Damiana Bravo, 80, was one of the first people from her town to arrive in New York. She arrived from Piaxtla, a town of around 1,000—5,000, if you include its surrounding hamlets—in the Mexican state of Puebla, sometime in the 1970s. She doesn’t remember the year.
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It was her second attempt to start a new life and eke out a living to support her six children. A few years earlier, she had migrated to Mexico City where she found employment as a domestic worker. Just a four-hour bus ride away, it was far enough where she could work as a domestic worker and visit her six children on weekends.
But wages in Mexico were low, and the water in Piaxtla was running out, and at the advice of a friend, she ultimately decided to journey north. Bravo found work at a shrimp-packing factory in Brooklyn, where she was joined by other Pueblans; like her, they missed the tastes and smells of Mexico—and she sensed a business opportunity.
“There no tortillerias, bakeries, or cheese factories when I arrived,” she told me when I visited her mole business last month. After working 10-hour shifts at the factory, she would go home and make her mother’s mole de Piaxtla—a spicier and redder version of traditional mole poblano—to sell to her co-workers for extra money.
Mole, made from over a dozen ingredients such as chiles, chocolate, sesame seeds, and dried fruits, is one of the most complex and nuanced sauces in gastronomy. Making mole requires both culinary […]