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'We Eat War:' Seattle Poet Tastes History In Her Native Country's National Dish

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Pupusas, the national dish of El Salvador, are a touchstone for Seattle Civic Poet Claudia Castro Luna.

For Claudia Castro Luna, nothing transports her back to her native El Salvador more quickly, and more vividly, than then pupusa. It’s the unofficial national dish of El Salvador, consisting of a think corn tortilla wrapped around a rich filling.

But for Castro Luna, Seattle’s first civic poet, the pupusa contains more than pork, cheese and beans. It contains the history of the country of her birth, and of her journey away from it.

She writes, in her poem “Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Pupusa”: "We eat War. / Each time / A Pupusa is made / War sloughs off / Undetected and unmeasured / Residues / Unstable atoms, half-lives."

“My aunt makes Pupusas for a living / She labors over a hot comal / Gun shrapnel / From the Civil War years / Encrusted in the flesh of her strong legs.”

She talks about how food carries history and energy with it.

Credit Courtesy of Claudia Castro Luna
Seattle Civic Poet Claudio Castro Luna

“Even though the [Salvadoran civil] war officially ended in ‘92, we’re still living in the aftermath of that war,” Castro Luna said. “In the touching and the shaping of the dough, the masa, as we call it, that war gets transferred by the contact of the skin, of the person making it.”

For Castro Luna, who immigrated to the United States when she was 14, food can transport herback to El Salvador, and to the complicated feelings those memories evoke.

“I think food is the primordial way in which we feel connected to place,” she said.

Castro Luna’s poem “Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Pupusa” will be featured in the Latin America/Latino interdisciplinary studies journal Diálogo 19:2 issue, released in Fall (September) 2016. Here is an excerpt, of the first five stanzas:


Among the photographs in the Sunday paper

Of a week-end in Boston

The one right below Paul Revere’s statue

The one of a white plate with two Pupusas.


I am certain

Birds fly, and

Pupusas breed



Once in Coatepeque

I saw a woman

On a quite street corner  

Setting up a Pupusa stall

A car went by,

Dust from the unpaved road

Gained height, whirled

It was December

Along a white washed adobe wall

Tall poinsettias burst

Scarlet and rich

In the late evening sun.


My aunt makes Pupusas for a living

She labors over a hot comal

Gun shrapnel  

From the Civil War years

Encrusted in the flesh of her strong legs.


Tarde o temprano

Sooner or later

Speak of Salvadorans

Speak of Pupusas.

Gabriel Spitzer is a former KNKX reporter, producer and host who covered science and health and worked on the show Sound Effect.