Latinos in Taiwan Pt. 2: El Gallo Restaurant and Brass Monkey Salsa Night
Posted September 12, 2009 7:30 pm (about 3593 days ago)
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El Gallo is located in the Tianmu neighborhood of Taipei, an area known for its high concentration of foreigners, dating to the time that the U.S. had a military base there. Isa, a Mexico City native, and I had exchanged a few e-mails and even chatted over the phone so I was definitely looking forward to meeting him in person. When we finally did catch up, he was very welcoming, although we didn’t get past the small-talk stage as he was busy. However, as we talked a guy from Vera Cruz, Mexico walked by, which was ironic because I had just been in Vera Cruz a couple of weeks earlier. This “Jarocho,” as people from Vera Cruz are called, had been in Taiwan for something like seven years and I asked him what had brought him to the island. Like many foreigners I’ve met, he said it was a woman, who incidentally became his wife. They met in Mexico and he followed her back to Taiwan. “ “That’s how Taiwanese women are. They go to Mexico and kidnap us!” He said there were “a bunch of Mexicans” living in Tianmu, which got me excited.
“A bunch? Like 150?”
“Uh, not quite that much. Maybe like 12 or 15,” he responded with a chuckle.
We talked about Vera Cruz a bit, in English, with a little bit of Spanish and Mandarin sprinkled in, but cut things short as he had to buy food and other supplies for the soccer game that night. Mexico was playing the U.S. that evening, 4 A.M. Taiwanese time. Like most Mexicans I knew in the U.S., the ones in Taiwan were just as excited about the game, which Mexico won 5-0.
Regarding El Gallo itself, those were the only two Mexicans I saw. Everyone else, the cooks, customers, and waitresses, were Taiwanese. As with Eddy’s, the food quality varied. However, as with Eddy’s, I would definitely go back. A key difference between the two places is that El Gallo is more upscale and a nice place for a date or large gathering. Don’t get me wrong. Eddy’s has more of a casual atmosphere, but was just as inviting, and lived up to it’s “cantina” name.
I’m glad that these two places exist and just knowing that Mexican food is accessible made Taiwan move up several notches on “places to move” list. I’m surrounded by Mexicans in California so I eat Mexican food a few times a week. It’s nice to know that there are at least a couple of places where my Californian, Mexican and Taiwanese roots come together!
Tuesday night Salsa at the Brass Monkey, Taipei
To be upfront, I’m pretty leery of salsa nights. I don’t tend to care for the newer songs, but even when the music is good, the places often lack soul. There will be people doing all kinds of flashy, intricate moves, but they don’t feel the music. Everything looks very rehearsed and more about flash than substance. Some of my favorite experiences with salsa were at events where people weren’t “good” dancers, technically speaking, but they were feeling the music so much that they looked good. Unfortunately, this salsa night fell more in the former category.
Brass Monkey is a mid-size bar with a couple of rooms and the salsa night attracted a diverse crowd that seemed to be about 40% foreigners, although there were hardly any Latinos, beyond a handful who appeared to be young college students. I was a bit surprised as this night was sponsored by Latinos Taiwan, an organization to support Latinos and to promote Latino culture (although their primary focus so far appears to be throwing parties).
There was a lot of enthusiastic dancing, including some couples doing fancy combinations, but many of them were off beat! I have to put a lot of blame on the leaders as I danced a couple of times and my partners were fine. I had a good time and even thought about proposing to the Corona girl, but I have to say that I was a little disappointed to not find more Latinos here. I’ve had the good fortune to do some traveling over the past couple of years and quickly realized that salsa is so popular that salsa nights outside of the Americas are not guaranteed to have a lot of Latinos. This night was no different.
Up to this point, I had only had one e-mail exchange with Jorge, the founder of Latinos Taiwan, but recognized him from a picture as the DJ. He was packing up to leave by the time we connected and I was walking out myself, but he’s been living in Taiwan for 8 years, DJing and playing in a live band. We talked about music for a bit before parting ways.
Both of these visits were short, but answered many questions for me. However, one thing I left wondering about was the role of economic class in the Latino community of Taiwan. Is it dominated by middle class and wealthy ones? My friends back in the U.S. run the gamut, but generally speaking, who can afford to pick up and go to Taiwan to study or start a business? My plane ticket alone cost nearly $1,100. Of course I’m not saying that only those with money can make it and I’m part of this middle class (having family in Taiwan certainly doesn’t hurt), but class is so often over looked. I’ve spent a lot of time in urban environments in the U.S. and even in college I couldn’t relate to many of the upper class Latinos from other places. In fact, I thought most Puerto Ricans were rich White people until I finally went to New York and Puerto Rico. As people discuss the identity and culture, it’s oversimplifying the issue to only look at ethnicity as a way of grouping people. Identity is too fluid. But again, I barely scratched the surface on this topic and will definitely have to return to learn more.
In the meantime, the final installment will be about the budding Chicano rap scene in Taiwan. Yup, apparently there is one!
Thanks to Alica, Cindy, their mother, Mike, and Zoe for checking out these spots with me!