I was Born and raised on the now culturally diverse “Westside” community of St. Paul, I found rescue and joy in discovering my heritage through performing Mexican folklore at the age of 8, participated in a Latina pageant, Embajadora Hispana, a leadership program for Latina youth, and most importantly, as it relates to my culture, I was blessed with the unique opportunity to grow up in one of Minnesota’s favorite Mexican market & restaurant, El Burrito Mercado.
Though I didn’t know it at the time, I was being raised bi-culturally (in the very upper midwest), however, what I did know at the time, was that in spite of being raised in a very, very caucasian city, (St. Paul in the 1980’s early 90’s looked very different than it does today), I was exposed to my heritage through Our Lady of Guadalupe church, Mexican Folklorico dancing, and our family business, El Burrito Mercado. And, probably one of the most influential experiences for me culturally, was that a very young age my dad took us to his humble pueblo (small town) where he was raised in the outskirts of Aguascalientes, Mexico, and I fell in love with it!
I recall one of my first visits to the farm in Mexico, there was no toilet, just a hole in the ground, the cows were just on the other side of the ‘kitchen’ (a table, a shelf, and a stove. The ‘sink’ was a pipe sticking out of the ground with pumping water and a bucket (and I loved to wash dishes!) I loved going to the little corner tiendita (store) and exchanging the coke bottles, and getting my soda in a plastic bag with a straw. I loved the movie in a patio or placita where the whole pueblo could go watch (and novios could hide in dark corners), I loved the smell of fresh corn tortillas and trying to help tia San Juana make fresh tortillas early in the morning. The primos (cousins) had their fun giggles at my expense! I felt I belonged, everybody looked like me, the food was the same food my mom made at home, everybody spoke the same language my dad spoke to us, I was overwhelmed with emotions, and I could feel Mexico. I remember one of those early trips to Aguascalientes, that I cried when we had to leave, I did not want to go back to gringolandia where hardly anybody looked like me, and where I felt like an alien in school. I felt Mexico calling me and I went to study abroad in Guadalajara during my college years, it was another impacting life milestone. But when I was home here in Minnesota, the only place I felt I truly belonged was at El Burrito Mercado, I was 8yrs old when my parents bought the tiny market, I’ll be 45yr old this year, it’s a part of me.
My bi-cultural life was filled with both wonderful, cultural experiences and difficult adversities, and I embrace all of it because it has brought me to the place I am now, and I am happy. I love Mexico and I love USA! I cry when I watch an Amalia Hernandez folklorico production and I am equally moved by American favorites broadways, I cried at the death of our querido Juan Gabriel and was also emotional at the death of Prince. I love tacos and I love hamburgers. I take great pride in both my Mexican-ness and my American-ness.
Though as a child and through adoloscence I struggled with my identity and finding my ‘true self’, years ago I finally understood that I didn’t have to choose one culture or the other, I learned to embrace both and it is now my compelling drive and vision for the business. I feel lucky because I get two of everything, and you should have that too! So, I have chosen to infuse others with my passion sharing la experiencia Mexicana through El Burrito Mercado. The most rewarding comments we get from both new customers and loyal customers, is that they feel like they are somewhere else when they visit, they feel they are in Mexico, the music, the fresh authentic foods, the aromas, and the nostalgia they experience when they browse through the mercado and find ingredients and brands from Mexico and Latino America too. It’s what keeps me inspired!
And now, in my still new role as a partner legacy-owner, and CEO of El Burrito Mercado, and where I am often affectionately referred to from my staff as “La Jefa” or the boss, (to which I respond, “just call me Milissa!”), I am combining my passion for Mexican culture, my entrepreneurial spark, and my desire for improving cultural disparities & stereotypes by keeping our business model authentic, quality, and offering traditional experiencias Mexicanas.
It’s not just about the experiential aspect of our business that I enjoy, I also perfectly understand and am also motivated by the challenges of being a profitable and growing small business. Though truly, I am primarily inspired by the notion of offering something unique to people, it’s an exciting time for our family, Mexicana, women owned and operated business.
This week kicks off Hispanic Heritage Month September 15-October 15, September 15 is significant because it is the anniversary of independence for Latin American countries Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua. In addition, Mexico and Chile celebrate their independence days on September 16 and September18, respectively. And though I celebrate our heritage every day, I recognize that not everyone else does. I consider this a time for our country to recognize all the contributions and richness Hispanos, Latinos have gifted to our country, and to embrace that richness by celebrating, learning, and sharing.
Our Resident Decorator/Artist Denisea Elsola is dressing up the entire mercado with festive decor, we are featuring specials to intrigue you to try something new:
If you are planning your own fiesta at home, school, or work and want some ideas on how to celebrate, email me firstname.lastname@example.org or for help with catering food and a specialty margarita bar, contact my niece, Catering & Special Events Manager, Analita, email@example.com
In addition to our mercado’s already unique style and ambiance for shopping, drinking, and eating, I am so excited about our expanding El Cafe y Bar to include more events and experiences, the indoor expansion will be complete in October and La Placita Patio will open in May 2017, more details and information coming soon!
Finally, I am thrilled to be a member of the host committee for Casa de Esperanza’s 1st Annual Latina Leadership Celebration. If you are searching a unique opportunity to celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month, this is an important event to consider attending on September 30th. Details about the organization and how to attend the event are through this Honoring Latina Leadership link
Viva Mexico, visit us soon and visit us often!
When it comes to celebrating Thanksgiving, we all have our own ideas of a traditional meal. Most non-Latino families will be celebrating the holiday with a buttered turkey, mashed potatoes, green bean casserole and a classic stuffing, but let’s make your table come alive with color, ambiance, energy, and sazon!
For Latinos, there are a few not-so-typical dishes. I feel lucky because I get the best of my favorites, comforting good ‘ol American Thanksgiving meal and a feast of Mexican delights! You’ll still celebrate with the spirit of family, friends, and gratitude, but for Latinos, it’s more than just a meal, it’s more like a Thanksgiving Fiesta.
Let’s start planning! For starters, dress up, this is not just a casual get together, this a Latino party, so ladies, get out the heels and lipstick, and fellas, cologne and a dress shirt please! And, don’t plan to eat at 2pm, our parties start late, and run into the night.
DECOR I love the the orange, yellow, and brown color theme! And the decor is fine, but how about adding some platters, plates, or serving bowls that fits right in with the color scheme. Clay dishes (barro) would add a touch of Mexico to your table decor- I would use bright colored cloth napkins too like yellow, orange and red!
ENTERTAINMENT Yep, we love to party! So Thanksgiving for many Latino families rarely is it just ‘gather around the table’ kind of get together. For many families it varies, music is playing in the background, tios (uncles) may be playing instruments (guitar, congas, maracas), or perhaps playing a game of domino (especially common in the Puerto Rican familias). For you amigos, I recommend some nice bachata or balada music in the background for as guests arrive, (on Pandora try Prince Royce) then later, after dinner, put on some salsa or cumbia music (Marc Anthony is my favorite), clear the tables and get to dancing! For family fun, get a game of Loteria going, Mexican bingo, plan ahead with funny and simple prizes- use dry pinto beans or black beans as your card markers. Oh, and of course, leave the TV on the football channel, muted so as not to kill the fiesta!
BEVERAGES & COCKTAILS For the kiddos, get a variety of Jarritos soda flavors or Goya fruit juices. Wine is fine, and cerveza too, though sipping on tequila as guests arrive is known to open an appetite (and help with digestion after a meal). For Mexicanos, Ponche Navideno is a must and for our carribean amigos, it’s Coquito. Below is a recipe for Ponche Navideno, give it a kick with a bit of tequila or brandy. Coquito, well, that may take a few tries to master its recipe, it’s an egg nog like consistency and it’s a tasty blend of cinnamon, coconut, and rum ingredients! (if you are as lucky as I am, you’ll have friends that will make you a bottle or bring one to share!).
THE MENU There are so many different ways you can change up your menu, here are my favorites:
Roasted Jalapeno Salsa
Frijoles Rancheros (ranch style pinto beans)
Ham or Seasoned Pork Leg (Jamon o Pierna de Pernil)
Other common Mexican foods for special celebrations is pozole and enchiladas, and of course, traditional mole sauce on turkey and make turkey mole enchiladas for next day.
And for dessert, traditional or pumpkin flavored flan, tres leches cake, and my favorite sweet potato with a sweet marshmallow & piloncillo (Mexican brown sugar) topping.
And of course, the absolute most important thing about Thanksgiving, be grateful for the company present, and the many blessings from above! And for many ways to make your Thanksgiving special, visit our specialty Mexican deli at El Burrito Mercado!
Happy Thanksgiving amigos, eat, dance, drink and be happy!
Con Amor, Milissa