When we sit down to a plate of enchiladas or fideo, we often don’t take note of the history behind what’s on that plate. But the University of Texas at San Antonio does.
The UTSA Libraries Special Collections has incorporated a Mexican cookbook collection of over 1,500 books, including one dating back to 1789. A recent addition to that collection shares recipes from one of the invisible, but ever-present groups of workers at the university.
Erlinda Castillo, a member of UTSA’s operations and maintenance staff, and a group of other UTSA housekeepers have created a collection of cookbooks known as “Rincón de los Antojos,” roughly translated as “Cravings Corner.” The books contain recipes reflective of their culture and upbringing.
Castillo’s book is brightly decorated and includes recipes for enchiladas, rice with chicken, and the favorite Mexican noodle dish fideo. They’re recipes she learned from her mother.
Sofia Nieto, another member of the UTSA operations and maintenance staff, created a smaller book cut into the shape of a bay leaf, which, she said, “is the ingredient that gives it most of the flavor.”
The idea for creating this unique collection of cookbooks grew out of what, on the surface, was an entirely unrelated experience Erlinda Castillo encountered at a meeting in 2012.
The housekeeping staff was told it would have to clock-in using computers. That announcement was met with fear and trepidation.
Castillo said the staff didn’t “know nothing about what button to push.”
So, while making her rounds across campus, Castillo happened upon Ilna Colemere, instruction technology coordinator with UTSA’s College of Education and Human Development.
Castillo asked Colemere if she would teach her about computers. Colemere agreed to teach not just Castillo about computers, but the whole housekeeping staff.
“Oh, thank god,” Castillo said. “... All housekeeping is going to learn (the) computer now. When she told me, tears came out of my eyes.”
That computer training program came to be known as Erlinda’s Wish. Since its inception, over 100 housekeepers on campus have been keeping up with their computer and English-speaking skills.
Those skills went into the creation and design of this unique collection of cookbooks.
Colemere said the program is the first of its kind. “It all began with one question from one voice: Erlinda’s,” she said.
Agnieszka Czeblakov, rare books librarian at the UTSA Libraries Special Collections, said the Erlinda’s Wish cookbooks represent voices that are traditionally not included in archival or special collections.
“It’s important to give an opportunity for folks like our housekeepers to express their identity, their stories, their histories, their culinary traditions and preserve them for the future,” Czeblakov said.
Colemere said the Erlinda’s Wish program has given the university housekeepers a voice, though she disagrees with the description of “housekeeper.”
“That is not their identity,” Colemere said. “They are philosophers; they are artists; they’re poets — we have a poet among them; they’re problem solvers; innovators; critical thinkers; they’re collaborators. They’re amazingly talented. ‘Housekeeper’ is not their identity.”
That fear and trepidation Castillo initially felt when told she was going to have to learn how to clock in using a computer is now a thing of the past. “I know what button to push,” she said. “You want to look at the flowers, just put ‘roses.’ I know how to do that.”
And Sofia Nieto took satisfaction in knowing her cookbook will be available for research and study for generations of UTSA students.
“I know my grandsons and my great-great grandsons can come to UTSA and have part of me here because they can find my book here,” Nieto said. “... I’m so excited and so happy.”