This piece was written for Dr. Ellen Clark’s upcoming book on pan dulce. Enjoy!
The NALAC Concha
In the middle of the canícula, the Association of Latino Arts and Culture (NALAC) hosts its annual Leadership Institute (NLI) in San Antonio, TX. The conference consists of workshops led by Latino arts leaders from across the country. Eager artists and arts administrators, selected from a group of applicants, convene under the hot Texas sun to learn, network and be inspired to take their work to the next level. My year was 2012. We were the largest class ever with maybe 12-15 fellows. The faculty ranged from leaders of organizations, theatre folks, artists, grant-writers, university professors and writers. One of our favorites was Dr. Tomas Ybarra-Frausto. He taught us the meaning of rasquachismo and other fun cultural theologies but then posed a question that cut right through our very cultural foodie soul. Do you know the names of the pan dulce? Immediately our collective minds raced and came up with a few, conchas, cochinitos, oreja de elefante, and maybe one or two more. Not having visited a panaderia in a long time, memories of my childhood flooded back into my mind. The scent of freshly baked bread and warm sugar teased me in the breeze. My mom surely knows them all and asks for them by name but will I? Meanwhile, we were assigned a gift project. We were to leave a gift to NALAC. It could be anything but something we worked on together as a group in our spare time. So after long mornings, lunches, lectures, and dinner, we met to discuss what we could possible do. We decided to do something with Dr. Frausto’s pan challenge. Several blurted out their special artistic skills and we decided to create a giant concha. Each sugar square would be filled with our individual contribution, a poem, drawing, wish, etc. As we set out to create, build, and get our hands dirty in a conference room generously opened for us by the hotel, we spent long late-night hours working on the project. Once the concha had its shape, we needed to find a spot to spray paint it. We decided to head up to the top of the hotel parking garage, found a spot to place it and let our skilled spray painter from East LA take charge. Soon enough, the cops show up. We had nowhere to run and no time to cover up our concha so we waited. As they approached we noticed they were raza. Ok, there’s hope we won’t wind up needing bail money. As we started to explain our project of remembering the names of the panes, the cops turned from authority figures into family. They were in awe of our project and reminisced about their pan dulce memories. They smiled, wished us luck and left. At commencement, we brought out the giant concha, still smelling of the adventures of the night before, sticky with glue and glitter. We took a ton of pics and gifted the piece to NALAC. The piece was a little too big for their small office so it’s probably somewhere in storage, forgotten, just like some of the names of the pan dulce.