By Kate H. Elliott
Meet Esau Martinez: He is a graduate student at Ball State. His wife, Violeta, is a postdoctoral fellow at IUPUI, doing clinical research in pharmacology. When he arrived in Indianapolis in 2015, it took him 7 months to secure a work permit, so he decided to volunteer at Indy Reads to mentor students seeking a high school diploma and to teach English to refugees from Burma.
“While helping refugees, I realized how difficult it is to adapt to a new country and the importance of learning the language,” said Martinez, who will graduate with a master’s degree in English, specializing in teaching English to speakers of other languages. “Immigrants bring new energy and assets to a host country, but they need help getting their feet under them and on the right path.”
His visa soon expires, and—given the political climate—he does not anticipate it will be renewed. But while he is here, the Oaxaca native said he will continue to give presentations and form meaningful friendships to improve others’ perceptions of his homeland:
“Mexico has problems and challenges: Our political leaders have not fulfilled the expectations of the citizens who elected them, which has resulted in crime, insecurity, corruption and poverty, etc., the problems of many countries,” Martinez said. “We are generalized in stories as illegals and Mexico is portrayed as little more than a violent country. When I mention I am from Mexico, the first question I’m asked is, ‘it dangerous there?’
However, Martinez said, Mexico is a tourist hub, with almost one million American citizens enjoying the country’s mix of cultures, linguistic diversity, art and literature. Martinez said he often shares his culture through food. When he wants to taste the flavors of home, he makes his grandmother’s enfrijoladas, a comforting blend of black beans and peppers wrapped in corn tortillas and topped with cheese and black bean sauce.
“My grandmother would carefully pick ingredients in the market, then cook all day in the kitchen, and that smell and those explosions of flavors are my childhood,” he said. “To best describe our food, I’ll quote Mexican author, Carlos Fuentes: ‘Mexican cuisine was a separate constellation, moving in the celestial vaults of the palate with their own trajectories, with their own planets, satellites, comets, fireballs and, like space itself, infinite.’”
Martinez is one ofBall State’s nearly 650 international students, representing 34 countries, who often share their culture through small-group presentations and larger events, including the annual Amazing Taste, which draws hundreds of people to Ball State’s L.A. Pittenger Student Center to sample flavors and experience traditions from across the globe. For more information about the university’s cultural programs, go to bsu.edu/rinkercenter.
- 1 batch Chipotle Black Bean Sauce (see below)
- corn or flour tortillas
- your favorite fillings (ex: cooked diced chicken/steak/pork/shrimp, shredded cheese, roasted vegetables, etc.)
- your favorite toppings (ex: diced avocado, chopped fresh cilantro, crumbled queso fresco, diced red onion, Mexican crema or sour cream, fresh lime wedges etc.)
- fresh lime wedges
Black bean sauce ingredients:
- 2 (15-ounce) cans black beans, rinsed and drained
- 4 cloves garlic, peeled
- 2 chipotles in adobo sauce, or more to taste
- 2 cups chicken or vegetable stock
- 1/2 cup diced white onion
- 1 1/2 teaspoons ground cumin
- 1/2 teaspoon oregano (I recommend Mexican oregano, if available)
- 1/2 teaspoon salt, or more to taste
To make the enfrijoladas:
- Heat oven to 350 F.
- Spread 1/2 cup of the prepared black bean sauce evenly over the bottom of a 9 x 13-inch baking dish. Pour the remainder of the black bean sauce in a large bowl. Set aside.
- If using corn tortillas, warm the tortillas either in the microwave, in the oven, or on the stove. Then gently dip a single tortilla in the bowl of black bean sauce until the tortilla is completely coated on each side. Transfer the tortilla to a plate, fill the tortilla with your desired fillings, then roll it up and place it seam-side-down in the baking dish. Repeat with the remaining tortillas and filling.
- Spoon a generous portion of the remaining black bean sauce on top of the rolled tortillas. Bake (uncovered) for 15 minutes.
- Serve immediately, garnished with your favorite toppings. (And I recommend a few generous squeezes of fresh lime juice!)
To make the black bean sauce: Combine all ingredients in a blender or food processor, and puree until smooth. Taste, and season with extra salt if needed. (Also feel free to add in an extra chipotle or a spoonful of extra adobo sauce if you would like a smokier black bean sauce.)