Thursday, June 22, 2017

Chicanonautica: Who Culturally Appropriated the Taco?

Folks are taking offense to people making and selling food that’s not of their ethnicity. White hipsters are reported to have stolen secret tortilla recipes. Lists of restaurants accused of cultural appropriation are being published with McCarthyistic suggestions to avoid them.

Personally, I don’t care about the ethnicity of the people making or serving my food, or taking my money for it. What matters here is the quality of said food. And not wanting to do business with people because of their skin color and/or accent seems a bit racist, doesn’t it?

Besides, here in my little corner of Aztlán, the overwhelming number of cooks in all kinds of restaurants are brown people who speak Spanish. I’m talking Asian, Italian, “American” . . . You gonna boycott them, too? Just who is culturally appropriating whom here? 

As for “secret tortilla recipes,” there ain’t no such animal. The ingredients for tortillas are simple and easy to find in the age of the Internet. What makes for good tortillas is the way the ingredients are put together and how they're cooked, which takes skill and practice. As far as I’m concerned, the more people who know how to make tortillas, the better! It should be taught in schools.

Put something in a tortilla, and it becomes a taco. There many ways to do this, and a lot of room to get creative.

I know this gets some people all: “That’s not the way my nana made them! That’s cultural appropriation, man!”

I actually enjoy that there are so many different kinds tacos, from different regions and ethnicities . It’s called diversity. Get used to it.

Here in the West side of the Phoenix Metro Area you can find exotic tacos in styles from all over Méjico and beyond. I haven’t had time to try them all. It’s a Mexican food utopia where a mannequin in a lucha libre mask advertises one-pound burritos.

You also find Navajo tacos--or Indian tacos, as many prefer to call them. They’re more like tostadas than tacos to me, served on Navajo--er, excuse me, Indian fry bread instead of a tortilla. Do I have to say that they’re delicious?
I ordered some on the Big Rez once:

"Two Navajo tacos, please."

"Two tacos!"

They don’t talk about those things from Mexico there.

And who invented the taco? The Aztec gods were said to have eaten human hearts sacrificed to them in tacos. They are traditional food all over Aztlán, which overlaps with “Navajo” taco territory.

It isn't clear what language it’s from. In Spanish it means “wad” or “plug”--and tampons are referred to as “tacos.” There’s also the Nahuatl word tlahco meaning “half” or “in the middle” where you put the meat in the tortilla. Who knows what lurks in other Uto-Aztecan languages.

We’ll probably never know for sure without a time machine or a serendipitous archeological discovery.

Besides, my fellow Latonoids, cultural appropriation is part of our heritage. The Aztecs were masters of the art. They did it all over Mexico. Burning the temples of the cities they conquered, they grabbed the things that they liked. Like the ingenious Mayan calendar that caused a ruckus a few years ago. The image that used of it was actually the Aztec Sun Stone. The Aztecs stole the calendar from the Maya, and the Maya probably stole it from the Olmecs. And have you heard the controversial theory that the Olmecs came from Africa?

Meanwhile, most people in this misinformation age can’t tell Aztec from Mayan, from Olmec, and never heard of the Mixtec, Zapotec, Tarascans, Otomí and other important cultures. Yet they think they know about who owns the taco.

All this bitching about cultural appropriation gets in the way of our creative recombocultural rasquache. We need to be free to create cultures that everyone else wants to steal. That’s when you know you’re really onto something.

ErnestHogan is busy culturally appropriating science fiction and taking it in bold new directions.

1 comment:

Unknown said...

couldn't agree more with your closing statement! what the heck is cultural appropriation, anyway? i'm a latina that's 55% native american, 20% greek, 8% spanish, with a sprinkling of african and even some irish and central asian. so if i make spaghetti for dinner, is that cultural appropiation? and if i play a classical piece written by Vivaldi on my violin i bought in that cultural appropriation? por favor!! (or PARAKALO POLY as my greek ancestors would say). it's by stretching and trying new foods, music, dances that we grow and expand our worlds. that we enrich our mother culture through blending and texturing and weaving other aspects into it.