I slam my country so much for being shitheads, that it's about time I said something positive about America. And one of them is indeed its multi-racial/cultural heritage.
But not in that populist, jingoistic way.
Moms came from a big family; they were farmers in the San Joaquin Valley, home to the famous Lindsay olives. My mom's generation, the Nisei (second gen Japanese Americans), were generally not that well off; many were hard laborers, gardners and, like in the case of my family, farmers. To the rest of the world, California is the land of Hollywood and liberal kooks, but little do they know that you don't have to go far here to get to the country. That's Lindsay. Think "Hooterville" and "Green Acres" and "Bugtussle" and "Hee Haw." Well, maybe it's not that hardcore, but you get the picture.
Moms was the second to the youngest of nine, my Auntie F was number 6 I believe. I mention Auntie F here because she happened to marry a black man and she herself, in taking after her mother, raise 8 kids. They're all terrificly talented, educated and just plain good peeps. My cousin Joey, who's close to me in age, is one of the funniest muthaphukas.
So the story goes like this; The W's - Auntie F's family - were in town from Chi, where she and Uncle J met at the University of Chicago. Some years earlier, their good neighbors from Chi moved out to LA, so, we had a huge pow wow at the Jones' house. They too were black.
This all leads to "Papa Joe", my uncle's father, who also was in attendance. I only met him a handful of times, but I remember him being very slender, tall, and sort of regal, not in a haughty way, but down-home, if that makes any sense. And, as I recall, he made the gumbo for our pow wow.
The picture of the bowl in front of me is one of very dark soup, like a gun-metal grey, with a lot of stuff in it. I taste it - endorphin rush!!! I asked Papa Joe what is this? And he tells me it's gumbo.
And then the line that sticks in my memory; "That's dirty water gumbo." I look back at the bowl; yup, it looks like dirty water. Perfect. Man, that shit tasted gooooood. Like Little Richard says: "It makes ma big toe shoot up in ma boot!"
But being in LA, there's no Louisiana style cooking here, and specifically Cajun. I've been lucky enough to have been in "Nawlins," and tasted some good stuff.
Which brings the trip to gumbo as a multi-cultural signifier, being from Cajun, French, Native American, and black/African (the name itself is African derived) influences, and Justin Wilson. He had a show on PBS many moons ago, and although I am a city-slicker, I loved watching but more, listening to him. The play in language is something else, and his accent is the freeze. There's plenty of his stuff on Google Video, although the quality's uneven at best, and although he's gone, he has a site. Anyway, ole' JW, that dude made some down home shit and was really entertaining.
Gumbo is one of the great things about America and although it's simplistic to say, really is a melting pot. Fish's family every other year makes gumbo, and man we pig out like crazy - like this past holiday. While I prefer crab in mine, fire up the J-Dub video below and listen to him brew up some chicken gumbo. But not before a story treat, of course.
I think Renee and I are getting fired up to make some.
And that's what ahm gonna did. That's for true.