Me: It’s amazing to see how much everything is connected when it comes to our purpose in life and for sure something that I do think is very unique about Centro is that it really does represent Mexican culture very well. As soon as you go in, you do feel that you might be in a space somewhere in Mexico. It's also really awesome how you didn't distance yourself from your cultural background. Because you are an immigrant, you are Latina, and you’re also an artist. So you brought all of that into the space with you and that is one of the things that make Centro so unique.
So why did you decide to have a Mexican theme instead of Colombian?
Angela: I get this question asked a lot. So at the time my uncle Carlos had a Mexican restaurant [Dos Taquitos] and for us it just made sense. He was in love with Mexican culture and their cuisine. Also when he immigrated to the US in the 80’s he lived in Colorado and then in Atlanta and there were really no Colombians around. So whom he considered his people were a bunch of Central Americans that lived around him. For a while he was nurtured by Mexican food and culture and he really just fell in love with it. So when the idea came, it just made sense to do that because we already knew how to do it and it was something that he was really passionate about. He was kind of like molding me into loving it as well. There were so many different things about Mexican culture that were familiar to me, but there were so many things that were completely new and so, so beautiful and I didn't see an issue with it.
But all of my Colombian compatriotas always ask, “Why is this not a Colombian restaurant?” I mean I’ve had people write me letters, Colombians that have moved here, that once they learn that I’m Columbian they sort of take it as an offense. I think the way that they're internalizing it is that I'm sort of ashamed of being Columbian. I engage in the conversation and it's really not that at all. Eleven years ago when we opened the restaurant, I was in a different place in life. And in the eleven years that the restaurant has been opened I’ve had some of Colombianess come out through what we do. But I have to honor the origin of this restaurant which is a Mexican restaurant.
Me: That’s interesting that your uncle was the one who started Dos Taquitos because Dos Taquitos is also another restaurant in Raleigh that does a great job at representing Mexican culture very, very well. There are a lot of Mexican restaurants in this area but to me Centro and Dos Taquitos are the ones that I would recommend to people who want to experience a genuine representation of Mexican art and food. And it’s very amazing that both of you are Colombian because at first I thought that the owner of Dos Taquitos was Mexican.
Angela: I think we would like to be honorary children of Mexico (we laugh together).
Me: I’m glad that you mentioned this because there is even a word for it which is cultural appropriation. But in my opinion I also feel the same way as you because I don't see it as a negative thing. I see it as a representation of diversity. And as a Mexican myself I don't see it as you trying to take ownership of my culture or that you’re trying to steal from it. In the contrary, you are diversifying things and honoring Mexican culture in such a genuine and respectful way. I think that in this moment it is so important that we don't segregate ourselves, and instead that we start creating bridges for others to experience different cultures. As long as the culture is being represented in a true and respectful way to me is actually an honor that somebody else would find inspiration from my Mexican culture. Like the quote “imitation is the best form of flattery”.
Angela: Yes, and I think that as an immigrant then you don't have a choice. At some point you’re going to mix with other cultures. I mean, I get asked by a lot of my white friends like, do you think this cultural appropriation? I don't think so, like if this is speaking to you in a way that is important by all means let it color your
life. I think for me it’s very important, I have made an effort over the years to honor Mexican cuisine, but also I've made an effort to honor southern tradition and southern flavors. I’m always thinking of ways where we can meet in the middle. And the more you look at it the more I’ve realized that we actually are eating the same things. In America, however you want to divide it; it’s all a continuous continent. And there was a lot of trading back and forth of the same things that we eat. There are a lot of beans everywhere. There's a lot of corn everywhere. There’s also certain combination of flavors that you might find here in the south, as well as in Mexico or Colombia. So for me that's been really beautiful to be able to discover that.
Me: I agree, also I think that’s what makes us truly American. We're a melting pot, for example even though I’ve lived for half of my life in Mexico now I'm no longer just Mexican. So if I create something it's not just going to be Mexican is going to be a mixture of all the different cultures that I’ve experienced here in the US. My mentor, who is like a father to me, is black and he has taught me so much about African American history. Now I feel myself drawn to his culture. He's from Louisiana and there was a big Fresh and Spanish influence there. So there is food that he experienced growing up that is very similar to the one in Mexico. So part of being American is having different cultures mix one way or another.
Angela: Yeah, I think it's important to note that the fear that is represented in discrimination is mainly the fear of the unknown and it's a completely normal human experience. But we shouldn't let that dictate who we are and what we do. Instead we should acknowledge it and be open to learn and grow.
Continue to Part 3: Story of Angela’s restaurant work; what it takes to own and run a restaurant