Journalists Need to Stop Claiming Tacos, and Mayors Need to Stop Championing the Wrong Thing

click to enlarge JESS ELIZARRARAS
Jess Elizarraras
Editor's Note: The following is The Big Spoon, an opinion column on San Antonio's food and drink scene.

It started with a headline: “How Austin Became the Home of the Crucial Breakfast Taco.”

And just a few sentences in, one single line – “Austin is the birthplace of the phrase breakfast taco” – derailed an already sloppy article on the history of the breakfast taco.

And like clockwork, San Anto reacted by sharing the article and throwing down. The whole thing snowballed into a weird Tex-Mexican stand-off, with Johnny Hernandez challenging any Austin chef to a taco throwdown – but without any Austinites taking the bait. Because why should they? They benefit from all the news outlets clamors to cover Austin City Limits and South by Southwest.

Cue the cameras, cue the mayors’ speeches and Twitter spats, cue the media circus. As a member of said media, I refused to touch the damn thing. This Valley native knows there are great tacos within inches of the border and throughout Texas. There are also really great tacos in Corpitos. In San Antonio. In Austin.

Gustavo Arellano, formerly the editor-in-chief at the OC Weekly and author of Taco USA: How Mexican Food Conquered America, squashed the whole thing by digging deep: “The earliest reference I could find for the term ‘breakfast tacos’ occurred in the July 23, 1975, food section of the Arizona Republic, in which their correspondent described eating “Breakfast Tacos” (capitalized in the original, signifying it as a curio) during a culinary tour of San Antonio – not in Austin.”

For journalists, that means eyeballs on websites, quippy reader tweets quoted, and more engagement and impressions on not-a-publisher-but-plays-one-on-TV Facebook.

That was 2016. I thought we were done with all of this and had safely returned to eating awesome tacos throughout the city.

But then Mayor Ron Nirenberg recently tweeted a snarky “LOL” to editor Tim Roger’s sneak peek of the new D Magazine cover, and we went right back to it. Nirenberg thumped his swoll chest, nearly every publication in the city picked it up as click bait and we collectively puffed out our chests, once again claiming San Antonio as the only Taco City.

Can we not?

First of all, the whole brouhaha over the magazine’s cover eclipses an honest and methodical package by one of the best and most earnest taco scholars in the game right now. José R. Ralat eats, breathes, lives tacos. He studies tacos. HE IS TACOS. I beg you to buy the issue if you stumble on it.

All Ralat wants is peace and understanding.

“I appreciate Texans’ taco passions. The seriousness with which we hold and care for the perfect food, speaks to how fundamental the tortilla – corn or flour – is in our daily lives,” he said in an email. “A city’s residents ought to take pride in their hometown tacos. If not, why are they even living there? That another city takes great pride in its tacos doesn’t detract from another city’s relationship with a food or any object. My hope is that we recognize that tacos are a force for good, that tacos unify more than divide, that there is more to the taco experience than your immediate experience, and that, whatever Texas town you find yourself in, a great taco is not far out of reach. Even in Dallas.”

Secondly, surely there are better things to do as a city than argue with another city in the Lone Star State over who has better tacos. This just in: Dallas has chingos of Mexicanos. As Peter Simek points out for D Magazine: “Between 2010 and 2014, 70.9 percent of the population increase in the DFW [metro area] has been driven by foreign-born immigrants, the majority of them Hispanic, while only 40 percent of the increase of the San Antonio-New Braunfels [area] has been driven by foreign-born immigrants. From 1970 to 2010, the Hispanic population in Dallas grew from 7.5 to 42 percent of the city’s population. By comparison, in 2010, Hispanics in San Antonio made up 63.2 percent of the population. In other words, Dallas is catching up to the former Spanish presidio.”

To deny other cities in Texas the claim to great tacos is to deny the ingenuity of Mexicans who are bringing their sabores to the states. And to champion the city’s tacos over another city’s, as our mayor did, only highlights our inferiority complex.

Champion the city’s Mexican restaurants and its Latin American immigrants (you know – the ones that the mayor couldn’t be bothered with tweeting about, save for a few retweets when family separation was brought to the foreground). Maybe educate a growing population that doesn’t know we hold the rightful claim to the puffy taco.

And by the way, LA and Mexico are totally lapping this up this bizarre fight between two of Texas’s biggest cities.

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