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In Texas, I saw the biographical movie Selena, and it helped me understand the Tejano culture.

Selena Quintanilla-Perez, The Queen of Tejano Music

Selena Quintanilla-Perez (1971 – 1995) was a Mexican-American singer also known as the “Queen of the Tejano music” and the Mexican equivalent of Madonna. She was the best selling Latin artist of the 90s and an idol for the Tejanos and the Latin world. Selena was murdered in Corpus Christi, TX just two weeks before her 24 birthday by the president of her fan club, Yolanda Saldivar. Her death was commemorated as a great tragedy by millions of fans. That summer, her new album Dreaming of You, with lyrics both in English and Spanish, became number one in the US Billboard 200, which made it the second highest debut after Michael Jackson’s HIStory.

The movie Selena (starring Jennifer Lopez) was my introduction to the Tejano culture. Tejanos (the Spanish word for Texans) are people of Mexican heritage who live in Texas and whose ancestors arrived there before or during the Texas Revolution. In 2000, they are about 6.7 million or 32% of the population of Texas.  The center of their culture is San Antonio. In general, their music is very close to the Cajun music of Louisiana, to the cowboy country music, or to the Mexican and Latino music. Their cuisine is a mixture of Spanish and American, or more commonly referred to as Tex-Mex: lots of tortillas, enchiladas, fajitas, chili, etc.

I find it very interesting that this is a culture that evolved out of the meeting of two very different peoples. Because the Tejanos live on the crossroads between Mexico and America, Selena has to be very flexible if she wants to send a message to both. The movie portrayed very well the challenges Tejanos have when it comes to cultural assimilation. One quote by Selena’s father really struck me:

We have to be more Mexican than the Mexicans and more American than the Americans, both at the same time! It’s exhausting!

The Selena Memorial in Corpus Christi, TX

Just think about it: Selena has to speak both Spanish and English and to know the customs and values of Mexicans and Ameircans in order to appeal to both and be accepted by both. Because she carries two cultural identities in her, she can never completely assimilate with one or the other. She is meant to live in both cultures simultaneously. And that’s why she has to try twice as hard.

The Tejan dilemma applies to all immigrants, people of mixed backgrounds, and even international students. You have to learn to embrace both of your identities (or both your home and host culture), but also you have to be flexible and bring forth one or the other of them when in the respective environment. In other words, you have to prove to the Mexicans that you are Mexican and to the Americans that you are American. It would be much more difficult to appeal to the Americans as a foreigner for example; yes, you might seem exotic and interesting, but you will never be accepted if you do not display an understanding of their values and ways of doing things.

Another way to put it is: “When in Rome, do as the Romans do”. So, having cultural sensitivity and understanding is very important for everyone but even more important for people of mixed descend and immigrants.

 

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Adventures in the Lone Star State: Texas Pride


The Texas and American flags by the Riverwalk, San Antonio, TX

After visiting Florida, Mississippi and Louisiana, the next top destination on my list was Texas. I must say, I love the Sudurn (that’s how you pronounce Southern, right?) culture! People are relaxed and negligee. They stroll instead of rush, look at you in the eye when you pass each other in the street, and are keen on starting and carrying on a conversation with strangers.

Cowboy cookbooks at a souvenir shop in San Antonio, TX

What made the strongest impression on me in San Antonio is the abundance of the Texas flag. I have been to many American states but have never before seen such evident display of state pride. Actually, I don’t think I even know what the rest of the state flags look like, other than the Massachusetts one (Massachusetts is probably the only other place where I’ve noticed similar state-patriotism).

The decorations on the Christmas tree in San Antonio, TX include: stars, cacti, cowboy boots, the outlines of the state, horse, longhorn, etc.

You can sense the Texas pride not only from the profusion of lone-star merchandise in the souvenir shops or the ambiance in touristy restaurants; it’s also in the decoration in public places, the flags on many of the private houses, and the way people dress. Yes, everything about the cowboy hats, big buckle belts and the string-like bolo ties is true. It’s as if Texas has its own culture, which is of course influenced by the American and the Mexican culture, but also has its unique features (read my post about the Tejano culture). That’s why the cuisine is predominantly Mexican and you can freely communicate with almost anyone in Spanish (this reminded me of my vacation in Miami).

I was even a little bit surprised at how many times I saw the Texan flag next to the American flag or even the former taking precedence over the latter.  It didn’t exactly become clear to me whether they two were like the two sides of one coin or if they were juxtaposed.

In Texas, I also became aware that each state has its own nickname, license plate, motto, animal, plant, etc.  For example, Texas is the Lone Star State, Massachusetts is the Bay State, Florida – The Sunshine State,  California – the Golden State, New York – the Empire State, etc.

Regional Pride in Bulgaria

The Seven Folklore Regions of Bulgaria

We do have regional pride in Bulgaria, but our regions are cultural rather than administrative, and are in no way semi-autonomous like the American states. There are no such things are regional flags, mottos, or license plates. However, regions are defined by their folklore. Basically our mountains shape the Seven Folklore Regions of Bulgaria.

Counterclockwise from West to East, they are: the Shopski region (around Sofia), the Pirin region (around Blagoevgrad and Melnik), the Rhodope region (around Shiroka Luka and Smolyan), the Thracia region (around Plovidv, Kazanluk and the Rose Valley), Strandjanski region (around Burgas), Dobrudjanski region (around Dobrudja and Varna), and the northern Severnyashki region (around Veliko Turnovo and the Danube river).

National costumes, musical rhythm and dances have some major differences in each of these parts of the country. Other than that, we have some unspoken opinions about the characters of people in each region. My mother is from the Shopski region and my father is from the Pirinski (also known as the Macedonian region), and people say that this is a dangerous combination!

Equipped with my cowboy hat and leather jacket, ready to ride the bull in Corpus Christi, TX

A postcard from the Riverwalk in San Antonio.Can you spot the lone stars?

The Alamo in San Antonio was the site of a battle between the Mexicans and the Texian Army


Just before Christmas, I visited San Antonio, TX and had my first real rib-eye stake at a restaurant on the Riverwalk!  I must admit, it was a masterpiece – you Americans know your steaks!

But then my friend asked for more barbecue sauce… and some chilly sauce, Cajun sauce, Dijon  mustard, and ketchup.  Why, OH WHY, would you ruin the best steaks in the world with so many sauces?!

And then there is the delicious, fresh, crunchy, natural salad…  and you plop on top of it a big squirt of Caesar, Ranch, Chipotle, Blue Cheese, Honey Mustard, Thousand Island, Santa Fe Blend,  Lemon Mayonnaise, Jalapeno Ranch,  Sesame Ginger, Hot & Spicy, Creamy Style Miso, Romano Basil Vinaigrette, Cranberry Balsamic, Italian, French, Russian, Mediterranean, or Greek Dressings… as well as all their light, reduced fat, fat-free, or organic versions. Does salad really need so many types of dressings?

And then I go to Shaw’s or Whole Foods, and I see entire aisles with sauces, salsas, chutneys, condiments, dressings,vinegars, and marinades. It almost seems to me that you don’t like the natural taste of food because you seem to always want to flavor it with something else.

I have been taught that fish requires only lemon, salad requires only salt and olive oil, and meat requires only salt, if anything at all. Bulgarian food is so much more simple compared to American, and yet I feel like it is more flavorful because you can actually taste the different vegetables or the different herbs in it.

I call upon the readers of this blog to switch the Chunky Blue Cheese Dressing for real crumbled feta, the Fat-free Italian Dressing for freshly chopped parsley and sun-dried tomatoes, and those yellow round plastic containers with real freshly squeezed lemons.

***

You Might Also Find Interesting:

Why Do Americans Have So Many Types of Breakfast Cereal

Food, the Best Bulgarian Ambassador to Korea 


 

IRé is a combination of imagination and reality, the artist says. Her music is a beautiful marriage of jazz, world music, pop, folk, soul, and blues.

You can trace flamenco, African, Brazilian, and Oriental motifs in IRé’s first album, but the artist clearly gets most of her inspiration from the Bulgarian folklore. Visit her MySpace page, YouTube channel or Facebook page. 

IRé, or Irina Zhekova, is a mathematician from Bulgaria who discovered her strong bond with Bulgarian folk music while studying in Paris. There, she met with her partner, Charlie Dalin, with whom she shares a passion for music that transcends styles and flows like pure imagination. Together, the artistic duo conquered France – Irina with her voice, guitar, and piano, and  Charlie with his percussions, whistles, and special effects.

IRé, as Irina’s friends and family have nicknamed her, describes her work as ethno jazz, but in fact it is a mixture of many styles.  IRé transfers her love for Slavic mythology into the lyrics she composes – for example her songs about beautiful samodivi maidens and vicious zmei dragons. The duo captured audiences throughout France with their “modern folklore” and unconventional performances of traditional Bulgarian songs.  Most of her lyrics are in Bulgarian, but some are in a melodious made-up language, where the sound takes precedence over content.

After her enormous success in France, IRé was warmly welcomed by the Bulgarian audience as a promising young ambassador of our culture and folklore.

 

Read more about Bulgarian music and folklore:

The Bagpipe Festival in Gela and Shiroka Luka in Rhodope Mountain 

Legends of the Bulgarian Samodivi

Festival of the Bulgarian National Costumer in Zheravna

The Kukeri Dance: Scaring Away Evil Spirits

 

 


A few days ago, I told you about a Po Zhitzata, the First Bulgarian Online School, which offers lessons in Bulgarian grammar, literature, history and geography to the children of expatriates and foreigners wishing to learn the language.

Today, I want to tell you about another entrepreneurial venture that serves as an ambassador of Bulgaria, Zelen restaurant in Seoul, Korea.

Zelen (which means green) was opened by two Bulgarian brothers, Mihal and Filip Ashminov and their Korean partner in 2007.  Mihal, who was previously a chef at the Sheraton Hotel in Sofia came to Korea when he was 21 to work at the Westin Chosun Hotel. There, he noticed that health-consious Korean women love his Bulgarian dishes. When he and his Korean partner came up with the idea to open a Bulgarian restaurant, Mihal called his brother, who was at that time a chef in Ireland, to come and get involved with the brave project.

Mihal and Filip Ashminovi, founders of Zelen Bulgarian Restaurant in Seoul

Since 2010, Zelen has two branches and is wildly popular among food aficionados in Seoul. There are four Bulgarian chefs and six Korean sous chefs. Mihal and Filip say that they do not adapt their recipes to the Korean taste: everything is prepared according to traditional Bulgarian recipes: Shopska salad, eggplant salad, tarator (cold cucumber soup), salami and mezze, sarmi (cabbage roll stuffed with rice and beef), stuffed peppers, vegetable moussaka, St. George’s style roasted leg of lamb, kiufte (meatball), shishche (skewers), yoghurt with honey, Bulgarian red wine, and so much more typical BG goodies.

Zelen is featured in ALL of Seoul’s BEST RESTAURANT GUIDES (seoulstyle.com, seouleats.com), and most articles recommend that you call in advance to book a table because the place is always full! MOST articles call Zelen “one of Seoul’s favorite restaurants”.

Well done, Bulgarian entrepreneurs! Keep up the good cooking!

***

More on Bulgarian Cuisine from My Blog: 

Buy Bulgarian Specialties at Trader Joe’s (photo)

Taking my Friends to The Crazy Cock, the Bulgarian Restaurant in London (many photos)

Preparing Bulgarian Christmas Eve Dinner (yum-yum photos)

Apres-ski: feasting on in Bansko (more eye-tearing photos)

The best Bulgarian cookbook IN ENGLISH that you can buy on Amazon


 

I believe in positive thinking and make-it-happen attitude. When you believe that you can achieve something, the whole universe aligns the right way and helps you achieve it.

Imagine the thickest fog around Sofia airport – you can’t see beyond the end of your suitcase.  All around you, outbound flights are being canceled and inbound flights are being transferred to another airport. But you know that you must take this flight to London and be there on time, and you are positive that you will fly. It so happens that you are scheduled to be on the only plane in the entire Bulgaria Air fleet that is able to fly during fog, so you simply take off like it’s a piece of cake!

During the flight, you sit in seat 6B, nervously chewing on your free paper cup and hastily skimming over your notes for tomorrow. The person in 6A looks over at the paper in your lap and strikes up a conversation. It turns out, he also conducts interviews and is happy to give you a few good tips and even quiz you a bit. The 3-hour flight flies by. Then, he and his colleague offer to give you a ride to your hotel. They go way out of their way and spend an extra 25 minutes to get you exactly to the front door so that you don’t get wet in the rain. They both wish you good luck for tomorrow.

On the next morning, you talk to a very kind taxi driver who wishes you good luck wholeheartedly.  When it’s time for the interview, you enjoy yourself tremendously. “Whatever happens”, you say to yourself, “I’m glad I did that.” But you secretly know that you have just found the place where you belong.

While waiting for a taxi, you have a great conversation with the company’s mailroom man, who wishes you good luck. You get in the taxi, but it turns out that another car is blocking your way out of the parking. By the license plate that spells out your favorite drink’s name, it becomes clear that it’s the car of the big boss that’s not letting you leave the office.

Later that night, you meet good friends of yours at a pub and realize that your favorite drink is made by this same company and is not a summer drink only, but also has a winter edition. Your friends order it for you and wish you good luck. On the way back, you see the gorgeous St. Paul’s cathedral and find a lucky penny on the ground.

As you wait at the airport to go home, you meet an employee of the same company in the duty free shop and have a great conversation. He wishes you good luck.

Your flight is 2 hours late, so you decide to sit down and write a post for your blog. You finish the post with the words “Friends, please wish me good luck because I’m expecting a call.”

You are just about to post it on your blog when you receive a call, which you would not have been able to receive had the plane not been delayed. When you finish the call, you delete the last line and instead write:

Dear friends, I just got my dream job!


During the four years I’ve  been living abroad, I’ve met too many children of Bulgarian immigrants who speak broken Bulgarian.  It saddens me that some of them have completely assimilated into the foreign culture to the point that they have forgotten their origins and Bulgarian identity.

I know that London as well as some American cities have big Bulgarian communities with a church or even a school, but these are not everywhere and are not able to reach everyone. Read about the Bulgarian high school in London here. 

The solution is По жицата /Po zhitzata/, the First Bulgarian Online School.

I learned about the school through Valentin Nenkov, it’s founder, whom I met at a Bulgarian networking event at MIT. The Bulgarian virtual classroom provides classes in Bulgarian language, literature, history, and geography for both children and adults. The teachers are located in Bulgaria and the students are expatriates from all over the world as well as foreigners interested in learning the Bulgarian language. The lessons are conducted in real time every week.

I believe that knowing who you are means knowing your roots, so it’s very important to teach young Bulgarians living abroad about their country’s literature, history and geography.  This will help them preserve their culture and identity wherever in the world they might be.

This is a quote from the website of First Bulgarian Online School. If you fall into any of these categories, you know what to do:   

If you are here, chances are: you’ve been to Bulgaria; you’ve heard something about Bulgaria; you are married to a Bulgarian; you know “Zdravei” and “Blagodaria” and you are ready to learn and explore more. Whatever the reason is let us know today and start learning tomorrow with a tutor from Bulgaria.

 


My Christmas present this year was tickets to the Boston Celtics vs Toronto Raptors pre-season game at Boston’s TD Garden. This means that for my four years at BU, I’ve checked off two out of Boston’s four great teams. Yep, I have to speed up the process and see the other two before graduation!

Boston is said to be America’s top sports city. There’s the Red Sox, the Celtics, the Bruins, and the New England Patriots (baseball, basketball, hockey, and American football). You can imagine my motivation to see all these teams play since we don’t even have three of these sports in Bulgaria (and we are not really that good at basketball either)! Even these teams’ home arenas are considered key  tourist destinations: Fenway Park, TD Garden (for both the Celtics and the Bruins), and the Gillette Stadium.

Of course I wanted to do the whole ritual right: I went to TD Garden by T as a true Bostonian, had some Sam Adams at an Irish pub before the game, bought a green t-shirt from a street vendor, got a green shamrock painted on my face, and cheered with the crowd throughout the game!  Naturally, we won!

So after I check off the Bruins and the Pats, I also need to go to a NASCAR race and to a rodeo! Any suggestions when and where to do this?

And while we are still talking about sports, did you know that Bulgaria has one of the best fencing teams in the world? I certainly did not! I didn’t even know there was fencing here, and as it turns out, the best fencers are from Easter Europe and the Former Soviet Union! Who knew?!

Lucky, the Celtics' mascot, is flying in the air

It kills me that Bulgarians do all these amazing things but we don’t know how to popularize our achievements even among our own people. I wish someone popularized this game and taught Bulgarians to be proud of our teams and their victories! Sports always bring people together, and if someone made sports more popular in Bulgaria*, our people would have more reasons to feel national pride.

*(The only really popular sport in Bulgaria is soccer – and we do have some great soccer players like Dimitar Berbatov and Hristo Stoichkov)


The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2011 annual report for this blog.

The concert hall at the Sydney Opera House holds 2,700 people. This blog was viewed about 59,000 times in 2011. If it were a concert at Sydney Opera House, it would take about 22 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.

In 2011, there were 77 new posts, growing the total archive of this blog to 186 posts. There were 226 pictures uploaded, taking up a total of 286mb. That’s about 4 pictures per week.

The busiest day of the year was January 15th with 560 views. The most popular post that day was Restaurant Customer Service in Europe or the States: What’s Your Pick?.

Your most commented on post in 2011 was Google Celebrates Baba Marta

Attractions in 2011

      These are the posts that got the most views in 2011.

Restaurant Customer Service in Europe or the States: What’s Your Pick? 6 comments October 2010

Red Army Soldiers Gone Superhero: Graffiti Artist Transforms Soviet Monument In Sofia 3 comments June 2011

BBC Close-Up: Bulgarian Pop-folk 3 comments February 2010

The Most Beautiful Place In The World: The Seven Rila Lakes 4 comments August 2010

Why Do Americans Have So Many Types of Breakfast Cereal? 160 comments September 2010

Some of your most popular posts were written before 2011. Your writing has staying power! Consider writing about those topics again.

See you in 2012

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