Taco USA Themes, Latino USA, and La Gueleguetza

Today we started off class with some questions to get us thinking about how some of the themes in Taco USA come together. The taco crew responded to these questions as comments to this post. The questions about Taco USA were:

  1. What are themes you have seen emerge in the book?
  2. How do you describe his writing style?
  3. What are the claims/arguments Arellano makes about Mexican food in the USA?
  4. Where are counterstories he narrates in his book?

From the comments below, we can see some critical responses forming that connect to ideologies, appropriation, and cultural dignity. Here’s a recap, though you can see the comments down below.

The taco crew brought up fantastic points about narratives, stories, power, languages, fast food/slow food, and aspects of identity. Clearly, then, there’s some taco literacy happening! But more importantly, that history and food are tightly bound to people, and in the history of the USA, this means understanding the unique history of the nation and how it emerged over time. There was some sense that “American food” is “just there” (as Cindy put it in class), but with this book, we see how what we understand what is has a history, and that sometimes we have to uncover the hidden histories to know more about how stories are political, and how important it is to recover voices lost by history.

And, yes, those histories! Folks brought up much with regard to the story of Mitla Cafe that Arellano recovers. Well, put it that way, and we have to ask, what’s the master narrative that Arellano disrupts? No doubt, the Taco Bell story.

Screen Shot 2018-02-16 at 11.10.06 AM
Taco Titan himself, Glen Bell. 

Since this is one official story, we also thought we should check out more about how Taco Bell tells its story, to check to see if they give Mitla Cafe any props for inspiration. Also, this is an exercise to disrupt that idea that Taco Bell is “just there” and we can demystify it as a corporation that has a story, one that it likes to tell about itself that may or may not give credit to the Mexican folks whose food the corporation sells. So we checked out tacobell.com.

Screen Shot 2018-02-16 at 11.14.27 AM.png

First, we noted how the web design resembles our blogs for class. The pages are arranged on a sidebar to the left, and the posts are scrollable. From the website, we did some navigating to arrange at the “about” page for Taco Bell, where we get an option for their history. Taco Bell was so kind so as to provide a timeline:

Screen Shot 2018-02-16 at 11.16.19 AM

As we suspected, Mitla Cafe was not mentioned. So we can see a counternarrative happening in Arellano. We can see competing narratives, competing histories, and also the importance of recovering the stories of folks who have been omitted from the “official” history.

A little bit further, though. We checked out the website for Yum! Brands, Taco Bell’s parent company.   Screen Shot 2018-02-16 at 11.18.46 AM.png

Again, note the design of the website, the layout of pages and posts. Looks something like the Taco Literacy homepage!

Screen Shot 2018-02-16 at 11.21.53 AM.png

We noted the brands of Pizza Hut, Taco Bell, and KFC all arranged in the corner of the website. We started to demystify some of the things we had known from experience: that some Taco Bells are also Pizza Huts, and some KFCs are also Taco Bells. We started to see how all three companies are related, and also the corporate structure of branding, and telling the “official history.” So much more complex than thinking about fast food being “just there” but also the production of an American cuisine, fast food. But this family connection made sense, then, why such things like “Mexican Pizza” are on Taco Bell’s menu:


While students were working through writing the themes and elements about Arellano’s libro, we listened to a report from Latino USA.  We listened to a Tacumentary that covered three boroughs, Queens, Manhattan, and Brooklyn in search of the best tacos.

The report touched on some aspects of Poblano migration to NYC, and also how this affected NYC’s sense of Latinidad. We had some discussion about what it means to be Latina/o/x in the USA, and I recommended students check

We also followed Latino USA on Instagram.

We finished class with the story of Gueleguetza and Oaxacan immigrants in California.

(By the way, compare the tlayuda above with the Mexican pizza in the IG post above.) The name of the restaurant comes from the festival in Oaxaca.

We finished close reading the story of Gueleguetza, while also thinking about indigeneity in Mexico, and how being indigenous in Mexico compares/relates to being indigenous in the USA. It was also enlightening to read more about the varieties of discrimination Mexicanos face from other Mexicanos. This counternarrative disrupts notions of homogeneity among Mexicanos in the USA.


7 thoughts on “Taco USA Themes, Latino USA, and La Gueleguetza

  1. The remerging themes are how Americans make money off of someone else’s culture. Whatever is different and new will attract people to eat therefore Mexican food has been altered at times.

    The writing style is very descriptive and personal. Their are a lot of details and witty humor. It keeps you entertained even with all of the information you are learning.

    Mexican food has its own rich history and taste and therefore people should credit the people behind it instead of focusing on money alternatives.

    Counter story in the book would be about Taco Bell’as founder. On page 61 it shows how he basically stole off his neighboring Mexican food cart. He changed it to make it easier for him to make more tacos quickly and cheaply.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. 1. One theme I have seen emerge in this book is that of constant change. I believe Arellano mentions in the concluding chapter that it is never stagnant. What will be the next Mexican food trend in the United States?

    2. Arellano definitely inputs his own voice in his writing style. While reading, I can tell what his point of view is on the subject he is discussing. This attitude is evident through his syntax.

    3. Arellano claims that Mexican food is a huge influence on other foods in the United States, and many people are unaware of this. He writes to enlighten readers on the various ways Mexican staple foods [and culture] have quietly shaped the way American food and culture came to be the way it is today [Taco Bell, margaritas, etc.].

    4. [what stories might counter – Glen Bell’s – story? lesser stories]
    Mitla Cafe is the counterstory to Glen Bell’s story. They are not well known. Taco Bell is a worldwide phenomenon. Glen Bell extracted his idea from Mitla Cafe, however Mitla receives no credit. Mitla Cafe is authentic, Taco Bell is fabricated and focused on production.*

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I really love his writing style because it sounds professional but then he sprinkles in wording that really makes me laugh. Laugh because what he writes is funny and because I doubt I’d be able to get away with writing how he does on an academic paper. People like the food of whatever culture they are consuming but not the people within the culture. Then and now some people are prejudice towards the (Mexican) people who make their food. They’ll happily eat it and even sometimes take it and change it (and call it their own creation!) but they don’t always like to credit those who are giving them these foods! Without Mexican People THERE IS NO Mexican Food!

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  4. 1. Themes recurring in this book are that of change and appropriation. Especially as Mexican food is taken and made to adapt to American tastes and then profited off of.
    2. Arellano writes with satire, humor- his own voice mixed in with factual history. His unique voice allows the history to feel more present and not as textbook. These facts go from a history lesson to a narrative.
    3. Most notably Arellano says how Mexican food popular in America is a ‘mongrel’. It’s heavily derived from what is originally made. Tortillas especially have a dark history mixed in with the discrimination of Mexican people and their marginalized lives.
    4. The most prominent counterstories to me are the stories similar to that of Mitla Cafe and the stories like Oaxacan people opening their own restaurants.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. 1. I believe the themes in Taco USA jumps around a lot between food, culture, people, geographics, and politics.

    2. Arellanos writing style seems to be very personal, his research is done through his or other people experience. captures history, and works on molding peoples ideas by adding thoughts people might not have known about before.

    3. Mexican food has undergone many changes in the USA and its credit to Mexico has been lost. I believe he wants people to be able to relate and praise the dishes to Mexico. And those that are not “Authentic” should not be recognized to even be considered Mexican.

    4. Street vendors they can be viewed as a controversial topic because there is an ongoing debate between the law and culture. Regulations try to choke people out on being able to make a living on the street while at the same time people are going against the law while trying to make a living, so it makes it a very sensitive topic to both sides.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. 1) Evolution: We see how Mexican food arrived to the US and how it has changed to different styles/fusions. How Mexican food and culture are treated.

    2) His writing style is very sarcastic which can come off as funny and blunt at times. I like how he intermingles Spanish words and their history. By him writing personal anecdotes, it makes it easier to connect to as a reader.

    3) How people are not aware of the daily food/products history people eat in America. (i.e. Mexican History)

    4) The Malta Cafe and Taco Bell Story. How Glen Bell basically stole from a taco shop that was across from him and then made a huge profit of it. He justifies it by saying he made it better. Milta Cafe is not as known even if they are more authentic.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. 1. One of the biggest themes of this book to me I think is the American appropriation of Mexican food, and also how the Mexican people and their foods are ridiculed. As the Mexicans creating their own foods were seen as simple and barbaric, when the Americans recreated the these foods they were seen as visionaries and extremely artistic.

    2. Arellano in his writing is very informational. Often times in the book he incorporates his opinions along with factual information. In his book he was extremely informative. Arellano was very particular and specific in trying to get his points across with evidence to support it.

    3. Arellano definitely wanted to show how common that Mexicans along with their foods are seen as a joke or even inferior. In chapter 3, Arellano talked about how in the early 1900’s many artists made political propaganda and jokes to discredit the Mexican people along with creating a public imagery of what Mexican people represent.

    4. One of the bigger counterstories Arellano spoke about was the Chili Queens in San Antonio. As the Chili Queens were so impactful in the Texas food industry, they were still kicked to the curb. The mayor of San Antonio kicked these people out of their location by the Alamo just to put a new building there. In being kicked out of their land, the Mexican people were just like always being suppressed and being made to be inferior.

    Liked by 1 person

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