speak in a nonnative language. Being surrounded by words I don’t know is pretty isolating, and I often feel drained by the end of the day. I tell myself that I’m too tired to try to make conversation with anyone, and that I’ll try again tomorrow. But time flies by—I can’t believe I’m already three weeks into the program! It’ll be over before I know it, so I really need to make myself get much-needed practice in now. After all, I don’t have these kinds of opportunities when I’m in the US.

Going forward, I think that I need to focus on finding the energy and motivation to seek out more Spanish-speaking opportunities. I know that if I force myself to practice regularly, I’ll eventually become more comfortable with imperfection. To prevent myself from feeling drained so often, I plan on taking time to recharge. I’ll put aside at least an hour of alone time every night, so that I might feel refreshed and ready to face Mexico again in the morning. I also want to become comfortable with admitting to people that I don’t understand. This will hopefully take some pressure off during conversations. I think that most people will be more than willing to help me out, as soon as I work up the courage to ask! With these changes I’m sure I’ll be able to make the most out of this amazing opportunity.


A Semester in Mexico

So far, my classes here in Puebla are great! They are all humanities courses, and a nice break from my typical math curriculum. I’m certainly writing more essays and doing more readings than I ever have before. My first class every week is an OU course with Faculty-in Residence Professor Laurel Smith. The course is called Regional Geographies of Indigenous Media. Professor Smith does a great job of bringing enthusiasm to the subject, and clearly is an expert in everything she teaches us. The small class format means that there’s plenty of opportunity to participate, which makes each class period fly by. So far, we’ve focused on Mexican Indigenous groups, and how they are using video to educate and advocate for their communities. We watch lots of these videos in class, and they are always a fascinating glimpse into the parts of Mexico that we don’t often see from the large city of Puebla.
My second OU class, also with Professor Smith, is called Environment and Society. This has quickly become my favorite class—the relationship between politics and the environment is something that I don’t often consider, and I’m constantly surprised by our lessons. I would never be taking this course if I wasn’t abroad, and I’m glad I’m getting the chance to study something outside of my major.
I am also enrolled in two classes at UPAEP, the Mexican university that is hosting us. One of these courses is Literatura del Siglo de Oro, which covers Spanish poetry during the Renaissance and Baroque periods. What I love most about this class is the diversity—there are about 10 Mexican students, as well as four American exchange students and two Chinese exchange students. Although the class is in Spanish, the professor is actually from the US, so she understands how difficult it can be to learn another language. She speaks very clearly, and makes sure to explain everything as many times as she needs to so that the whole class is on the same page. Participation counts for 50% of our grade, so I always get plenty of Spanish practice during these class periods. So far, I am pleasantly surprised at how well I am able to keep up in a class completely in Spanish!
My other UPAEP class is Service Learning—I’m not getting any needed credits for this course, but I decided to take it for the unique experience of teaching in a foreign country. We will eventually be creating and delivering lesson plans to Mexican students that are trying to learn English. I am a bit nervous about this, as I realize that although I speak English fluently, understanding and teaching its structure is a completely different skill. I’m going to start studying English grammar now, so that I can hopefully help students make sense of the language. We don’t yet know exactly who our audience will be, but there’s a possibility that we will be working with college students from indigenous communities. These students might not actually speak Spanish fluently, which could add an extra layer to the challenge. However, I hope that we do end up teaching these indigenous students—I would love to learn some of their language, and hear about their experience coming from a small community to a huge city like Puebla. Overall, I’m really looking forward to this semester!


2017 Fall semester

My fall semester for my sophomore year has come to an end. I feel like I have grown the most during this semester and have learned the most about life both in school and outside of school. My freshman year of college started off good but did not end the best I lost motivation during my second semester. This semester I had much more motivation to finish things and try my best at everything I was doing. If I’m being quite honest I did lose motivation during December and it was because of emotional issues I was facing outside of school and it ended up hurting me in school. I just hope that my spring semester will be the best I have yet to have and I feel like it will.


International Events

Just like in 2016 this year in 2017 I attended the Day of the Dead Festival. It is a festival that is always interesting for me to attend because of my background. Both of my parents come from Mexico so I was always raised with November 1st being an important day. The traditions that I learned from this day is something that I have carried through out my life as I have grown older. Learning about this day growing up has always made me more open to learning more about other cultures that I don’t know much about.


OU cousins

My freshman year I was involved with a different international organization. This last semester I didn’t miss the deadline for OU cousins. After I applied for the organization I attended events for it. Unfortunately I wasn’t matched with an OU cousin because of how many people were participating in the organization. But even though I didn’t get matched I feel like I still learned a lot by participating and being able to learn about other cultures that are right here on campus.


Are we back to political-religious fanaticism?

President Trump is not shy when resorting to big talk. In fact, his presidency has been marked by countless points of hyperbolic rhetoric that have far outreached any other president in modern history. Has his far reaching rhetoric been normalized in the American psyche? Let’s look at where we’ve been before…

After September 11th, presidential rhetoric became more potent because the attacks were a mythic moment for the United States. French philosopher René Girard described myths as “the retrospective transfiguration of sacrificial crises, the reinterpretation of these crises in the light of the cultural order that has arisen from them”. Indeed, the mythic nature of 9/11 brought to the fore the importance of American culture and patriotism. It came just after the fall of the Soviet Union and the economic boom of the 1990’s, where America felt invulnerable as the world’s lone superpower. The symbolic impact was particularly jolting because, not only were two of America’s most prominent cities targeted, but also its renowned institutions that represented the military and economic hegemony of the United States. American civil religion is stooped in the notion that “American is a virginal land protected by two oceans, innocent of the corruptions of the Old World, and blessed with a new mission for the world” The collapsing of the Twin Towers violated the myth of America’s divine .destiny, sanctuary, and Reagan’s “tall proud city.” A sense of vulnerability tainted the comfort of being protected from sea to shining sea. The mythic qualities of 9/11 gave context to the disproportional reaction the United States had to the actual physical damage and loss of life. René Girard also summarized a key element of myth to including “the founding of culture or creation.” The natural tendency to look back at the origins of the violated country, revived a sense of national unity. Old terms such as “manifest destiny” took on a modern meaning, to where the American values of freedom and liberty needed to be spread throughout the globe. The renewed interest in promoting America as the beacon of light for the world, the post 9/11 era ushered in sweeping changes to both America’s domestic and foreign policy. The wave of hyper-patriotism immediately after 9/11 conformed public opinion allowing policymakers to pursue options that threatened civil liberties to little opposition. The Patriot Act of 2001 and the establishment of the Department of Homeland Security are just two examples of how the government expanded its surveillance structures, at the expense of personal rights, for the sake of combating terrorism. Author Daniel Lieberfeld wrote that “exceptionalism is committed to a particular political agenda that ultimately supports American hegemony or, at least fails to be sufficiently critical of pre-9/11 American belligerence or post-9/11 American military actions.” Essentially, measures intended to “restore” America were steeped in patriotism and prevented a critical self-examination of American will. Again, Stirling describes myth as maintaining “the border between the sacred and the profane.”. Hyper-patriotism streamlined public opinion after 9/11— Bush attained the highest approval rating in modern presidential history and flag sales skyrocketed— that clouded perspective and masked “the profane.”

Yes… I think we can connect the dots.


A is for Arab

A is for Arab was a cultural dialogue event sponsored by the college of international studies. It’s main goal was to address the most common stereotypes regarding Arab Americans and Arabs in general. From how they are portrayed in media to terrorism, this event helped humanize the experience of Arabs throughout the world for people who may not be as familiar with their culture. Several students took interest in supporting the event by being a representative for the display or being a participant. Located on L1 of the Bizzell Library, it was hard to miss as students searched for an ideal study space. Professor Whalid of the Arabic department, created the idea for the exhibition. Ultimately, with his talents, it was a success and remains in the library for curious students to view. Ideally, common stereotypes have been addressed and reversed through efforts of the exhibition.



Arabic Cultural Event

The Arabic Talent Show is a biannual event that showcases the semester’s work of the Arabic Flagship Program’s students. This semester I was involved with the poetry club and the colloquial class’s video project. I selected the Poem “Balloons” by Mostafa Ibrahim for my friend Adam to recite. Below you can find the poetry selection (it’s a brief piece that makes for an enjoyable read) and the link to the skit.

Original Poem


To know the strength of things, sometimes we need to break them.
To know we want some things, sometimes we need to lose them.
Craving certainty, how many friends did you call liars?
Attaining certainty, you lost your friends.
How many balloons did you burst inflating them beyond their limit?
Discovering that limit, you found regret.

I now know why I burst balloons:
I longed for something never-ending –
or with an end I’d never reach.
Walls that have my back.
Walls that will stay standing, even when I knock them down.
Something certain that, when tested, will not break.