Transcript: Jeffrey Pilcher on Was the Taco Invented in Califoria | Oct 23, 2004

Jeffrey Pilcher stands behind a podium in a packed conference room. A banner on the podium reads “University of Toronto. Munk Centre for International Studies at Trinity College.”
Jeffrey is in his late thirties, clean-shaven, with wavy blond hair. He’s wearing glasses, a gray suit, burgundy shirt and brown tie.

He says YEARS AGO
WHEN I WAS JUST OUT OF GRADUATE
SCHOOL, I WAS INVITED TO A
CONFERENCE IN MEXICO THAT WAS
A LOT LIKE THIS CONFERENCE HERE.

A caption appears on screen. It reads "Jeffrey Pilcher. The Citadel, Charleston, S.C. Was the taco invented in southern California? The Americanization of Mexican cuisine."

Jeffrey continues UM, IT WAS
IN THE CITY OF
PUEBLA
AND THE SUBJECT OF IT WAS
THE SPANISH PRESENCE IN MEXICAN
CULTURE. UM, NOW AS
THE LEGENDARY BIRTHPLACE
OF
MOLE POBLANO, WHICH IS
THE MEXICAN NATIONAL DISH,
I NAIVELY IMAGINED THAT THIS
WOULD BE THE PERFECT FORUM
TO PRESENT THE THEORY THAT
MOLE
WAS ACTUALLY
OF HISPANO-ARABIC ORIGINS.
HA.
THE COMMENTATOR PROCEEDED TO
SAVAGE ME AS AN ARROGANT,
IGNORANT “GRINGO” WHO KNEW
NOTHING ABOUT MEXICO OR ITS
FOODS, WHICH KIND OF PROVED MY
THESIS ABOUT CUISINE AND
NATIONAL IDENTITY, BUT THAT WAS
SMALL COMFORT AT THE TIME.
AS YOU CAN SEE, I'M NOW OLDER
AND WISER HAVING LEARNED TO
MAKE MY CONTROVERSIAL CLAIMS
FROM THE SAFETY OF A NEUTRAL
COUNTRY.

[Audience laughing]

Jeffrey continues SO, WAS THE
TACO INVENTED IN SOUTHERN
CALIFORNIA?
WELL, THE HUMBLE TACO MUST
CERTAINLY BE ONE OF THE MOST
MISUNDERSTOOD FOODS IN THE
MODERN WORLD.
I THINK WE ALL KNOW THAT WHAT
YOU GET AT TACO BELL IS NOT IN
FACT A MEXICAN TACO.
UM, AND THIS SORT OF, BY
IMPLICATION, LEADS US TO THE
CONCLUSION THAT THERE MUST BE A
REAL TACO OUT THERE SOMEWHERE.
UM, AND CERTAINLY MEXICANS WHO
TREASURE ABOVE ALL A FRESH CORN
TORTILLA CRADLING A LITTLE HEAP
OF “CARNITAS” OR MUSHROOMS WITH
SALSA, THEY CRINGE AT THE SIGHT
OF A RIGID, AMERICAN TACO
SHELL, UH, WEIGHTED DOWN WITH
BRIGHT, YELLOW CHEESE AND
HAMBURGER FILLING.
AND NEVER MIND WHAT PASSES FOR
A “GORDITA” NORTH OF THE
BORDER.
UM, AND SO I THINK THE TACO HAS
BECOME ONE OF THE GREAT SYMBOLS
OF AMERICANISATION, UH, THIS
FOLK CULTURE THAT HAS BEEN
CORRUPTED BY MODERN INDUSTRY.
AND BY IMPLICATION IT LEADS TO
THIS--TO A BROADER QUESTION
ABOUT, “IS THERE A FUTURE FOR
PEASANT, FOR FOLK FOODS AROUND
THE WORLD AS A MODERN INDUSTRY
BEGINS TO PROGRESS?
UM, AND I GUESS MY PROBLEM WITH
THAT QUESTION AND WITH THAT
WHOLE LINE OF ARGUMENT IS THAT
I BELIEVE THAT YOU CAN SAY THAT
THE TACO IS, IN FACT, A
SURPRISINGLY MODERN ARTEFACT.
AND SO WHAT I'D LIKE TO DO IN
TODAY'S TALK IS PROVIDE A
LITTLE GENEALOGY OF THE TACO,
UM, THAT CERTAINLY EMERGED FROM
FOLK FOODS, BUT THAT I SEE IT
AS BEING IN A SENSE INVENTED IN
THE LATE 19TH CENTURY.
THE TACO CULTURE EMERGED FROM A
PARTICULAR, UH, SOCIAL
ENVIRONMENT AND THAT WAS TIED
INTO THE CONSTRUCTION OF THE
MEXICAN NATION.
AND THEN I THINK THAT THE TACO
WAS, IN ESSENCE, REINVENTED A
SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA IN ANOTHER
SOCIAL ENVIRONMENT AND THIS WAS
A PRODUCT OF MEXICAN MIGRANTS
ON THE ONE HAND, BUT OF ANGLO-
BUSINESSMEN ON THE OTHER.
UM, AND SO WHAT I'D LIKE TO DO
IS THEN PROCEED TO LOOK AT THE
TACO BOTH IN MEXICO AND THE
UNITED STATES.
SO, JUST WHAT IS A TACO?
UH, FRANCISCO SANTA MARIA'S
AUTHORITATIVE
DICCIONARIO
DES MEXICANISMOS DEFINES IT
SIMPLY AS “A LIGHT AND
IMPROVISED FOOD BELONGING TO
THE LOWER CLASSES USUALLY
PREPARED WITH A ROLLED UP TORTILLA.”
AND SO SURELY THE ORIGINS OF
THE TACO CAN SCARCELY BE LESS
ANCIENT THAN THE TORTILLA
ITSELF AND I THINK THE TORTILLA
IS REALLY ONE OF THE MOST
QUINTESSENTIAL PEASANT FOODS
THAT THE WAY IT'S PREPARED,
THAT THE CORN IS GROUND BY HAND
BY A PEASANT WOMAN KNEELING
OVER THIS BASALT GRINDING STONE
AND IT'S AN INCREDIBLY LABOUR
INTENSIVE TASK AND WHEN YOU
THINK ABOUT THESE MEXICAN WOMEN
SPENDING HOURS EVERYDAY BENT
OVER THE metate, THIS
GRINDING STONE, YOU CAN SEE
WHERE MEXICAN PATRIARCHY HAS
SUCH INCREDIBLY DEEP ROOTS.
UM, AND SO THE TORTILLA, THEN,
I MEAN THE TACO IN THE SIMPLEST
DEFINITION IS SOMETHING WRAPPED
UP IN ONE OF THESE TORTILLAS.
UM, AND JOSE Itturiaga
HAS ACTUALLY WRITTEN A BOOK
CALLED DE TACOS, TAMALES Y
TORTAS IN WHICH HE SORT OF
PROVIDES A COMPENDIUM OF ALL OF
THE TACOS IN MEXICO AND HERE WE
CAN ACTUALLY SEE REGION BY
REGION, THE DIFFERENT MEXICAN
CUISINES AND THEY ARE
ENORMOUSLY DIVERSE, UH, AS YOU
TRAVEL THROUGHOUT MEXICO.
AND SO YOU'LL GET
Barbacoa
IN ONE PLACE
AND “CARNITAS” SOMEWHERE ELSE
AND THE “FRITANGA” AND SO YOU
CAN JUST SORT OF SEE THE
ACCUMULATION OF THESE DIFFERENT
CUISINES WRAPPED UP IN A
TORTILLA AND THOSE ARE THE
TACOS OF MEXICO.
UH, THERE ARE ALSO DIFFERENT
WAYS OF PREPARING TACOS.
THERE'S THE “TACO DORADO,”
WHICH IS A TORTILLA STUFFED,
ROLLED UP AND THEN FRIED AND I
GUESS THAT'S SORT OF THE ORIGIN
OF WHAT WE THINK OF AS BEING
THE TACO.
UH, THERE ARE OTHERS, THOUGH.
THERE'S THE “TACOS SUDADOS,”
WHICH ARE
ACTUALLY STEAMED TACOS AND
THESE ARE OFTEN TIMES CARRIED
IN A BASKET AND SOLD ON STREET
CORNERS.
AND SO, AN ENORMOUS DIVERSITY
OF TACOS, DIFFERENT WAYS OF
MAKING TACOS AND
Itturiaga IS ACTUALLY
SORT OF PROVIDING THIS VERSION
OF A NATIONAL IDENTITY THROUGH
THIS COMPENDIUM OF TACOS.
BUT I HESITATE TO ACCEPT
Itturiaga’s DESCRIPTIONS AT
FACE VALUE BECAUSE ACCORDING TO
SANTA MARIA'S
DICCIONARIO
AGAIN, THE
WORD “TACO” DID NOT APPEAR WITH
GASTRONOMIC CONNOTATIONS BEFORE
THE LATE 19TH CENTURY IN THE
Costumbrista
NOVELS OF LOUIS Inclán AND MANUEL PINO
AND THIS WAS SORT OF THE
LITERATURE OF LOCAL COLOUR
COMPARABLE TO MARK TWAIN OR
BALZAC OR ANY OF THESE OTHERS.
AND, UM, THE MOST NOTABLY THE
WORD TACO WAS NOT USED IN THIS
SENSE IN MEXICO'S FIRST NOVEL
EL PERIQUILLO
SARNIENTO, “THE MANGY
PARROT,” WHICH WAS PUBLISHED IN 1816.
JOSE JOAQUIN FERNANDEZ DE
Lizarde, THE AUTHOR
OF THIS BOOK WAS A MASTER OF
LOWER CLASS DIALECT IN WHICH HE
USED ALL OF THESE POPULAR WORDS
WITH GREAT FLUENCY AND HE WAS
ALSO A GREAT AFICIONADO OF THE
POPULAR CUISINE AND SO ONE
WOULD IMAGINE THAT IF A TACO
WAS BEING USED THAT WAY, HE
WOULD HAVE KNOWN IT AND IT
WOULD HAVE APPEARED IN THIS
BOOK, UH, BUT INSTEAD, WHAT'S
DESCRIBED A LOT LIKE A MODERN
DAY TACO IS ACTUALLY CALLED
An envuelto, WHICH ACTUALLY
TRANSLATES APPROPRIATELY AS A WRAP.
UM, I THINK IT'S ALSO REVEALING
THAT THE ETYMOLOGY OF THE WORD
TACO IS DISTINCTLY EUROPEAN.
THERE IS NO WORD FOR TACO IN
Náhuatl OR ANY OTHER
LANGUAGE FOR WHICH I'M FAMILIAR
AND NOR IS TACO USED AS A FOOD
ANYWHERE OUTSIDE OF MEXICO.
IN FACT, THE Real ACADEMIA ESPANOLA, “THE
OFFICIAL DICTIONARY OF SPANISH.”
PROVIDES THE MOST BASIC
DEFINITION OF TACO AS BEING A
PEG OR A PLUG.
AND THE ENTOMOLOGIST,
Juan Corominas, DATES THE
FIRST APPEARANCE OF THIS TO
1607 IN FRENCH ACTUALLY AS “A
CLOTH PLUG USED TO HOLD THE
POWDER CHARGE OF AN ARKBUS.”
UM, AND BY THE 16TH CENTURY--
SORRY, BY THE 18TH CENTURY
RATHER, THE MEANING HAD ALSO
COME TO BE USED IN A VERY
SPECIFIC CIRCUMSTANCES AS “AN
EXPLOSIVE CHARGE OF GUNPOWDER.”
THAT WAS WRAPPED IN PAPER AND
USED BY MINERS AT THE
Real de Monte MINE, THE
SILVER MINE IN Apachuca, Hidalgo.
UM AND THIS WAS ACTUALLY A PLUG
ALSO BECAUSE THEY WOULD HAMMER
OUT A HOLE IN THE MINE WALL AND
INSERT THAT POWDER CHARGE AS A
LITTLE PEG ANDYOU KNOW,
BEFORE--AS THEY'RE WORKING IN
THE MINE.
AND, OF COURSE, GIVEN A
SUFFICIENTLY SPICY SALSA, IT
SEEMS A SMALL STEP FROM A STICK
OF DYNAMITE TO A “TAQUITO.”

(Laughing)

Jeffrey continues UM AND
ACTUALLY, I JOKE, BUT IN FACT,
JESUS LOURDES ESCALANTE
OBSERVES THAT THE TACOS
SUDADOS OR THE STEAMED
TACOS, WHICH ARE POPULAR IN
MEXICO CITY, UM, WERE
ORIGINALLY CARRIED THE
SOBRIQUET
OF
TACOS DE MINERO,
OKAY.
“THE MINERS TACOS” AND THAT
THEY WERE INTRODUCED FROM
Pachuca AND OTHER MINING
REGIONS.
AND SO I THINK THAT WE COULD
ARGUE THAT THERE REALLY IS THIS
SORT OF GENEALOGY, THEN, THIS
CONNECTION BETWEEN, UH, THIS
USE OF THE WORD AND THE
ULTIMATE TERM, WHICH COMES ABOUT.
HAVING SAID THIS, AND ACTUALLY
I'M REALLY FOND OF THE LINEAGE,
BUT I HAVE A REAL PROBLEM WITH
IT AND IN FACT, I WOULD DENY
ANY ATTEMPT TO SAY THAT THIS IS
THE DERIVATION OF THE WORD
TACO, PARTLY BECAUSE THE LAST
THING THAT CULINARY HISTORY
NEEDS IS ANOTHER “JUST SO.”
STORY.
YOU KNOW, THAT THIS IS JUST TOO
CUTE AND TOO, UH, CLEVER A
DERIVATION, BUT ALSO THE WORD
TACO IS ENORMOUSLY VARIED.
I MEAN IN THE, UH, THE SPANISH
DICTIONARY THERE'S 20 DIFFERENT
DEFINITIONS OF IT AND THE WORDS
WE APPLY TO TACO, THE, THE,
FOODS IN MEXICO ARE SO DIVERSE
THAT I THINK THERE HAS TO BE
OTHER DERIVATIONS THAT I JUST
HAVEN'T BEEN ABLE TO FIGURE OUT
YET.
BUT--AND HERE'S WHERE I THINK
IT'S IMPORTANT--IN THE LATE
19TH
CENTURY IN MEXICO CITY, YOU HAD
A SOCIAL CONDITION IN WHICH
TAQUERIAS
CULTURE WAS
COMING ABOUT AND THAT THE USE
OF THE WORD TACO SUDDENLY
GAINED A CURRENCY.
BASICALLY WHAT HAPPENS AT THE
END OF THE 19TH CENTURY IN
MEXICO CITY IS THAT MEXICO IS
BEGINNING ITS PROCESS OF
INDUSTRIALIZATION.
AND SO YOU HAVE A HUGE INFLUX
OF MIGRANTS FROM ALL OVER
MEXICO COMING TO THE CAPITAL,
WHICH WAS ONE OF THE MOST
IMPORTANT CITIES OF
INDUSTRIALIZATION AND SO THE
POPULATION GOES FROM SOMETHING
LIKE 150 OR 160 THOUSAND IN
MID-CENTURY TO MORE THAN 300
THOUSAND BY THE END OF THE 19TH
CENTURY AND SO YOU'VE GOT THIS
HUGE INFLUX OF PEOPLE COMING
FROM ALL OVER.
NOW THE END OF THE 19TH CENTURY
IS AN IMPORTANT TIME FOR
MEXICAN NATION BUILDING AND THE
NATIONAL CUISINE REALLY EMERGES
AT THIS TIME IN A MIDDLE CLASS,
CULINARY LITERATURE IN WHICH
WOMEN, WELL-TO-DO WOMEN FROM
ALL OVER THE COUNTRY ARE
COMPARING THEIR, YOU KNOW,
REGIONAL CUISINES, THEY'RE
EXCHANGING RECIPES AND THEY'RE
CONSTRUCTING THIS SORT OF
DOMESTIC IDEA OF WHAT
LO MEXICANO, THE MEXICAN
REALLY IS AND, UM, BUT I DON'T
WANT TO SAY THIS AS JUST
HAPPENING AMONG THE MIDDLE CLASS.
I THINK WE SEE A POPULAR
VERSION OF THIS TAKING PLACE AS
SORT OF A WORKING CLASS
COSMOPOLITANISM, IF YOU WILL,
THAT THE POPULAR CLASSES WHO
ARE GATHERING TOGETHER IN
MEXICO CITY, EATING TOGETHER IN
MEXICO CITY, ARE IMAGINING A
MEXICO FOR THEMSELVES AND ONE
THAT, IN MANY WAYS, IS
DIFFERENT FROM THAT ELITE
CONSTRUCTION, THAT ELITE
PROJECT OF MEXICO AND JUST HOW
DIFFERENT IT IS, I THINK WE CAN
SEE IN THE MANIFESTATIONS OF
THE MEXICAN REVOLUTION OF 1910
THAT BREAKS OUT SOON
THEREAFTER.
NEVERTHELESS, TO FOCUS ON THE
FOODS HERE, UM, THE FIRST OR
THE OLDEST RATHER,
TAQUERIA
IN MEXICO WAS
ACTUALLY TACOS Beatriz,
THEY'RE STILL JUST A COUPLE OF
BLOCKS OFF THE CENTRAL SQUARE
IN MEXICO, THE
ZOCALO
AND IT CLAIMS TO HAVE BEEN
GOING SINCE 1907 AND THIS
CLAIMS TO BE THE OLDEST
TAQUERIA.
MAYBE IT IS AND MAYBE IT ISN'T,
BUT CERTAINLY IT'S HAPPENING
ABOUT THAT TIME.
UH, THE FIRST ARCHIVAL REFERENCES I'VE
SEEN TO TACOS IS IN 1919 WHEN
THE REVOLUTIONARY GOVERNMENT OF
MEXICO CITY BEGAN TO LICENCE
TAQUERIAS AND TAQUERIAS AT
THE TIME MEANT NOT JUST TACO
SHOPS, BUT ALL POPULAR EATING
ESTABLISHMENTS.
OKAY, SO THERE WERE DIFFERENT
REGIONAL FOODS.
SO THERE WAS PESCADO DE
Alvarado.
Alvarado IS A FISHING
TOWN NEAR VERA CRUZ.
Antojitos tapatíos,
A pozole shop,
AND SO YOU'VE
GOT THESE DIFFERENT REGIONAL
CUISINES AND THEY'RE ALL UNDER
THE RUBRIC OF TAQUERIAS AND
THEY'RE ALL SORT OF POPULAR FOODS.
OFTEN TIMES THESE
ESTABLISHMENTS FELL INTO
TROUBLE WITH THE AUTHORITIES
BECAUSE THEY WERE BEING USED AS
ILLICIT TAVERNS AND IN FACT, I
THINK THAT THIS WHOLE WORLD OF
POPULAR, UM, SOCIABILITY, THEN,
IS TIED INTO EATING, DRINKING,
THE CARPAS, WHICH WAS A FORM OF
POPULAR THEATRE, WHICH ACTUALLY
WAS IMPORTANT TO THE SORT OF
POLITICAL CULTURE THAT SHAPES
UP, THAT YOU'VE GOT THE SORT OF
LIKE THE VAUDEVILLE IN THE
UNITED STATES, BUT WITH A VERY
SPECIFIC POLITICAL CONTENT IN
THE HUMOUR.
AND SO I THINK YOU'VE GOT THIS
WHOLE WORKING CLASS WORLD IN
WHICH THEY'RE CHALLENGING THIS
ELITE REPRESENTATIONS OF THE
MEXICAN NATION.
UM, I SHOULD ALSO POINT OUT
THAT THE TACOS ARE NOT JUST OF
MEXICAN ORIGIN.
ONE OF THE MOST INTERESTING
VERSIONS OF THESE IS THE
TACO AL PASTOR
AND THIS
ACTUALLY STARTS OUT IN THE
1920'S WITH LEBANESE MIGRANTS
WHO SETTLE IN THE CITY OF
PUEBLA AND BEGIN OPENING SHOPS,
WHICH AT THE TIME ARE CALLED
“TACOS ARABES,” ARAB TACOS.
AND BASICALLY WHAT THEY DO IS
THEY HAVE THE LITTLE, YOU KNOW,
HERO, THE LITTLE VERTICAL
ROTISSERIE WITH WHICH THEY COOK
AND THESE BECOME THE ORIGINS OF
A VERY POPULAR MEXICAN “TACOS
AL PASTOR.”
OKAY.
SO WHAT ABOUT THE, SORT OF,
TACO AS IT'S, YOU KNOW, AS IT'S
IN ITS SOCIAL ENVIRONMENT?
WHAT KIND OF REFERENCES DO WE
SEE TO TACOS IN THE CULINARY
LITERATURE? UH, NOW THERE'S
ALWAYS A LAG IN WHAT APPEARS
IN COOKBOOKS ESPECIALLY ONES
PRODUCED BY THE
MIDDLE CLASS AND WHAT'S
ACTUALLY HAPPENING OUT
IN THE STREETS, BUT I THINK IT'S
INTERESTING THAT THE FIRST
REFERENCES I'VE SEEN IN
COOKBOOKS TO TACOS ARE ACTUALLY
IN THE LATE 1930'S.
UH, AND IT'S ACTUALLY A WOMAN,
JOSEPHINA VELASQUEZ DE LEON WHO
IS KIND OF MEXICO'S BETTY
CROCKER, IF YOU WILL, THAT IN
THE 1930'S THROUGH TO THE
1950'S, SHE TRAVELS ALL OVER
MEXICO COLLECTING THESE
DIFFERENT RECIPES.
AND ANYWAY, ONE OF THE FIRST OF
HER COOKBOOKS WITH THE SORT
OF UTILITARIAN TITLE “THE 30
MENU COOKBOOK,” UM, INCLUDED
A RECIPE FOR TAQUITOS AND, UM,
IN FUTURE COOKBOOKS IN WHICH
SHE KIND OF CHRONICLED EVERY
STATE IN THE MEXICAN NATION
AND THEIR TYPICAL FOODS,
SHE INCLUDED SOME RECIPES
FOR THESE LOCAL TACOS
AND SO 'TACOS Potosinos
FOR EXAMPLE, HAD POTATOES,
CARROTS AND PICKLED TROTTERS
WITH A CHILE SAUCE. AND SO, UM,
SO YOU'VE GOT THIS SORT OF,
AGAIN, THIS IMAGINING
OF THE MEXICAN NATION
THROUGH THE KITCHEN. UM,
AND IT'S KIND OF INTERESTING
JUST BRIEFLY TO SORT OF TALK
ABOUT WHAT THE TACO PLAYED--WHAT
ROLE THAT PLAYED AMONG
THE MIDDLE CLASS, AMONG
THE ELITE. AND BASICALLY THAT
THIS IS A SORT OF FORM
OF SLUMMING, THAT THESE,
YOU KNOW, WEALTHY PEOPLE WOULD
GO TO, YOU KNOW, THESE BARRIOS
AND EAT TACOS AND PERHAPS GO
TO THAT RACY THEATRE I WAS
TALKING ABOUT. UM, AND SO,
YOU KNOW, IT'S KIND
OF PARTICIPATING IN
THE NATIONAL, THAT, THAT
COMMUNITY, BUT ALWAYS SORT
OF FROM AN IRONIC DISTANCE, UM,
AH,
STATUS.
NOW, I DON'T THINK THAT, THAT
RECIPE FROM LIKE ABOUT 1940 IS
ACTUALLY THE FIRST ONE BECAUSE,
AGAIN, THERE'S A LOT OF
ephemeral CULINARY
LITERATURE OUT THERE THAT, YOU
KNOW, IT'S LOST.
IT'S IN, YOU KNOW, IT'S IN THE
WOMEN'S COLUMNS AND NEWSPAPERS.
IT'S IN THESE LITTLE PAMPHLET
COOKBOOKS, UH, IT'S--COMMUNITY
COOKBOOKS.
AND SO THERE'S PROBABLY A
RECIPE OUT THERE THAT I JUST
HAVEN'T BEEN ABLE TO FIND.
BUT I CAN SAY THAT THE FIRST
EXTENT TACO RECIPE--THAT I'VE
COME ACROSS, ANYWAY--IS FROM A
COOKBOOK FROM PAULINE WILEY
Claymon CALLED
“RAMONA'S SPANISH-MEXICAN
COOKERY,” 1929 PUBLISHED IN
SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA.
AND SO AT LEAST IN CULINARY
LITERATURE, THE FIRST ONE
REALLY IS FROM SOUTHERN
CALIFORNIA.
UM, AND TO SORT OF UNDERSTAND
WHAT--WHY THAT IS WE HAVE TO
REALLY THINK ABOUT WHAT THE
DIFFERENCES BETWEEN COOKBOOKS
IN THE UNITED STATES AND
COOKBOOKS IN MEXICO ARE ABOUT,
THAT IN MEXICO, YOU KNOW, THESE
ARE A MIDDLE CLASS PROJECT, BUT
IT'S SORT OF A NATIONAL
PROJECT.
WHEREAS IN THE UNITED STATES,
MEXICAN RECIPES ARE THERE AS A
FORM OF EXOTICISM, THAT THIS
IS, YOU KNOW, THE SORT OF
INTEREST IN WHAT'S THE WORLD--
WHAT'S OUT THERE IN THE WORLD.
AND OF COURSE THE VERY TITLE,
“RAMONA,” REFERRING TO THAT
ROMANTIC NOVEL FROM HELEN HUNT
JACKSON, YOU KNOW, SORT OF
LENDS ITSELF TO THAT, SORT OF,
GOLDEN VISION OF A HISPANIC
PAST, WHICH HAS NOW BEEN PAST
AND SUPERSEDED BY THIS ANGLO
VISION OF THE UNITED STATES IN
PROGRESS.
AND THIS, BUT THIS IDEA OF
EXOTICISM AND THIS VISION OF
MEXICAN FOOD CONTINUES ON TO
SHAPE WHAT OUR IMAGES OF
MEXICAN FOOD WITHIN AMERICAN
SOCIETY ARE.
FIRST OF ALL, THERE'S STREET
FOODS AND SO I THINK IT'S
INTERESTING THAT IN MOST
MEXICAN RESTAURANTS, THE FOODS
YOU GET ARE NOT WHAT MIDDLE
CLASS FOODS ARE IN MEXICO.
INSTEAD YOU'LL GET A
COMBINATION PLATE OF DIFFERENT
STREET FOODS WITH A TACO AND AN
ENCHILADA AND, UM, A TAMALE AND
THAT THESE WOULD ALL BE FOODS
THAT WOULD NOT BE, YOU KNOW,
EVEN EATEN IN A RESTAURANT,
THEY WOULD BE EATEN OFF THE STREET.
OKAY, AND SO WHAT WE HAVE TAKEN
OUT OF MEXICAN FOODS IS THAT
SORT OF POPULAR CUISINE.
NEVERTHELESS, I THINK IT'S
APPROPRIATE THAT, UM, SOUTHERN
CALIFORNIA WAS THE ORIGIN OF,
UM, THESE TACOS IN ANOTHER WAY
BECAUSE THIS PERIOD
IN THE 1910'S, THE 1920'S,
YOU'VE GOT A GREAT MIGRATION
FOR MEXICANS AS WELL
AS FOR AFRICAN- AMERICANS. OKAY.
THIS IS THE UPHEAVALS
OF THE MEXICAN REVOLUTION, UH,
PEOPLE ARE BEING DISPLACED OUT
OF MEXICO COMING TO THE UNITED
STATES AND IN PARTICULAR COMING
TO LOS ANGELES. AND SO YOU'VE
GOT PEOPLE FROM ALL
OVER THE PLACE, ALL THE MEXICAN
REGIONS, AND JUST AS IN MEXICO
CITY, YOU KNOW, THEY'RE
COMBINING AND THEY'RE
DISCOVERING THE MANY MEXICO'S,
SO THEY'RE DOING IN EAST LOS
ANGELES AS WELL.
AND SO TACO
SHOPS, UM, SORT OF PROVIDE THIS
PANORAMIC VIEW OF MEXICO'S
REGIONAL CUISINES IN L.A. AS IN
MEXICO CITY.
AND IN FACT, THESE TACO SHOPS
BECOME SO UBIQUITOUS THAT IN
THE 1970'S TV SERIES “ROCKFORD
FILES,” JANE GARNER'S, YOU
KNOW, SORT OF BOHEMIAN
CHARACTERS IS ALWAYS EATING AT
A TACO SHOP.
OKAY.
SO IF THE ORIGINS OF THE TACO
IN MEXICO ARE VERY, VERY HAZY
AND CLOUDED, I THINK THAT THE
ORIGINS--THE PICTURE FOR THE
REINVENTION OF THE TACO IN
CALIFORNIA IS MUCH CLEARER IF
MORE CONTENTIOUS.
AND IT'S THE MID-1950'S AND
IT'S THE TIME, OF COURSE THAT
THE MCDONALD'S BROTHERS ARE
EXPERIMENTING WITH THE
DEVELOPMENT OF FAST FOOD.
AND IN THE VERY SAME TOWN OF
SAN BERNARDINO, CALIFORNIA,
GLEN BELL, UH, WAS OPERATING A
HOT DOG STAND, BUT RATHER THAN
SORT OF COMPETE, YOU KNOW, FOR
THE HAMBURGER TRADE, BELL TOOK
THOSE SAME TECHNIQUES OF
INDUSTRIALIZATION TO A
DIFFERENT PRODUCT, UM, A
DIFFERENT MARKET--THE DRIVE
THRU TACO STAND.
OKAY.
AND AS HE DESCRIBED IT, “IF YOU
WANTED A DOZEN, YOU WERE IN FOR
A WAIT.
THEY STUFFED THEM FIRST,
QUICKLY FRIED THEM AND STUCK
THEM TOGETHER WITH A TOOTHPICK.
I THOUGHT THEY WERE DELICIOUS,
BUT SOMETHING HAD TO BE DONE
ABOUT THE METHOD OF
PREPARATION.”
NOW THAT “SOMETHING” WAS TO
PRE-FRY THE TORTILLAS, WHICH IS
TOTALLY anathema TO
ANY MEXICAN, RIGHT?
THAT THE WHOLE POINT IS TO GET
A FRESH TORTILLA THAT'S BEEN
FRESHLY PREPARED, BUT A
BLESSING TO THE ANGLO CAR
CULTURE WHERE SPEED IS OF THE
ESSENCE.
SO ANYWAY, BELL GOES THROUGH A
SERIES OF RESTAURANTS, UM, AND
IT'S KIND OF INTERESTING THAT
HE DESCRIBES THESE DIFFERENT
PARTNERS HE HAS INCLUDED SOME
FOOTBALL PLAYERS FOR THE LOS
ANGELES RAMS AND I THINK IT'S
KIND OF INTERESTING THE WAY IN
WHICH, AGAIN, THE MARKET FOR
MEXICAN FOOD IS BEING
CONSTRUCTED AS A MALE AND
SOMETHING OF A BOHEMIAN, UH,
AUDIENCE.
AND SO THIS IS THE COMPLETE
OPPOSITE OF THE WAY MCDONALDS
IS PITCHING A FAMILY FOOD,
OKAY.
SO THAT THE HAMBURGER BECOMES A
MAINSTREAM FOOD WHILE THE TACO
IS ALWAYS KIND OF PUSHED OFF TO
THE SIDE AS BEING A, UH, SORT
OF, UH, MARGINALIZED,
EXOTICIZED.
OKAY.
UM, THIS ACTUALLY THEN LEADS TO
THE CREATION OF THE TACO SHELL,
RIGHT, WHICH IS THE--AND I
THINK THAT THE TACO SHELL IS
ESSENTIAL FOR THE GLOBALIZATION
OF MEXICAN CUISINE PRECISELY
BECAUSE IT FREED FROM ALL
ASSOCIATION WITH THE ETHNIC
COMMUNITY, OKAY?
THAT, YOU KNOW, WITH TACOS YOU
NEEDED TO HAVE A FRESH
TORTILLA.
UM, AND THUS, YOU NEEDED TO
HAVE A MEXICAN COMMUNITY THAT
WAS CONSUMING THOSE TORTILLAS,
BUT ONCE YOU HAVE THE TACO
SHELL, IT CAN BE EXPORTED
AROUND THE WORLD--I MEAN THEY
TEND TO BREAK, BUT, YOU KNOW,
WITH THOSE THINGS IT DOESN'T
REALLY MATTER ANYWAY.
OKAY.
UM, JUST TO GIVE YOU AN IDEA OF
HOW DIFFERENT THE TACO SHELL
HAS BECOME, LET ME JUST
DESCRIBE TO YOU A--THIS IS FROM
AN INTERVIEW WITH A TACO BELL
EMPLOYEE WHO DESCRIBES THEIR
JOB.
THIS WAS IN THE NEW YORKER
MAGAZINE AND SHE SAYS, “MY JOB
IS I, LIKE BASICALLY, MAKE THE
TACOS.
THE MEAT COMES IN BOXES THAT
HAVE BAGS INSIDE AND THOSE BAGS
YOU BOIL TO HEAT UP THE MEAT.
THAT'S HOW YOU MAKE TACOS.”

(Audience Laughing)

Jeffrey continues AND JUST AS
RESEARCHERS AT HAMBURGER
UNIVERSITY HAVE METICULOUSLY
STUDIED THE PROCESS OF
HAMBURGER FLIPPING AND FRENCH
FRYING, SO TAYLORIZATION HAS
MADE A RUN ON THE BORDER.
“IT'S ACTUALLY HELPFUL BEING
LEFT-HANDED THE WAY THE STEAM
LINE IS SET UP.
I HAVE THE TACO IN MY RIGHT
HAND AND THE LITTLE MEAT
SCOOPER IN MY LEFT HAND AND I
THROW THEM DOWN TO THE RIGHT SO
I'M MAXIMUM EFFICIENCY.”
PREDICTABLY EMPLOYEES OFTEN
TAKE LITTLE SATISFACTION FROM
SUCH JOBS.
“I DON'T KNOW WHY I GIVE A SHIT
ABOUT THIS STUFF.
NOBODY EVER COMPLIMENTS ME OR
THANKS ME OR ANYTHING.
IT'S AN OKAY JOB, THOUGH.
THE ONLY BAD THING IS YOU REEK
OF TACOS.
YOUR SKIN SMELLS LIKE IT.
YOUR HAIR SMELLS LIKE IT.
YOUR LITTLE HAT-THINGY SMELLS
LIKE IT.
THE GOOD THINGS ARE JUST, WELL,
I GET PAID.

(Audience Laughing)

Jeffrey continues UM, OKAY, I
DON'T REALLY HAVE TIME TO TALK
ABOUT THE GLOBALIZATION OF
TACOS, BUT BASICALLY IT COMES
OUT OF THIS SAME CALIFORNIA
COUNTERCULTURE AND IN FACT I
DESCRIBE THIS AS SORT OF THE
FIRST WAVE BECAUSE THE PEOPLE
WHO SET UP THESE RESTAURANTS IN
CALIFORNIA--I MEAN IN EUROPE,
IN AUSTRALIA, AROUND THE WORLD
ARE ACTUALLY SURFERS.
THEY'RE CALIFORNIA SURFERS.
UM, BUT LET ME JUST JUMP TO MY
CONCLUSION THEN.
UM AND BASICALLY THE CONCLUSION
IS ABOUT, AGAIN, THAT IDEA OF
AMERICANIZATION.
I WAS WALKING DOWN BLOOR STREET
AND THERE'S A MCDONALD'S RIGHT
NEXT TO THE INTERCONTINENTAL
AND ON THE, ON THEIR
ADVERTISEMENT OUT FRONT IT
SHOWED A BIG MAC AND BELOW IT
WAS THE LOGO, “RESISTANCE IS
FUTILE.”
AND I WAS THINKING, GOSH, THEY
PROBABLY DON'T WANT THAT USED
AS EVIDENCE IN THE NEXT TRIAL
WHEN SOMEBODY, YOU KNOW, IS
SUING THEM, BUT NEVER MIND
THAT.
I MEAN, YOU KNOW, THE THOUGHT.
CANADIANS SURRENDER.
IT'S OVER.
RESISTANCE IS FUTILE.
UM, BUT ACTUALLY I WOULD LIKE
TO PROPOSE THAT IT'S REALLY
MORE OF WHAT'S OFTEN REFERRED
TO AS “ALTERNATE MODERNITIES.”
OKAY.
WHEN WE THINK OF THE TACO ITSELF
AS BEING MODERN AND NOT BEING A
FOLK FOOD, THEN WE CAN SEE, YOU
KNOW, THE TACO BELL AND THE
TACO SHELL AS ACTUALLY JUST
BEING COMPETITORS WITH MEXICAN
VERSIONS OF TACO BELL.
“THE POLLO LOCO,” THESE OTHER
RESTAURANTS, WHICH ACTUALLY
HAVE DONE QUITE WELL AND HAVE
PUT A MODERN FACE ON THESE
MEXICAN TACOS.
AND SO I THINK AS A CONCLUSION
WHAT WE CAN COME AWAY FROM THIS
IS WITH THE UNDERSTANDING THAT
CAPITALISM CERTAINLY IS GOING
TO DETERMINE, YOU KNOW, WHAT
WE'RE GOING TO BE ABLE TO EAT
IN THE FUTURE.
AND THAT EVEN--WHEN WE THINK OF
WHOLE FOODS AS BEING SORT OF A
CULINARY EQUIVALENT OF WAL-
MART, RIGHT, THAT YES, YOU GET
A LOT MORE VARIETY AND THE
QUALITY IS BETTER THAN WHAT
WE'RE USED TO PERHAPS, BUT THAT
IT'S BROUGHT TO YOU IN THE SAME
SORT OF PROCESSES THE SAME WAY.
AND SO, UM, MEXICAN FOOD WILL
ALWAYS BE OUT THERE, WILL
ALWAYS BE ABLE TO COMPETE WITH
TACO BELL, BUT THEY'LL BE THERE
SIDE BY SIDE ON THAT GROCERY SHELF.
AND SO, YOU KNOW, TO PARAPHRASE
Porfirio Díaz POOR MEXICO,
“SO FAR FROM GOD.
SO CLOSE TO TACO BELL.”

(Audience Laughing and clapping)

Watch: Jeffrey Pilcher on Was the Taco Invented in Califoria