By Jordan Hernandez
“I want to make a comment about the term Latinx because I don’t agree with it. There is a misconception about the term ‘Latinx’ — that it’s inclusive. But actually it’s not.”
It is a cold and extremely drippy Monday afternoon when I go to meet Maria to speak with her for this story. Even with my rain jacket on, I get soaked to the bone before ducking into the coffee shop for a reprieve.
I am immediately struck by the familiar smell of espresso and baked goods. A few years ago, I worked far out in Hillsboro and had to transfer buses downtown, and when those transfers didn’t line up quite right (my eternal curse), I’d end up killing time in a coffee shop.
I can still remember the first time I discovered Revolución Coffee. It was a cold and rainy day just like this one, and it was the first Mexican coffee shop I’d ever come across in Portland, which both surprised and delighted me. That day and many days after, it became my sanctuary, and my escape from the elements.
It’s now been a few years since that first discovery, and I feel giddy walking through the door. It’s just like I remember. Bright walls covered in art, a fully stocked pastry case, people quietly tapping away on their laptops while their jackets, slick with rain, dry on the back of their chairs. And, of course, a cheerful Maria behind the register taking orders and making drinks for customers.
Maria Garcia is the owner of Revolución Coffee House. She was born and raised in Mexico City, but later moved to Palm Springs, California, before eventually settling here in Portland and opening the city’s first Mexican coffee shop in 2014.
To Maria, selling Mexican coffee and drinks in downtown Portland was revolutionary (it was the first of its kind in Portland), hence the name Revolución Coffee.
Maria saw the value in being new to the area and offering drinks such as champurrado (dairy free corn masa base drink with Mexican chocolate and cinnamon) and cafe de olla (Mexican coffee beans that have been ground and Italian roasted, added cinnamon and piloncillo or brown sugar) that reflected her Mexican heritage.
She also knew that if she wanted to attract all kinds of people, she couldn’t just sell champurrado or atole (traditional hot corn and masa-based drink with pecan or coconut flavor). She would also need to sell coffee to get them in the door — and being loyal to her culture, she wanted it to be Mexican coffee.
The community embraced her vision, to the point where she would offer free samples and customers would refuse and ask to be charged in order to support her business. This was the moment she felt like she had made the right decision to take the leap of faith in opening Revolución, knowing that people would want to pay for what she was offering as a business, not just sampling her product and never returning again.
“I am proud of who I am and I wanted to show that in my business. I wanted to express who I am through color and art and true Mexican culture and bring that to my business, not as propaganda or trying to capture a certain audience, it’s just who I am,” Maria says.
It’s at this point in our conversation that I ask Maria her thoughts about what it means to her to be Latinx living in a town like Portland. She takes a deep breath.
“I guess it’s generational, but me and my friends my age were all born outside the U.S. and we have a very clear understanding of us not being Latinx. When you say the term, we understand what it is and what is meant by it, but we don’t identify that way. And why? Because I am a Mexican woman… I am Mexican, and for me it is a matter of identity. When you say Latinx, we feel like ‘all of you.’ I think millennials and institutions are using this term trying to be inclusive, but I found it to be not that way. I prefer Mexican.
“Identity to me is not how other people view you, but how you identify yourself. Growing up if you didn’t know where someone was from you would ask before assuming and categorizing them as Hispanic or Latino because you didn’t know what languages they spoke. So that’s why I have a problem with that.”
Maria’s perspective on the concept of identity reminds me of my own struggle with identity, as the daughter of two parents both born in the United States, but with Mexican roots on my dad’s side.
It was something we rarely discussed when I was growing up. It was confusing to look in the mirror as a young child and realize my dark eyes, hair and olive complexion didn’t fully line up with classmates who identified as white. And the overwhelming feeling of not knowing which ethnicity box to select the first time I had to take a standardized test in elementary school.
As I describe this experience to Maria, I feel seen and understood. I tell her about approaching the feeling of my own identity less timidly and with more curiosity, embracing the feeling of not fitting into just one box and letting go of feelings of embarrassment, shame and confusion about who I am. I forget for a while that I’m interviewing her, and it begins to feel like sitting with a friend over coffee. I feel like we are on two ends of the same spectrum, only she is far on one side and I’m slowly inching my way toward her, which gives me comfort.
And so do her words of wisdom: “It is our responsibility to know about our own history so others don’t try to tell us who we are or where we come from, because we should know that. Especially as Mexicans, we come from a beautiful culture, one of the most powerful and biggest cultures and we are not going to stop existing. More than ever, we should be aware of our roots. Even if our parents didn’t talk to us about our heritage growing up, we should be exploring that as adults. Where do I belong? That’s a normal question. Connecting to your culture is important, the sense of belonging in your own DNA.”
Read my full story about Maria Garcia and Revolución Coffee House on Medium.