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Wednesday, January 19, 2022

Cookbooks at the heart of preserving Mexican American culture

Cookbooks at the heart of preserving Mexican American culture

Hendrix is the dean of libraries for UTSA Libraries.


JANUARY 5, 2021 — Editor’s note: This op-ed by UTSA’s Dean Hendrix originally appeared in the San Antonio Express-News.

Food has a special way of making the holidays feel like home again. We all have dishes and family recipes that hold special places in our yearly traditions. These links are especially strong for San Antonians. Tamales, buñuelos and pozole are favorites found on tables around the city this time of year.

Recognized worldwide by the United Nations’ Creative Cities Network, San Antonio and its unique (and delicious!) food is a testament to the blending of traditions and foodways experienced through generations of inhabitants of the borderlands of Northern Mexico and South Texas.

“We want as many students as possible to view themselves, their families and their traditions in the collection.”

At the UTSA Libraries, preservation of and access to South Texas histories and cultures are a central part of our mission as a Hispanic thriving institution. Currently, UTSA Libraries has the largest collection of Mexican cookbooks in the nation. With more than 2,000 titles in English and Spanish, the UTSA Mexican Cookbook Collection documents the variety and history of Mexican cuisine from 1789 to the present.

Stored in the rare books vault of the UTSA Special Collections, many of the books are handwritten manuscripts passed down from generation to generation. Cuaderno de Cosina (Kitchen Notebook), written in 1789 by Doña Ignacita, is the oldest book in the archive and contains entries of main courses, sides and desserts.

At UTSA Libraries, we make every effort to share the collection with students, community members and anyone with an internet connection. We want as many students as possible to view themselves, their families and their traditions in the collection.

For example, honors students in the Cook, Eat, Write, Repeat course used the collection to research food history and tradition, using their own family recipes to create a class cookbook. Students in freshman composition courses have made critical assessments of food advertisements and the portrayal of women on cookbook covers.

Through digitization efforts, we have made many of the handwritten cookbooks available online at digital.utsa.edu. Recently, library staff and UTSA students worked on making our digital cookbook collection searchable and easier to use.

Carla Burgos, who is in her second year of graduate studies in art history, transcribes these cultural texts handwritten in 19th-century Spanish into a digital database. Burgos is originally from Chile and is fluent in English, Spanish and American Sign Language. Despite her mastery of languages, her task is challenging and arduous as she works through 19th-century cursive and variant spellings of words.

Through this work, she’s also gaining valuable experiential learning opportunities in library preservation, primary source and historical research, which she hopes to make a career of upon graduation.

Another project we have undertaken during the pandemic is the creation of a series of digital mini-cookbooks using recipes from the collection. We call it Recetas: Cocinando en los Tiempos del Coronavirus (Recipes: Cooking in the Time of the Coronavirus), and we hope it offers users greater access to the wonderful recipes. We have released two volumes so far, and we will be releasing more in the new year. Download the free e-publications at lib.utsa.edu/recetas.

As we close out the year, we raise a glass of ponche navideño and another glass of champurrado to the hope that readers and scholars will continue to utilize and value the UTSA Mexican Cookbook Collection for years to come.

— Dean Hendrix

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UTSA’s Mission

The University of Texas at San Antonio is dedicated to the advancement of knowledge through research and discovery, teaching and learning, community engagement and public service. As an institution of access and excellence, UTSA embraces multicultural traditions and serves as a center for intellectual and creative resources as well as a catalyst for socioeconomic development and the commercialization of intellectual property - for Texas, the nation and the world.

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To be a premier public research university, providing access to educational excellence and preparing citizen leaders for the global environment.

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We encourage an environment of dialogue and discovery, where integrity, excellence, inclusiveness, respect, collaboration and innovation are fostered.

UTSA’S Destinations

UTSA is a proud Hispanic Serving Institution (HSI) as designated by the U.S. Department of Education.

Our Commitment to Inclusivity

The University of Texas at San Antonio, a Hispanic Serving Institution situated in a global city that has been a crossroads of peoples and cultures for centuries, values diversity and inclusion in all aspects of university life. As an institution expressly founded to advance the education of Mexican Americans and other underserved communities, our university is committed to ending generations of discrimination and inequity. UTSA, a premier public research university, fosters academic excellence through a community of dialogue, discovery and innovation that embraces the uniqueness of each voice.