Tracing the food pathways of Black South Texans

Tacos of Texas host Mando Rayo recently spoke with a chef about the many ways techniques and culinary traditions have dispersed throughout history.

By Kristen CabreraMay 31, 2024 1:36 pm, ,

Texas has many cultural influences, but of course being once a part of Mexico itself, these influences and especially the food have weaved into the traditions of many Texans. And for Black Texans growing up in South Texas, like chef Adrian Lipscombe, these roots are unique.

“You know I really didn’t know I was anything different until I left Texas and then I realized I’m a different type of Black,” she said. “ Having tortillas as a snack, eating it with, you know, melted cheese or just butter. That was just something I was used to. Hearing Spanish on a daily basis, doing Spanglish on a daily basis, was just what I was used to.” 

Chef Lipscombe grew up in San Antonio and is also a culinary ambassador of the United States. Tacos of Texas host Mando Rayo spoke with Lipscombe in the podcast’s continuing coverage tracing the foodways of Black Mexicans.

Rayo joined the Standard to talk about the episode and the different food pathways of Black South Texans. Listen to the interview above or read the transcript below.

This transcript has been edited lightly for clarity:

Texas Standard: Tell me about the coverage you’ve been doing on this topic.

Mando Rayo: Yeah, well, you know, we live in Texas. So when you think of Texas, maybe somebody that doesn’t live in Texas thinks of, like, the white cowboy. We’re here to dispel these caricatures, if you will, of Texans.

And so we are, you know, so many deep-rooted Indigenous, Native, African-American, Black, Mexican, Latino, Asian, and as well as white. So we all make up what Texas is today.

But there’s lots of roots if you go back through history. And that’s why I invited my friend Adrian Lipscombe to the show to talk about her lived experience growing up as an African-American woman in San Antonio, now residing here in Austin.

Well, let’s listen to part of your conversation with Lipscomb. This is about the connection points of history and food:

Adrian Lipscombe: There was this communication going across the border and even across the seas. And, you know, another realization that we have to really think about is that, you know, Columbus wasn’t the first one to travel. 

Mando Rayo: Or to get lost.

Adrian Lipscombe: Or to get lost or to crash. So, you know, I really believe in hearts of hearts that Africans and people from the South and Indigenous were traveling across the seas and being explorers. We were migratory. We migrated. And so there were probably different sides of, of trades that were happening. It just was never written.

Mando Rayo: Documented.

Adrian Lipscombe: Yeah, it just wasn’t documented. So there were techniques that were were known that we’re seeing across the border and we’re still discovering them today.

So what do you make of that, Mando? It’s just kind of exactly what you said: it’s a melting pot and pinning down exactly what came from where and when… It is impossible at this point when history has moved along and not everything was written in stone and passed down to everybody. 

Yeah. I think the idea that, you know, all of a sudden white chefs created barbecue is a total myth. And we know the roots of that. So you just have to dig deeper into those stories, into our history, right? Where we think about, like, underground ovens that were actually taught to colonizers by the Native people here in Texas.

And then you think about those foods that were, I think, maybe they rose out of conflict, right? Say, for example, agua de jamaica – hibiscus. That has roots in Jamaica. Or an horchata – those have roots in Africa. But, you know, now it’s an everyday thing in Mexico and in Texas.

And so those are definitely linked. We just need to peel away at the layers of that very sweet onion.

I like that. You know, it reminds me, too, about the conversations that we’ve had about  music – and country music lately, specifically. You know, where are the roots? Who is the inventor who gets to decide who’s allowed in this space? And so,  food in the same way is a lot more complicated and intertwined. 


How have these connections inspired Black Texans, and Black Mexicans, specifically, along the border that you’ve seen?

Well, you know, I think these stories have been oral stories. Because if you look at a textbook, they’re not really there. And so they’re oral stories that have been passed down from generation to generation. And people know about it.

But I also think the younger generation is now digging in and saying, “you know what? Those are my roots.” And so part of that, we met with many young people when we were down in Brackettville covering our Black Mexicans episode. And those are the people that have that mixed blood of former Black slaves, Black Seminoles. So including, you know, the Native blood, as well as Mexican.

And so people are like, you know, they go to this small town close to Del Rio to honor their roots through a Juneteenth celebration. And so I feel like now people are really kind of… It’s not often talked about – that Black Seminole heritage. But it’s there. And I think now, obviously having the platform on Texas Standard to showcase that culture and talk about that culture so people can think about, “oh, you know what?”

And, you know, it’s funny because a friend of mine who’s African-American was like, “you know what? My grandma said we got Native blood.” And so it just allows you to think about that and be curious. And again, yeah, it’s like peeling away those layers.

You know, to me, the lesson is like “share stories and share good food,” right? And sort of mix and match. Like the good stuff gets passed along and collected and folded into lots of different traditions.

Exactly, exactly.

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