BRITTANY LUSE, HOST:
You're listening to IT'S BEEN A MINUTE from NPR. I'm your host, Brittany Luse. And I want to start today with a big news story that we haven't discussed yet on this show.
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UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER #1: ...South Korea where the death toll now tops 150...
UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER #2: ...Declaring a national period of mourning after a deadly crowd surge...
UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER #3: ...During Halloween celebrations in the capital, Seoul.
LUSE: It was the Friday before Halloween, and what should have been a celebration turned into a tragedy in Seoul, South Korea. We've been following the news because our producer, Janet Woojeong Lee, has a lot of ties to the neighborhood Itaewon, which is home to one of Seoul's most diverse communities.
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LUSE: Janet, I am so glad to have you on mic today. Welcome.
JANET WOOJEONG LEE, BYLINE: Thank you, Brittany.
LUSE: I know you have family in South Korea, but what are your connections to the Itaewon neighborhood?
LEE: I went to an international high school that was very close to Itaewon. And I still have family and friends there, including my older brother, who was actually out that night in Itaewon. And...
LUSE: Oh, wow.
LEE: ...It was a little jarring because I was planning my costume here in New York when I got a little message from my mom that there was this crowd crash in Itaewon. So I remember staying up with my parents, waiting for my brother to come home. And by the time my brother came home, the death tolls were at 45. And by the time my family woke up, the numbers had passed 140, right? It just happened overnight for them, daytime for me. So it's a little complicated to process everything, yeah.
LUSE: These sort of things can really change the neighborhood and change the people that live there. Can you tell me more about the neighborhood?
LEE: It's such a vibrant neighborhood. It's a little, like, chaotic but in a delightful way. So the last time I was there was this May when I was visiting family, and I revisited this jazz bar that's actually where I had my first legal drink.
LEE: But I feel like a lot has changed in the neighborhood since Halloween. And one of my friends I called is John. He lives in Korea. He's a reporter for The New York Times there. He told me the news is definitely still reverberating there, especially among young people.
JOHN YOON: They've always known Itaewon to be a place of celebration and fun, but they also saw the place change into a place of grief. And many of the people who died had classmates and colleagues who might be mourning a dear friend now. And the nights are a bit quieter. The main subway station is now covered in memorials of flowers and handwritten letters bidding goodbye to their friends. I'm not sure when the Itaewon that we all know will come back.
LUSE: I want to talk about the neighborhood of Itaewon itself. You mentioned that you spent a lot of your late teens and some of your younger days, I guess, there. What makes the neighborhood so culturally important?
LEE: Itaewon is a neighborhood that generally attracts a lot of young people, but the neighborhood also has a really rich history. So it's actually really close to the U.S. military base that was occupied during World War II in South Korea. And from that, there still remains a large English-speaking, non-Korean community, a lot of military folks, foreign media people, English teachers. And one of my friends from high school who spent much of her young adulthood there describes it as hectic, lovely.
UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: Itaewon is the place where Turkish people speak Korean, and Korean people speak German, and German people speak English to get around. It's the place where difference is accepted and appreciated in a way that is not very common in a country as homogenous as Korea.
LEE: Someone I checked in with during this week was Joshua Kim (ph). He's been living in the neighborhood for a long time as well. He says, it's a place where I feel like I can always meet somebody that I can relate to.
JOSHUA KIM: I think it's, like, a safe space for all the people who don't necessarily fit into Korean culture or, like, are the norm of Korean society, right? There's a huge immigrant community there, trans and queer community.
LEE: Because it's a neighborhood that attracts a lot of young people coming in and out, I think the people who really find community and home in Itaewon following this accident on Halloween were really worried that Itaewon would get sort of this bad rep.
KIM: Itaewon has really become, like, my safe haven. It's a really welcoming place to a lot of people out there, and I don't want this news of Itaewon to paint Itaewon in a bad picture.
LEE: So that's another thing that I feel like we don't hear as much.
LUSE: Janet, you wanted to take time to share the story about this neighborhood on our show. What is it that you want people to know that the news isn't covering?
LEE: I think it's been really interesting processing all of this from afar. And I want to look back and hear from people who have these memories about Itaewon who are still living through the tragedy in South Korea or through loved ones they have there. So, yeah, thank you, Brittany, for giving me the space to do that.
LUSE: Thank you, Janet, for joining us today. I really appreciate this.
That's our producer, Janet Woojeong Lee.
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LUSE: On today's show, we're looking beyond the continental U.S. and digging deeper into stories from around the world, from a legendary soccer player from Argentina to the culinary history of Puerto Rico. That's coming up right after this break.
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LUSE: The World Cup kicks off this weekend. And while a tournament like this always has a ton of stories swirling around it, one of the biggest questions surrounding this year's event is whether or not Lionel Messi is finally going to bring home the trophy for Argentina. Messi, of course, is considered one of the greatest ever to play the game.
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UNIDENTIFIED ANNOUNCER #1: (Non-English language spoken).
JASMINE GARSD, BYLINE: Yeah. People talk about him like the GOAT, the god. He's the god of soccer.
LUSE: That's journalist Jasmine Garsd. She's the host of NPR's new podcast, The Last Cup, which follows the lead up to what may well be Messi's final attempt to win the World Cup.
What is the most intense example of Messi fandom that you've found?
GARSD: There's this video right now that's been circling the soccer social media world. I guess in - it's in Bangladesh.
LUSE: In Bangladesh, like, as in not Argentina?
GARSD: No. He's, like, beloved in Bangladesh. And they've been trying to erect a cardboard figurine of him that is, like, 50 feet tall. It's like the height of a highway billboard.
LUSE: Oh, my gosh.
GARSD: Yeah, it's huge. But it keeps, like, folding in two.
GARSD: So his head - his cardboard head keeps...
LUSE: Aw, falling.
GARSD: ...Kind of falling on his belly button, but - yeah, just stunned by how beloved he is - like, beloved.
LUSE: Jasmine is from Argentina, and she's very familiar with how Messi was doubted and distrusted in his home country, even as he reached the heights of stardom around the world.
GARSD: For the longest time back home, the disrespect was wild. Like, he was not liked.
LUSE: Today, Jasmine takes us through Messi's story, which goes way beyond sports to issues of immigration, race, class and belonging. But first, a little context about why soccer is such a huge part of the culture in Argentina.
GARSD: Argentina, like Brazil, like Uruguay, has produced players that are almost otherworldly. And so you start to expect that. I think soccer is also an escape valve. Like, I grew up in a soccer neighborhood, next to a soccer stadium. And, you know, every time there was a game, it was, like, this delirious, carnivalesque joy. And also, you knew the police might come in and really crack down. It was very intense when there was a soccer game, and it's, like, a place where people can scream. And they can fight, and they can have joy. Certainly, it was that for me. In the podcast, we talk a lot about, like, soccer dreams, which...
GARSD: ...Is kind of, like, almost like hoop dreams...
GARSD: ...You know, like in the U.S.
LUSE: Yeah. I don't know. It makes me think of the "Hoop Dreams" documentary from the '90s that kind of outlines basketball as this, quote-unquote, "way out."
LUSE: Like, what the game itself represents is, like, a means of getting...
LUSE: ...From where you are to where you want to go.
GARSD: Absolutely. We talk a lot about the dream, (non-English language spoken), in the podcast. And it's 100% a dream about economic progress in countries that are just stuck in a system where economic advancement is really difficult, and poverty is very racialized. Part of the dream is, well, maybe I can be a soccer player, and I can get out of this station in life. And it's something we talk about in episode four with Maradona, right? Like, he's, like, the ultimate dream.
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UNIDENTIFIED ANNOUNCER #2: ...The way that Maradona has been able to do.
UNIDENTIFIED ANNOUNCER #2: (Inaudible).
GARSD: Diego Maradona is from Argentina. He's considered one of the best soccer players of all time and most controversial. Messi is forever existing, like, in the shadow of his greatness.
LUSE: I mean, it's like Michael Jordan. It doesn't matter if you're LeBron James. There's always going to be Michael Jordan.
GARSD: Right. Maradona represents a really different experience of Argentina. Like, Maradona is a kid from, like, abject poverty, from the slums. He's a brown kid in a country that, you know, values Europeanness a lot. And the fact that he made it so far makes him a folk hero. And Messi for a very long time was seen as, like, OK. He left really young. He becomes a superstar in Europe, and then he comes back to play, you know, in the World Cup. And forever - I mean, for the bulk of his career, he would come back and play, and it would be awful. We would lose. He would have all kinds of breakdowns. Like, people would find him in the locker room in a fetal position crying. He would just have total meltdowns. And I think the public sentiment was, well, why is he so good with Europe, but he's not good with us? Maybe he's not from here.
LUSE: Right. So I want to talk about - like, about how Messi got to Europe. Like, so, in his life, there were both pushes and pulls for Messi to move to Spain. I want to talk about the geopolitics that acted to sort of push Messi out of Argentina.
GARSD: I love that you picked up on this. So what you have going on is, you know, by the late '90s, Argentina is starting to spiral into just one of the worst crisis of its history.
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UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER #4: In 2001, Argentina's economy collapsed. Millions were left unemployed and penniless as banks lost people's savings.
GARSD: And Messi has a hormonal deficiency. Like, his family realizes early on, when he's 8 or 9, he's just not going to grow. And what happens by 2001, the health care system collapses. Suddenly, chemotherapy treatments are interrupted. There's no insulin, and there's certainly no hormonal treatments. And meanwhile, European soccer is getting richer than ever 'cause of cable, among other things.
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UNIDENTIFIED ANNOUNCER #3: Oh, I tell you what, (inaudible) is going to chance for France. It's a goal.
LUSE: Oh, so they can get their viewership up bigger than they had ever imagined before.
GARSD: It's huge. Suddenly, you have a broadcast, and it's - you know, it's not just this local team that, like, you and your two friends and your grandpa are watching.
GARSD: Everyone's watching it, which is more sponsorship, more advertising, more everything. You also have, like, building of big stadiums. And finally, there was a cap on how many foreigners could play on a team. In the '90s, those rules got softened, which opens for this influx of foreign players.
GARSD: And you get, like, these scouts that start talking to young kids in South America. We talked to some of Messi's companeritos, his teammates, who, like, were being approached at age 10, 11. You want to go to Spain?
LUSE: It's a huge question for somebody at that age.
GARSD: Yeah, no, it's tremendous. I mean, the Messi family realizes, you know, if we want this kid to have a shot at being this athlete, we should go to Spain.
LUSE: You know, talk to me about, I guess, the converse of that, like, the dream of, you know, phenomenal soccer players from places like Argentina.
GARSD: The last 30 years have had a huge impact on the quality of Latin American soccer because if you're very talented, if you're good, you're going to go play abroad as soon as you can.
GARSD: And the result is these Latin American teams become, like, feeder teams. They're, like, the B-teams, right? And they feed European teams, basically. Granted, kids who are leaving to Europe are leaving with, like, really juicy contracts a lot of times, but most of them are not going to become Messi, right? I met many men in Argentina who had left as kids with great promises. And then it didn't happen for them, and they didn't have an education in anything else. Like, how many Messis can there be in a generation?
LUSE: That's a really good question, and it seems like it's kind of, like, a once or twice in a generation type of talent. But I imagine, though, like, upon discovery of Messi, there being maybe some sort of a sensation, like, OK, we found this one. (Laughter) Are there more? I wonder, like, was Messi, like, a tipping point for, like, when that started to shift?
GARSD: Yeah, we - I spoke to a - this Uruguayan lawyer who specializes in these kind of young soccer players going off to Europe, and he was telling me, like, if you're a European club - right? - and you can find Cristiano Ronaldo at 13...
GARSD: ...Before any other club discovers him and you can train him and mold him to play the way you want him to, that is so much cheaper than having to get into a bidding war...
GARSD: ...With all these other European clubs over an established star.
LUSE: So interesting. You know, you mentioned some of the - like, the economic trickiness or slipperiness with that from the perspective of, like, the player, right?
LUSE: But it also makes me think about your local neighborhood teams where they're investing in these young players. And then they get up to a certain point, and then that's when European teams would like to step in. Without having to invest from day one, they can sort of swoop in and take the best players.
GARSD: Yeah. There was - when I spoke to local coaches, there was such a, like, melancholy about that. You know, there was - like, oh, you know, we used to be a place where soccer talents stayed. And the dream was to play for us. But now it's - the dream is to leave. And I remember going to Messi's hometown and speaking to kids, like, 8-year-olds. You know, and I was like, what's the dream? And they were like, Manchester United.
GARSD: I even had one kid who was, like, euros. That's the dream.
LUSE: Like, the currency.
GARSD: The currency. And it made me personally sad, and I think it's a really powerful metaphor for the state of things, you know? The dream would be to leave, and it's - for all the dreams, there's a lot of nightmares. You know, when I started on this podcast, I had just finished doing a story for the anniversary of Biggie Smalls, and somebody was explaining the concept of rap battles back in, like, the '80s and '90s. First, you had to be famous on your block, and then you had to be famous, like, really - like, in your neighborhood and then nationally. But you couldn't jump all these steps because then you just lost your cred.
That's what happened with Messi. He just never became neighborhood famous. He just got picked up by Europe, and he left. And so that's really the problem - like, the basic problem he faces when he's coming back. He has no credibility. You know, it's not his fault. That's also what really drew me to Messi's story, which is just, like, he really wants that love and respect. He wants to know that people back home still got him. And for, like, 20-some years, he could not get it. People back home were like, go impress the Europeans. We're not impressed. And that's so painful. I think anyone who leaves home - there's something there that resonates.
LUSE: I want to go back to something that you were saying about, you know, Messi having, like, emotional blocks to winning the World Cup and, like, crying in the locker room. Take me back to that moment, like - or what was said to be behind that moment.
GARSD: Anyone who has left home knows that over the years, you, like, mythologize it, right?
GARSD: You're like, it's the best place with the best food.
LUSE: You're only remembering the good things. Yeah.
GARSD: Yeah. And then when he has a chance to go back, like, he does it with so much pride and so much joy. And as many of us who have gone back either to visit or just gone back know, when you go back home, it's complicated. You don't even have to be from another country, like, I was talking to this friend who's from California - from a small town in California, and, you know, he was like, ah, I can really relate 'cause every time I go back home, my family's not that impressed with me.
GARSD: Everyone can relate to, like, going back home, and, like, you've achieved all this stuff, and then, you know, your mom or your grandma is like, yeah, but why aren't you married?
GARSD: Bobby's married. Why - what about you?
LUSE: It's never enough.
GARSD: It's never enough. So the breakdowns, I think, were about just feeling, like, oh my God, I've disappointed everybody in this place that has - like, almost, like, a mythological place in my heart. And you could see it, like, physically, like, he would just have these breakdowns that - you know, is almost, like, hard to write about them 'cause I would be watching the footage and being like, this man is suffering.
LUSE: Like, it's painful to watch.
LUSE: For a player as good as Messi is, what are the stakes of him representing Argentina in the World Cup in general?
GARSD: I mean, the World Cup, first of all, is a huge honor. But I think for him, it also represents the respect of home, and I think that the Messi story - to bring it to now, he's really beloved now in Argentina, and that's, like, where the podcast is going. He finally does earn the love of his home country. He finally, like, weathers this decades-long storm, and he gets the respect of his home country.
LUSE: I think for a while, it was said that it was going to be his last World Cup, and then - I don't know. I'm like, is he trying to pull a Tom Brady...
LUSE: ...And come back? I don't know. But this very well could be Messi's last ever World Cup, and he's never been able to grab the win for Argentina. Do you think he'll be able to do it this time?
GARSD: I think this is the best iteration. Like, I mean, I've seen footage of '86. And this is, like, the best iteration of the Argentine squad that I've ever seen. Maybe it sounds like a cop out. I - the fact that he's playing with a team that loves him so much and that people back home love and respect him - that's the homecoming. Like, can you win the World Cup? I don't know. I mean, there's so much that you don't control in soccer. But he's reached this point where he is home.
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LUSE: That was NPR's Jasmine Garsd. Her new podcast, "The Last Cup," follows soccer star Lionel Messi as he tries to win the World Cup for his home country, Argentina. Coming up, we go from Argentina to the cuisine of Puerto Rico for a conversation that'll tickle your taste buds. Stay tuned.
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LUSE: So for all of you who don't know, my husband, my man, my rock is from Puerto Rico. And over the years, I've learned a little bit about Puerto Rican culture and not just from him but because Puerto Rican influence is everywhere - all over fashion, art, theater and music. I mean, Bad Bunny is the biggest artist in the world.
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BAD BUNNY: (Inaudible).
LUSE: And he's from Puerto Rico. My next guest, Illyanna Maisonet, noticed that Puerto Rican food doesn't have that same regard despite Puerto Ricans living all over the world.
ILLYANNA MAISONET: Hi.
LUSE: Hi. It's so nice to meet you.
And I have been waiting so long, so long, for her new book, "Diasporican."
I am so excited to talk to you today. I don't even think you know.
LUSE: I have said that I think "Diasporican" has James Beard Award winner written all over it.
MAISONET: From your mouth to God's ears (laughter).
LUSE: Look, I hope he's - I hope they're listening. I hope they're listening. That's all I have to say.
MAISONET: I'm super superstitious. Like, I'm not a little stitious, but I am superstitious. Like, I don't like to put those things out in the universe because I know that the universe in my experience has a way of balancing things out. And just when I'm like, yeah, I think this might work. I think that - OK. The universe like, yeah, no. Humbled.
LUSE: Alright, well, I'll be the one to do it for you then.
LUSE: I'm doing it for you. This is my - this is what I'm saying, universe. This is coming from Brittany.
MAISONET: Consider yourself humbled.
LUSE: I'm not kidding. I really think "Diasporican" stands out from the rest. It's got mouthwatering recipes. I can't stop staring at the insanely delicious pictures. The cover of the book features arepas de coco, which has fried pastry stuffed full of octopus and shrimp and cucumbers and onion. I'm getting hungry. But "Diasporican's" also got depth, and Illyanna gets into where Puerto Rican food comes from and how it's evolved as Puerto Ricans have spread around the world.
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LUSE: What did you want people to understand or learn about the Puerto Rican diaspora from reading and cooking through your book?
MAISONET: I mean, the same thing that I feel like most BIPOCs want to convey is that we're not a monolith. However you want to identify to me, all of those are OK because essentially, when you are in Puerto Rico, though, and you ask somebody what they are, they never say, you know, I'm this. I'm white. I'm Black. They don't really - they don't say that. They will make you take the time to understand that they are all three - European, Indigenous and African.
LUSE: I'm glad you bring up the all three because you spend a good amount of time at the beginning of the book getting into the Taino, the Spanish, the African influences that are present throughout the cooking that's happening in the book. But talk to me about those influences, the Taino, the Spanish, the African that are the backbone of Puerto Rican cuisine.
MAISONET: Well, you know, it's really hard to talk about Puerto Rican food without mentioning all three. When the Spanish came, they brought rice with them. And they thought that because the Taino were great at growing corn that they would be able to grow rice. And they were like, we don't know what this is. Like, you know, like, we can try, but, you know, we don't know what this is. Whatever. So it really didn't do that well. It wasn't until they brought the enslaved Africans - because they had already came from rice culture. They were like, oh, yeah, we know what that is.
MAISONET: We know what to do. And then bam. And now when you look at the - when you look at recipes - at Puerto Rican recipes, like, all that's, like, all three of them interconnected together.
LUSE: It's all on the plate.
LUSE: I went to Puerto Rico for the first time before I went to New Orleans for the first time. I was in New Orleans, and it was like my brain was making these connections (laughter). I was like...
LUSE: ...It's a really unique mix, but there still seems like there's a similarity between, like, Louisiana Creole cooking and Puerto Rican Criollo food. It was, like, my - yeah, it was - I was tasting it, and I was like, whoa (laughter).
MAISONET: Well, I'm sure you know the answer. Colonization. Slavery.
LUSE: Exactly. Exactly. Exactly.
MAISONET: Even when I went to New Orleans, even parts of it remind me - like, the French Quarter reminded me of old San Juan.
MAISONET: You know what I mean? And I was like, first of all, damn, it's hot here like in Puerto Rico. I hate that.
MAISONET: And, sometimes, the food that they're serving you - I'm like, this is Puerto Rican food. Like, why are you giving me Puerto Rican food? I came here to eat what people were saying was Creole food, and you just gave me Puerto Rican food. OK.
LUSE: (Laughter) You know, you mentioned that you don't like the heat, the humidity, and that could be because you are from the West Coast, where you say in the book, you know, no one really knows anything about Puerto Rican food, sometimes not even Puerto Ricans.
LUSE: But your upbringing in Sacramento is also what influenced your Cali-Rican cooking style. What recipe in the book is the most reflective of Cali-Rican food?
MAISONET: I think the one recipe in the book that is very indicative of that is the Puerto Rican laab.
LUSE: Right. I thought that was such an interesting addition.
MAISONET: It's like a nonrecipe recipe. Like, it's something that I've been making - I just don't think about it, you know, until you're - until the publisher forces you to write a headnote.
LUSE: And then you're like, this is what this is.
LUSE: This is how I got here.
MAISONET: You know, like, I - when my mom kicked me out, and I was, like, 15 or 16, and I went to go live with my friend Lottie - and, of course, she was living with her family because we're teenagers, so they just cooked Laos food. That's all they cooked - was Lao food. And, you know, I was eating, like, a lot of, like, papaya salad and, you know, like, a lot of grilled meats and stuff like that, a lot of herbs. My spice tolerance definitely had to, like - you know, I had to build that up because they eat very, very spicy. And when she would make laab - when her sister, who was a really good cook - her sister Pani would make laab, she would, like, you know, use, like, ground pork and stuff like that. But they use, like, you know, a lot of shallots, a lot of basil, a lot of tomato, you know, a lot of peppers. While I'm watching, I'm just like, this is kind of interesting because essentially, these are all, like, ingredients that go into sofrito. They might not be like Thai bird chilies, but we still use peppers. You know, we don't use shallots, but you could. We just use onions.
MAISONET: You know, and I'm like, I wonder if I can just use sofrito and see how it comes out.
MAISONET: I personally could not tell the difference other than it not being spicy.
LUSE: Wow. Wow. I mean, I guess that is - but that's a big difference, but it's just one difference. That's interesting. The flavor profile was that closely connected?
LUSE: And then there you go. That's your Cali-Rican dish. It's like you got the influence of what's grown in the area, and also who are the other folks that you're living around? And also who are the other folks who are also kind of on their own diasporic adventure...
LUSE: ...Trying to adapt to whatever is in the area that you're in?
LUSE: I get the sense that you're one of the few people cooking in what would be characterized as Cali-Rican. How did you develop this style of cooking?
MAISONET: I don't think that I did.
MAISONET: I mean, I don't think that anybody who belongs to the diaspora develops a style of cooking. It just comes from necessity. It comes from economic necessity. It comes from geographic necessity. Like, to me, the way that I'm cooking is no different than, you know, Puerto Ricans cooking in Hawaii. They still use olives, but they use black olives. I still use the green Spanish olives that my grandma used. I'm looking at that - like, that is extremely wild. Like, oh, my God, like, black olives. Like, ahh. But canned black olives is what they have access to...
MAISONET: ...And it doesn't necessarily mean that the flavor profile has changed at all because it's still, like, that brininess that a lot of the Puerto Rican dishes need because it can be kind of - some of them can be very heavy, you know? So it's no different than - really, the only difference is just the - how you're looking at it, like, the aesthetics of it. So I don't think - I didn't develop anything. Like, it just is.
LUSE: It just is. Your family's all throughout the book, and the recipes that you share in the book were developed at home and in Puerto Rico. You know, your mom was a huge part of that. But also, there's so many other family members that you mention whose names you invoke across all the pages. Which recipe in the book is the closest to your family?
MAISONET: I would probably say pasteles. There's kind of, like, a trifecta that goes into, like, a Christmas Puerto Rican plate, and that's pernil, arroz con gandules and pasteles. Those are the three things that I feel like Puerto Ricans will ask for the most because it's - we only get it during the holidays, you know?
LUSE: Right. I mean, like, pernil, Illyanna, is just this huge, beautiful piece of juicy pork, crispy skin on the outside and the meat on the inside. I mean, like, I wish I could get my husband to make it every weekend...
LUSE: ...But that's not a real possibility.
MAISONET: You know, pasteles are, like, the most laborious.
LUSE: So for those who are not in the know, pasteles look kind of like tamales. They're wrapped in banana leaves and stuffed with plantain masa and maybe pork or chicken.
MAISONET: They take a lot of time. They take a lot of hands. They take a lot of ingredients. They take a lot of time.
LUSE: Why is it that recipe that's the closest to your family, of the recipes in the book?
MAISONET: I feel like pasteles might be one of the oldest Puerto Rican recipes. I feel - now, there's obviously no - I couldn't find any documentation that, you know, would support that assumption, but it's also the recipe that there's always, like, that one person in the family who is, like, the pastele maker.
LUSE: Yeah. And they can, like, sell them at the holidays.
MAISONET: Exactly. And if that person or that craft is lost, somebody's going to have to step up. And if nobody steps up, then that means now an entire family has forgotten how to make pasteles, and now you're buying them from the local lady. And that's fine, but then that means that that recipe literally no longer exists in your family. Now, if nobody steps up for, like, two, three, four generations, the one thing that I personally feel Puerto Ricans feel a connection to, which is food, you - now you've lost that. So if you come here and now you're, like, four generations deep here in the United States and now you've, like - you don't have your homeland. Maybe the kids have - no longer know the language. Now you also don't have the food. What else is there? And, you know, who are you now? What is it? And because pasteles are so hard to make, I feel like that's, like, the first thing that Puerto Ricans are like, hey, like, I'm not going to make them. I'm just going to buy them from the lady.
LUSE: And you're saying that it's important to keep that tie, keep that thread alive.
MAISONET: I mean, unless you're trying to assimilate, then yeah.
LUSE: Now, in thinking about the diaspora. So I mentioned my husband's born and raised in PR, and his dad is also from Puerto Rico. But his mom is from New York, and we recently went to go visit my in-laws a couple weeks ago in PR. And I brought your book over, and I was sitting with my mother-in-law. And she turned over every page in the book, and she was talking about which recipes felt similar to her own and which one she wanted to try. She was like, oh, mushroom chicken. She was like, I'm going to try that one.
MAISONET: Which is obviously not a Puerto Rican recipe.
LUSE: But it looks good, though. It looks good. You said that this isn't a Puerto Rican cookbook but a cookbook - you say this in the book - for the 5.5 million Puerto Ricans who live stateside. What does it mean to you to have this book read, cooked and enjoyed by so many other members of the diaspora?
MAISONET: Well, you know, I feel like a lot of people in the diaspora don't feel seen. I also know that a lot of the what I call the purity Ricans...
LUSE: Purity Ricans?
MAISONET: Yeah. Like, you know, those are the ones that are like, if you don't speak Spanish, you're not Puerto Rican. If you don't live here, you're not Puerto Rican. If you aren't born here, you're not Puerto Rican. Like, they have a list of these things that make absolutely no sense that create the divide between them and us. And in a way, I get it because it's like, we're not going through the same struggles that you guys are going through. We don't have to deal with LUMA. We don't have to deal with the natural disasters like, you know, Maria, Fiona. You know, we don't have to deal with those type of things.
But - and I know that a lot of Puerto Ricans here and stateside struggle with that. I know that a lot of them didn't feel seen because they come out, and they tell me that, you know, all the time now. When I posted my book - like, the first time I posted my book on TikTok, I remember a woman came, and she was like, you know, will this book be printed in English? Because I don't speak Spanish. I'm like, it's already in English. That's the point. This book is for you. A lot of Puerto Ricans who don't speak the language of their homeland - they feel embarrassed by that. That's just kind of, like, the whole point.
LUSE: I mean, I hope that people pick this book up and use it to cook from this holiday season because...
MAISONET: Yes. Also my turkey, though. Make my Thanksgiving turkey.
LUSE: (Laughter) It's good. The recipe is good. It's really close to my mother-in-law's. She was looking, and she was like, this is just like my turkey.
MAISONET: That's hilarious.
LUSE: (Laughter). Even my family at home 0 they started to want to have pernil and ACG and pasteles at Christmastime. So if we go home to Michigan at Christmas, they're like, put that over here next to the cornbread dressing.
LUSE: Because it all goes together (laughter).
MAISONET: So, I mean, our table looks like that, too, because we're here.
LUSE: Right? And that's what the book is all about.
LUSE: Illyanna, thank you so much.
MAISONET: Aw, thank you for having me. I appreciate it.
LUSE: That was Illyanna Maisonet. Her new cookbook is called "Diasporican." This episode of IT'S BEEN A MINUTE was produced by...
BARTON GIRDWOOD, BYLINE: Barton Girdwood.
LIAM MCBAIN, BYLINE: Liam McBain.
LEE: Janet Woojeong Lee.
JAMILA HUXTABLE, BYLINE: Jamila Huxtable.
LUSE: It was produced and edited by...
JESSICA MENDOZA, BYLINE: Jessica Mendoza.
LUSE: Our editor is...
JESSICA PLACZEK, BYLINE: Jessica Placzek.
LUSE: Our executive producer is...
VERALYN WILLIAMS, BYLINE: Veralyn Williams.
LUSE: Our VP of programming is...
YOLANDA SANGWENI, BYLINE: Yolanda Sangweni.
LUSE: Our senior VP of programming is...
ANYA GRUNDMANN, BYLINE: Anya Grundmann.
LUSE: All right. That's our show for today. See you next week for another episode of IT'S BEEN A MINUTE from NPR. I'm Brittany Luse. Talk soon.
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