“Yeah, so wings and fries. Have you been put on to mambo sauce yet?”
Ricky (pseudonym) asked me as we walked around the neighborhood. I was fresh into dissertation fieldwork in Washington, D.C. Ricky had agreed to walk and talk with me as I got to know the neighborhood more intimately. “Nah, I’ve heard about mambo sauce but I haven’t been put on yet,” I responded. At the time, I was teetering somewhere between vegetarianism and maiming someone for a good burger, which I tried to explain to Ricky.
“Well, yeah, maybe one day you need to try it. It’s…mambo sauce is good. I mean, if you eat it once a year you’re fine, you know?”
“But what is it, though? Is it like a mixture of hot sauce?” I asked.
“Well, different places have different recipes. Every place has their own recipe. People have done it. Um, mambo sauce. [It’s] ketchup, hot sauce. Depends on who, but those two are in every, just about every version. But the thing about mambo sauce, mambo sauce is nice because it’s different.”
Each version of mambo sauce has its own alchemy. No two producers make it the same way. No one can ever identify all the ingredients. A little bit of this and a little bit of that come together to produce a condiment that most Black people in D.C. have at least heard of and probably tried.
I was fascinated with mambo sauce as a condiment for wings and fries but also as a marker of authenticity—hence the name of this site and my approach to research. Formally, I am trained to systematically collect data. To ask everyone the same or similar questions. To record detailed, descriptive fieldnotes. To interview until I reach a point of saturation. Informally, I am trained to follow the stories. To listen for the unsaid. To change my approach and tone when necessary. To stick my finger in the pot, taste what I’m making, and feel my way through the question, what’s missing.
I have a fancy PhD from a somewhat fancy institution. But that is not where I learned to be a listener, an observer, or a storyteller. It was on the red dirt road, in the kitchens of my grandma and her kin, and in the trees from which I jumped. In the backwoods of east Texas, I learned that the best conjuring, the best stories, the best meals are the products of a little bit of this and a little bit of that. Recipes and plans get me to where I need to go. Embodied knowing and intuitive adjustments to something that is not quite right earns the exclamation, “girl, you put your foot in this!”
Combine these lessons with social science training and a humanistic orientation and you’ve got my epistemological orientation towards research: Mambo + Anthro.
True to my research style (and well, my life in general), you may see themes, but I combine a little bit of everything to create my version of Black-woman-professor-researcher magic.