Q&A with is a new on-going articles series where we ask Latinx creators about different topics. This month, we’re talking about heritage and how it influenced them.
Reina Gascón-López is a Puerto Rican chef raised in the South of the USA. Through cooking and writing, she explores both her multiracial background and cultures. Her recipes are the amazing combination of homestyle comfort food and elevated gourmet cooking. By mixing her upbringing cultures (Afro-Caribbean, Latin and Southern), Reina has accomplished a unique creativity in the kitchen with her flavorful and delicious recipes and digital cookbooks that her readers enjoy. Today, she is living in Charleston, South Carolina running her amazing cooking IG account @thesofritoproject
When asked about how she defines her cultural heritage and how it inspires her in the kitchen, Reina says: “I think that defining my cultural heritage is important and can be done in a variety of ways with the recipes I create and share with others. Staying authentic to myself while exploring cuisines throughout the diaspora is one of the main joys I feel about cooking. I strive to put love and intention behind what I make, and I feel that the intention behind our cuisines is what makes them so special to us and our families. They bring back so many memories. And by keeping that in mind, there’s always a good feeling that goes into learning about and recreating meals that I grew up eating.”
Which of course led us to wanting to know about her family memories in the kitchen while growing up! “One of my favorite memories is helping my paternal grandfather pick and shuck gandules on a hill that was near the house. I still remember all of the green surrounding me, the heat on my skin, and the smells of the kitchen when we got back inside. Grabbing plátano right outside of the window that sat above the sink and helping my abuela and mom in the kitchen when it came time to prep and cook dinner.”
Her most precious item in the kitchen is her great-grandmother’s pilón that she inherited after her grandma passed away. “It sits on my kitchen counter and makes me feel like my ancestors are with me when I’m cooking family recipes, which include some favorites like berenjena guisada (stewed eggplant), arroz con gandules (rice with pigeon peas), and arroz con bacalao (rice with salted cod fish). There are a handful of recipes that I’ve inherited from both my paternal and maternal sides of the family that I don’t plan on sharing publicly; some things just need to stay close to the chest. And that’s okay! That’s what makes them so important and special.”
Puerto Rican food en español
Since she mentions a lot of Puerto Rican dishes in Spanish, it’s normal to think that she would translate all of them for her American public. However, she told us that she chooses not to initially translate them, except for sharing the English terms in parenthesis. She places emphasis on the Spanish first and English second. “I love sharing my food and culture with others and that includes the first language I grew up speaking. We unfortunately had to assimilate when we moved to the States and lived in Charleston, South Carolina (there wasn’t a large Puerto Rican community here and hardly any Latinx people in general), so I don’t speak Spanish as often as I’d like, even though I can fully understand and read it. Speaking Spanglish is part of who I am, and frankly, a common trait shared with many other first-generation kids that grew up in the United States. I’m proud of that and my upbringing.”
Is there anything else that she considers important regarding cultural heritage? Reina explains her POV about it: “Heritage is something that’s deeply personal and intimate to so many, and I feel that having shared experiences is what really connects us in the end. Especially to those of us who may not live in our homelands, who may not fluently speak Spanish, or grew up in places without large Latinx communities. I feel like our experiences are still valid across the diaspora. Authenticity tends to be a slippery slope, particularly when it comes to who or what does the gatekeeping in our cultures. But I find that by being as authentic as possible to myself is the way I take pride in my heritage and no one else determines that for me.”
We love finding people with a large history and a rich heritage, and their many ways to honor it, and Reina is the perfect example of this. Thank you for kindly sharing your amazing thoughts with us!