By Ariana Ortiz
Throughout my childhood, pan dulce served as reassurance of unconditional love.
The early morning rustling of warm paper bags was the only signal I needed to roll out of bed on lazy weekend mornings and blearily make my way to the kitchen. If any family member waited too long to claim their share, their favorites would be long gone before they even had time to cool. I remember fighting with my sister almost every weekend over the sandías, butter cookies cleverly shaped and vibrantly colored to look like watermelon slices.
I was lucky enough to have been born and raised in a primarily Mexican-American community where our culture is normalized and there are an abundance of places to buy freshly baked pan dulce.
Throughout my short time on the east coast, I have come to a realization of pan dulce as something more than a pastry that reminds us of home and family. I came to realize pan dulce as a radical political experience. It wasn’t until I met other Chican@s and we excitedly exchanged stories about pan dulce and our favorite varieties (fun fact: the most popular seems to be conchas). The way in which all Mexican food strongly tethers us to our culture and communities is amazing, but there’s something about the sweetness and nostalgia of it specifically that seems to tug at my heart more than other desserts.
Panaderías are evidence that our communities continue to thrive in a country that is dismissive, resentful, and frequently outright hostile toward our presence. Their establishment and prevalence in neighborhoods throughout the US is a statement: We are here, and we belong here.
Pan dulce—in addition to being a vehicle for many cherished childhood memories— is a comforting reminder of a place that is both home and not home, as well as a testament to Chican@s, and our ability to thrive despite the harsh circumstances.
Above all, pan dulce is a reassurance of belonging.