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Let White People Appropriate Mexican Food—Mexicans Do It to Ourselves All the Time | OC Weekly
"My thoughts on cultural appropriation of food changed forever in the research for my 2012 book, Taco USA: How Mexican Food Conquered America. One of my personal highlights was discovering the restaurant that Glenn Bell of Taco Bell infamy had cited in his autobiography as being the source of "inspiration" for him deciding to get into the taco business. How did he get inspired? He'd eat tacos the restaurant every night, then go across the street to his hot dog stand to try and recreate them.

Bell freely admitted to the story, but never revealed the name of the restaurant. I did: Mitla Cafe in San Bernardino, which is the oldest continuously operating Mexican restaurant in the Inland Empire. I was excited to interview the owner, Irene Montaño, who confirmed Bell's story. I was upset for the Montaños, and when I asked Montaño how she felt that Bell had ripped off her family's recipes to create a multibillion-dollar empire, I expected bitterness, anger, maybe even plans for a lawsuit in an attempt to get at least some of the billions of dollars that Taco Bell has earned over the past 50-plus years.

Instead, Montaño responded with grace: "Good for him!" She pointed out that Mitla had never suffered a drop in business because of Taco Bell, that her restaurant had been in business longer than his, and "our tacos were better."

It's an anecdote I always keep in mind whenever stories of cultural appropriation of food by white people get the Left riled up and rock the food world. The latest skirmish is going on in Portland, where two white girls decided to open up what the estimable Willamette Week called "a concept that fits twee Portland": a breakfast burrito pop-up located within a hipster taco cart. The grand sin the gabachos committed, according to the haters, was the admission that they quizzed women in Baja California about how to make the perfect flour tortilla.

For their enthusiasm, the women have received all sorts of shade and have closed down their pop-up. To which I say: laughable. The gabachas knew exactly what they were doing, so didn't they stand by it? Real gumption there, pendejas.

But also laughable is the idea that white people aren't supposed to—pick your word—rip off or appropriate or get "inspired" by Mexican food, that comida mexicana is a sacrosanct tradition only Mexicans and the white girls we marry can participate in. That cultural appropriation is a one-way street where the evil gabacho steals from the poor, pathetic Mexicans yet again.

As we say in Mexico: no se hagan.

What these culture warriors who proclaim to defend Mexicans don't realize is that we're talking about the food industry, one of the most rapacious businesses ever created. It's the human condition at its most Darwinian, where EVERYONE rips EVERYONE off. The only limit to an entrepreneur's chicanery isn't resources, race, or class status, but how fast can you rip someone off, how smart you can be to spot trends years before anyone else, and how much money you can make before you have to rip off another idea again.

And no one rips off food like Mexicans.

The Mexican restaurant world is a delicious defense of cultural appropriation—that's what the culinary manifestation of mestizaje is, ain't it? The Spaniards didn't know how to make corn tortillas in the North, so they decided to make them from flour. Mexicans didn't care much for Spanish dessert breads, so we ripped off most pan dulces from the French (not to mention waltzes and mariachi). We didn't care much for wine, so embraced the beers that German, Czech and Polish immigrants brought to Mexico. And what is al pastor if not Mexicans taking shawerma from Lebanese, adding pork, and making it something as quintessentially Mexicans as a corrupt PRI?

Don't cry for ripped-off Mexican chefs—they're too busy ripping each other off. Another anecdote I remember from Taco USA: One of El Torito founder Larry Cano's lieutenants telling me Larry would pay them to go work at a restaurant for a month, learn the recipes, then come back to the mothership so they could replicate it. It ain't just chains, though: in the past year, I've seen dozens of restaurants and loncheras across Southern California offer the Zacatecan specialty birria de res, a dish that was almost exclusively limited to quinceañeras and weddings just three years ago. What changed? The popularity of Burritos La Palma, the SanTana lonchera-turned-restaurant. Paisa entrepreneurs quickly learned that Burritos La Palma was getting a chingo of publicity and customers, so decided to make birria de res on their own to try and steal away customers even though nearly none of them are from Zacatecas.

Shameless? Absolutely. And that's what cultural appropriation in the food world boils down to: it's smart business, and that's why Mexicans do it, too. That's the same reason why a lot of high-end Mexican restaurants not owned by sinaloenses serve aguachile now: because Carlos Salgado of Taco Maria made it popular. That's why working-class Mexicans open mariscos palaces even if they're not from the coast—because Sinaloans made Mexican seafood a lucrative scene. That's why nearly every lonchera in SanTana serves picaditas, a Veracruzan specialty, even though most owners are from Cuernavaca. That's why a taqueria will sell hamburgers and French fries—because they know the pocho kids of its core clients want to eat that instead of tacos. And that's why bacon-wrapped hot dogs are so popular in Southern California—because SoCal Mexican street-cart vendors ripped off Mexicans in Tijuana, who ripped off Mexicans in Tucson, who ripped off Mexicans in Sonora.

To suggest—as SJWs always do—that Mexicans and other minority entrepreneurs can't possibly engage in cultural appropriation because they're people of color, and that we're always the victims, is ignorant and patronizing and robs us of agency. We're no one's victims, and who says we can't beat the wasichu at their game? And who says Mexicans are somehow left in the poor house by white people getting rich off Mexican food? Go ask the Montaños of Mitla how they're doing. Last year, they reopened a long-shuttered banquet hall, and the next generation is introducing new meals and craft beers. They cried about Bell's appropriation of their tacos all the way to the history books."
gustavoarellano  appropriation  food  culturalappropriation  tacobell  history  comidamexicana  restaurants  mestizaje  mexico  mexican 
may 2017 by robertogreco
Surviving Cinco de Mayo: one man's ambivalent guide to the Taco Bell of holidays | Fusion
"But then one day, I was explaining this position to a dude I knew. He was a little guy, spiky gelled hair, ducktail in the back, looked like a striker for a soccer team relegated to the second-tier league. And as I dismounted from my high horse, he turned to me and said, “You gotta chill. It’s fun. And everybody wants to hook up with a Mexican on Cinco de Mayo.”

This is not exactly airtight logic, but it cracked my self-seriousness: maybe to hate on Cinco de Mayo was more pedantry than politics.

I started to dig a little deeper. My friend Gustavo Arellano, the eponymous Mexican of OC Weekly’s Ask a Mexican column, reminds us that no less a figure than Pulitzer Prize-winning writer Octavio Paz (after whom I named my first born) had ensconced partying as a core component of the Mexican soul. “Something impedes us from being. And since we cannot or dare not confront our own selves, we resort to the fiesta,” Paz writes in his linked series of essays, Labyrinth of Solitude. “It fires us into the void; it is a drunken rapture that burns itself out, a pistol shot in the air, a skyrocket.”

Perhaps Mexicans in the United States, in many cases prevented from citizenship (i.e. full legal recognition of their selves), didn’t mind having a drunken rapture once a year, even if the occasion was as fabricated as Valentine’s Day. And if all the gringos joined in, too, so much the better.

Faced with these various questions, I decided to turn to my most trusted authority on Mexicanidad, my dad Salvador Madrigal, who was born in Mexico DF, and came to the states in his late teens (returning various times over the next couple decades, including for my early childhood). He is my own personal connection to the homeland, of course, and a close observer of both nations."



"Well, then, I was back to my central dilemma. What is a half-Mexican kid who grew up in the US to do about Cinco de Mayo? Burn my sombrero or wear it to happy hour?

“The best you can do is provide good craft beer and good Mexican food for your Cinco de Mayo party guests,” he offered. “They’ll think you are weird for not providing Corona and nachos but your soul will feel better.”

We may not be able to win the battle of Cinco de Mayo against the corporate beer and restaurant brands. We will not find improbable victory in the way that Mexican troops did in 1862 in Puebla.

But our war has already been won. Demographics are destiny. We’re gonna be 30 percent of this country in 45 years, says the US Census Bureau. And our real culture will exert an ever greater influence on mainstream America from border to border, no matter how many bros don ponchos and mustaches to get pissdrunk on Corona today."
2015  cincodemayo  alexismadrigal  mexico  holidays  ethnicity  joséalamillo  gustavoarellano  octaviopaz  us  history  corona  benitojuarez 
may 2015 by robertogreco
Your guide to California in the Pacific world, past, present, and future
"via: https://twitter.com/the_wrangler/status/567023408064778240
"California is a queer place... it has turned its back on the world and looks into the void Pacific."—D.H. Lawrence: http://hosted.verticalresponse.com/1862325/d14d0bdf66/572442965/353d17b409/ "

"At Boom, we think of our mission as opening up conversations about California in the world and the world in California. California was part of the Pacific world long before it was part of the United States. Today, we live in many worlds. The Pacific is not the only one. But it is arguably most important for California—and one we are still trying to figure out.

We put together our new issue looking backward and forward on the occasion of the 100th anniversary of the Panama-Pacific International Exposition in San Francisco to try to provoke, inspire, and sustain a conversation about California in the Pacific world: 1915 | 2015 | 2115.

In the process, we found a strong current we didn’t anticipate running from the past through the present and into the future: the quest for a California cosmopolitanism in the Pacific world.

Our spring issue, in the mail to subscribers now, is divided into three sections. Colin Marshall, Wendy Cheng, Robert Gottlieb, and Jean Melesaine kick things off by exploring the state of California in the Pacific world—or Latin-Pacific world—today. Elizabeth Logan, Abigail Markwyn, Phoebe S.K. Young, and Suzanne Fischer explore the 1915 roots of California’s cosmopolitanism in an optimism for peace and prosperity on the eve of World War I, but also in the deeply troubling scientific racism that underpinned imperial aspirations abroad and segregation at home. And then we look ahead to 2115, with help from Gustavo Arellano, Alex Steffen, Alexis Madrigal, and Annalee Newitz. Will Silicon Valley's view of itself and California still at the center of the Pacific world prevail, or will a broader Pacific cosmopolitanism win out, one in which California may not be the center, but will always be a part?

The full issue is already available on JSTOR, and over the coming weeks we’ll be rolling it out at www.boomcalifornia.com, where historian Thomas Osborne’s introductory essay [http://www.boomcalifornia.com/2015/02/california/ ] is up now, along with my letter from the editor's desktop, the full list of contributors, and our quarterly Boom list of things to do, see, and read around California this spring. Follow us on Facebook and Twitter to be sure you don't miss a thing."

[See also: http://www.boomcalifornia.com/2015/02/from-the-editors-desktop-4/
and http://www.boomcalifornia.com/2015/02/contributors-spring-2015/
and http://www.boomcalifornia.com/2015/02/spring-2015/ ]
california  pacific  2015  history  dhlawrence  1915  2115  cosmopolitanism  colinmarshall  wendycheng  roberthgottlieb  jeanmelasaine  elizabethlogan  abigailmarkyn  phoebeyoung  suzannefischer  optimism  gustavoarellano  alexsteffan  alexismadrigal  annaleenewitz  boomcalifornia  thomasosborne 
february 2015 by robertogreco
Orange County Weekly - ¡Ask a Mexican!
archive of Gustavo Arellano's "Ask a Mexican" column at OC Weekly
mexico  culture  gustavoarellano  humor  society  us 
april 2008 by robertogreco

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