OLD COLORADO CITY — Monse Hines is the owner and chef of Monse's Pupusaria, a restaurant in Old Colorado City dedicated to the Salvadoran heritage behind the location's thick corn tortillas stuffed with meats, cheeses, and vegetables. If you taste carefully, her food can tell you her story.
"When they serve you a pupusa, there are lines … and those are the lines of our fingers. You can still feel the authenticity of the way we do it in our country. We do it … because this is who we are," said Monse.
Many of the items on the menu hold namesakes from her personal history in Chalchuapa, El Salvador, places like towns, parks, and churches.
The menu is telling my story.
Monse, originally born and raised in Chalchuapa, left the town when she was in college to study abroad in Germany.
"My parents never get out of the country. We didn't have the money. I was like … this is my opportunity," said Monse.
She said her time in Germany brought together her longing for her Salvadoran culture and food, and eventually added a European influence to her cultural foundation.
"It's crazy that your roots come back and you're like 'I just want my food,'" said Monse.
Desire was not the only ingredient discovered while she was in Germany. It was there that she met her husband, Tim Hines, who is now a United States Army veteran. Tim was stationed abroad at the time.
The whole United States, we describe as a melting pot. We're not focusing on the whole pot here, we're focusing on the ingredient that is Monse's.
After multiple military assignments and the birth of their two children, Abi and Casey, the family said they were ready to make their move to Colorado Springs. Life, however,
had other plans and Tim was deployed to Afghanistan upon their arrival in Colorado.
"I was again alone … At that time, I didn't speak too much English. I was not sure even where to go, which gas station to choose," said Monse.
It was at this chapter in her life, Monse said, the familiarity of food was once again her saving grace, as is the case for many who have migrated away from their nations of origin. As her husband was deployed, she set her sights on having her home cooking showcased in the local Whole Foods.
"My sister told me, 'I heard there's a grocery store called whole foods; you need to go see it. It's beautiful.' I saw, at that time, that they [sold] frozen pupusas, and I'm like 'Pupusas in Whole Foods?'" said Monse.
Shortly after applying to sell her products at Whole Foods, Monse received a notification that her application had been accepted.
I [started] crying in the grocery store.
Monse said her tenacity quickly turned into the hard work of cooking at all hours of the day and night, raising her two daughters, and saving money. Eventually, her efforts and ambitions culminated in the dream of a restaurant, the same one still in operation.
"There was no way more appropriate than to say, 'you have followed me in support of my dream; the least I can do is follow you for yours.' It's less about selflessness and more about debt … I owe it to her. She did that for me," said Tim.
The entire family, Monse, Tim, Abi, and Casey now all work together at the pupusaria.
"I love working in the restaurant … Each summer I look forward to it again [because] I'm gonna learn more Spanish [and] I'm gonna talk to more customers," said Casey.
Abi and Casey both say their family has extended to include the other restaurant staff, people whose similar migrant backgrounds come from places in Central America like Venezuela, Guatemala, and even others from El Salvador.
"Our employees … we call them cousin, we call them aunt and uncle … they come to our house, we go school shopping, we go to Denver together, we've gone to concerts with them," said Abi.
Amid all of the work that takes place in the restaurant, Monse said the most important thing to her is that her daughters have the ability to inherit the language, food, and culture of El Salvador.
"I'm representing Salvador, I'm representing our food, what we're born with," said Monse.
Monse said the essential ingredient in every recipe she intends on handing down is love.
"You need to make a pupusa like you're going to make it your own, like how you would love a pupusa, cheesy, meaty, big ... Do it like you're going to do it for, I don't know, your mother, anybody that you love," said Monse.
And that ingredient, love, is not lost on the next generation.
"You can call yourself El Salvadorian too when you come here," said Abi.
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