March 8, 2012
By Dianne Solis
Chilanga Taquería takes its name from the slang word for newcomers to Mexico City. The co-owner and Mexico City native, Teresa Vara, now anxiously plays host to newcomers to West Dallas.
A $200-a-person party for the Friday night opening of the Santiago Calatrava-designed bridge makes her brown eyes pop.
But it may bring customers for her detox juices or gorditas, she says. Already, it's brought artists, who've made her tangerine and green Singleton Avenue restaurant their meeting room, even their gallery.
"It is our little pow-wow area," says Bernardo Diaz, an adjunct professor at SMU's Meadows School of the Arts who teaches "Art as Social Practice" and brought the University Park students into West Dallas.
First, Diaz came to La Chilanga for breakfast tacos and horchata, a drink made with rice, condensed milk and cinnamon. Then, he started seeing menu items and hand-painted signs and even flower arrangements as inspiration. Tamales Oaxaqueños, Oaxacan-style tamales with dark mole, come steamy and gift wrapped in a green banana leaf and served in an intimate space decorated with papel picado, paper cut with designs that flutter on a string in hues of sky blue, purple and marigold.
It hit him that all the bridge parties might not actually get people into businesses like La Chilanga or community recreation centers like La Bataan.
What if people just stayed on the bridge?
"Teresa and Juan have been there for 16 years and there is a definite anxiety there," says Diaz of the Spanish-speaking couple who run the taco shop. "Our role is not to play politics as artists but to help people visualize the potential of these spaces."
"There are new businesses scouting for space. It doesn't necessarily take into the account the businesses that are already there."
Last October, Diaz and the SMU students staged a gallery opening of work inspired by West Dallas at La Chilanga. They renamed the space ChilanGaleria.
Come Saturday, Diaz and his crew will be working Art Burst. Same idea: Get folks mixing at a West Dallas festival but with a focus on children. The venue is La Bataan Center. The party from 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. will feature bounce houses, a magician and free haircuts. Los Unicos, a teen-aged mariachi band, will play.
And some time in the day, Diaz plans to make his way to La Chilanga.