USC Dornsife Distinguished Professor of American Studies and Ethnicity and MacArthur Fellow Natalia Molina joins Evan Kleiman to discuss her latest book, “A Place at the Nayarit: How a Mexican Restaurant Nourished a Community.” The book tells the story of Molina’s grandmother and the restaurant she owned in Echo Park, and how it became a cherished landmark and hub for the Mexican community, for both workers and customers.
The author will donate all 2022 proceeds from the book to No Us Without You, which provides food relief to undocumented hospitality workers who have been disenfranchised by the pandemic.
Excerpt from A Place at the Nayarit by Natalia Molina
Placemaking at Restaurants
The ethnic Mexicans who worked and ate at the Nayarit were not just putting food on the table or into their mouths. They were creating meaning, estab- lishing links with one another, and tending to roots both old and new. They were also asserting their place in a nation that often seemed intent on push- ing them to the margins: the fields, the barrio, the kitchen, or back across the border altogether.
At the Nayarit and places like it, immigrants lived out values of mutuality, public sociability, and collectivity. The restaurant provided immigrant workers and customers with the familiarity of home and a ready-made social network, offering local history, introductions, and information about how to navigate the system—all invaluable assets for newcomers attempting to negotiate a large, daunting foreign city. The resources and networks available there allowed working people to assume full identities that went beyond who they were as laborers. At the restaurant, immigrants might not feel any more American (nor was that necessarily their goal), but they were insiders.
Excerpted from A Place at the Nayarit: How a Mexican Restaurant Nourished a Community © 2022 Natalia Molina. Reprinted with permission of the publisher, University of California Press. All rights reserved.