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Skidmore College

Someone's in the kitchen

September 4, 2013

Angelo Gonzalez ’15 learned about food, Web design, and himself in a summer research project with a faculty member. 

“I realized I was taking our traditions for granted. Like how important a kitchen is to a family, how some meals distinguish us as Puerto Rican.”

Rangil and student
Professor Rangil with Angelo Gonzalez '15

That’s Angelo Gonzalez ’15 talking about how he spent his summer vacation. He was one of 85 students doing intensive research with a faculty mentor in 46 projects spanning 16 different disciplines. Gonzalez’s project was “Comida Latina: Spanning Cultures, Building Bridges” with Viviana Rangil, associate professor of Spanish. Rangil’s brainchild, Comida Latina is a database of images, stories, and articles from her extensive research on Latino foodscapes, which involved interviewing people from Puebla, Mexico; San Juan, Puerto Rico; and New York City.

“It may not be obvious to him now, but working within the humanities taught Angelo different ways of looking at resources from an interdisciplinary perspective,” says Rangil.

Gonzalez doesn’t disagree. The computer science major was interested in programming when Rangil tasked him with optimizing the Comida Latina Web site. That was daunting enough—programming, creating new online features, and handling every curveball Rangil threw at him, from editing video and photos to creating a map. But he says, “I also got to thinking about how food brings us together, how dinner was always a time we slowed down and sat together, and how my mom’s traditional dishes—rice and beans, pasteles—are always around for family reunions.” He recalls speaking to a Dominican student on campus and sharing memories of how heir mothers never measured ingredients for recipes because “it’s just something they know.” 

Through his work with Rangil, Gonzalez says, “I looked at my own family's food culture and really took notice of details, such as how even when my mom makes arroz con gandule as done by my grandmother, it tastes different. Yet when I eat it, I am still reminded of how my grandmother's tastes, and I can see myself sitting in her house in Puerto Rico enjoying the dish.” 

Recipes such as this are featured on the
"Comida Latina" site.

Soon he was actively collaborating with Rangil, contributing recipes from his mother and grandmother. He also helped choose the pictures of the food on the site, providing his point of view culturally. Rangil says that’s the beauty of the site: it’s a place for people to share their stories and insights about how food affects us and bridges our cultures. 

In September, Gonzalez will present at the annual Upstate New York Undergraduate Research Conference, walking judges and audience members through the Comida Latina site. “I’ve learned so much from this experience, it’s not even funny,” he says. 

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